On Having Enough Socks

post by gwern · 2019-06-13T15:15:21.946Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW · 9 comments

This is a link post for https://www.gwern.net/Socks

9 comments

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comment by mhelvens · 2019-06-13T20:35:24.301Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I realize this article is not really about socks. Socks are merely the running example in a discussion about psychology, data mining and yak shaving.

But I have to ask: Do socks really mysteriously disappear? More so than other possessions and enough to cause shortages for a significant number of people? Sure I've thrown socks away when they got worn down, but I don't remember any ever being unaccounted for. It must have happened once or twice, but an average of 8 pairs per person per year? That's baffling.

If those statistics are reliable (and I'm sure we can trust the good people at Samsung not to mislead us for financial gain), the question "Who moved my sock?" may deserve more attention than you've afforded it. Surely the answer would give us some profound insight.

comment by gwern · 2019-06-13T19:22:11.241Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Samsung says

There are many practical reasons for sock loss rather than supernatural disappearances. Research interviews found the common causes included items falling behind radiators or under furniture without anyone realising, stray items being added to the wrong coloured wash and becoming separated from its matching sock, not being secured to a washing line securely so they fall off and blow away – or they are simply carelessly paired up

And I think they do get lost. In multi-person households, socks have a tendency to migrate to other people's rooms, flowing along a sock gradient. (I lost a lot of socks to my brother. I know because we labeled them with markers and I'd regularly find them in his drawer.) Sometimes they get physically lost in the dryer. In cluttered households, it's easy for a sock to fall out of the dryer or the basket when you're moving a big load, or fall behind drawers/beds and get lost there. Pet animals can steal them: I've seen ferrets making off with socks to hide in corners (or behind the dryer), and supposedly Siamese cats often have a pica just for socks & woolens. And in some cases, there may be things man was not meant to know.

Personally, I think my sock shortage was due more to them wearing out than actually going missing. I'd get rid of them as necessary, but I then didn't buy any replacements.

comment by Original_Seeing · 2019-06-14T14:25:22.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, 1 sock lost is automatically 1 pair of socks lost since they can only function in pairs. Although only odd numbers of identical socks lost result in a pair of socks being lost.

Socks can also get lost by having a pair of identical socks not be identified when they are both stored in Lost Socks storage space.

Malice can also be a factor. My brother was afraid that there was an evil clown that lived under his bed and stole his socks. He is a lousy person so my sister would occasionally steal a sock from him.

comment by gwern · 2019-06-14T16:43:15.124Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, 1 sock lost is automatically 1 pair of socks lost since they can only function in pairs.

Only in the worst cast of all-unique pairs. If you buy in batches (as I and a lot of people seem to do), then 1 lost sock is just 1 lost sock until you reach as low as n=2.

comment by mhelvens · 2019-06-13T21:04:02.563Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But would this account for a cumulative 8 pairs per person per year? Socks that end up in a sibling's drawer, fall on the floor, are carelessly paired up or lost in the dryer would eventually find their way back to where they belong, so they wouldn't make a difference in the long term.

I can think of several explanations for that number being a bit too high. It seems possible, for example, that Samsung is counting socks that were lost but then found soon after. Why else would their innovative AddWash™ system (a small door to add extra items to an ongoing wash cycle) be proposed as a solution?

But I think I prefer to believe that the average is being upset by a small number of pet ferrets.

comment by gwern · 2019-06-13T21:19:35.361Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In terms of sibling effects, they could be large drains. Imagine a sibling who never bothers to buy their own socks but just unconsciously takes one sock too many once in a while. If there's 2 siblings, now the responsible one must buy twice as much socks as they should (because of the hidden drain). Such people would simply show up as rare-purchasers in my survey, and there are quite a few such people. Ones lost in a dryer may be de facto permanently gone: even if you pull the units out a decade later and find them, do you even want to wear them anymore? And what does one do with a mismatched sock? If its mate doesn't show up in a few months, you might toss it or use it for something else entirely, and then should the mate reappear later, now it's a mismatch as well...

I certainly don't lose 8 pairs of socks a year, but then, I don't spend $200+ a month on groceries either.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2019-06-13T19:23:50.978Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps American washing machines are so badly made that the smallest items of clothing can escape the drum and go down the drain? Either that or it's a bug in the simulation.

comment by Raemon · 2019-06-13T20:14:37.113Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I feel offended by this relatable content.

comment by Pattern · 2019-06-14T17:49:13.639Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
because there is no specific time or triggering factor to replenish a shrinking sock stockpile, it is easy to run out.

That's easy, you designate a few "backup pairs" (perhaps in a different drawer, or a different place, so you have to think "I'm running out of socks") and when you hit those you buy more (or put them on your shopping list/in your shopping cart).