I Tried “Clutter Cleansing” My Clothes, and It Worked So Much Better than I Expected

published Jun 15, 2024
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Clothes in dresser drawer before reorganizing.
Credit: Shifrah Combiths

I sometimes respond to dissatisfaction with an impulse to buy things. Most recently as I was setting up my new home, I was tweaking things in our family room and tried to solve my sense that the space wasn’t quite right by buying more than one vaseful of artificial flowers. Yes, I shudder to think of that now. 

Last fall, I did a mini “quieting” of the family room and removed all the decor. The flowers didn’t make it back in. The room breathed again, and so could I. I realized that the flowers distracted me from what I hadn’t yet figured out about the room, but they didn’t solve anything. I needed time for it to come together and less stuff in the room, not more. The joy (and relief) I got from editing the room was much more satisfying than trying to fill in what was missing with what turned out to be excess. 

I recently saw a video by @thelifeonpurposemovement that gave a name to this phenomenon I’d experienced: clutter cleansing. Erica Layne, the decluttering coach behind the account, urges viewers to “trade retail therapy for clutter cleansing,” pointing out that you can get the same kind of dopamine effect from both, but that the long-term results of clutter cleansing are far superior. Leaving you with less stuff to manage rather than more belongings that demand upkeep has a lasting effect on your home and overall well-being.

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

How I Tried Clutter Cleansing

Having a catchy and meaningful phrase for an experience I’d stumbled upon solidified the act as a practice I could implement, and I didn’t waste any time. Summer break just started for my family, and as with most changes of the season, I began to get an itch to shop for clothes. The warming temperatures and my daily lifestyle change from “school days mom” to “summer mom” had me wanting to add some fresh clothes to the rotation. 

But I clutter-cleansed instead. I picked the two dresser drawers that hold my tops. I haven’t gone through them in quite a while, so the timing was good. I pulled all my shirts out of the drawer and sorted them into categories. Basic long sleeves, short sleeves, and tanks went in their piles. Graphic T-shirts in another. Dressy shirts on their own. As I categorized, I tossed permanently stained or worn-out pieces and put clothes I never wore in a donate pile. Next, I folded everything and put each shirt back in the drawer, by category, and sorted by color, into the drawers. 

Credit: Shifrah Combiths

The Results

Did I get a dopamine fix? Oh, yes. And that’s not all. In addition to the satisfaction that comes from completing a well-done job, the process of clutter cleansing helped me in a few additional ways. First, I decided that dressier shirts should go in the closet. This instantly cleared out space in my drawers. Getting rid of items also gave me more room. Having my drawers less crammed makes it much easier to see what I have.

Additionally, handling all my tops reminded me of what I already have. Honestly, there were some tops I’d completely forgotten about, hidden in my drawers! I also discovered what gaps I had in this clothing category, which will make my future seasonal clothing purchases purposeful rather than impulsive, solving a problem rather than distracting me from one. 

Clutter cleansing showed me that my real issue wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to wear, but that my drawers were too disorganized and overflowing for me to make good use of what I already had. I think this might be the lesson that underpins every single decluttering effort I make.