When you leave mounds of clothes and accessories alone in the dark long enough, a strange thing happens. They breed. Some split like amoebas to produce duplicate shirts and pants, while others give birth to litters of new skirts, scarves, hats and shorts you swear you’ve never seen before.

It’s a pretty scary thing, which is why it’s essential to clean your closet at least once every 10 years or so.

My time came last week.

I wasn’t just going for a bit of rearranging, either. I was going for a deep, rip-out-the-foundation and find-out-what’s-in-those-bins-already type of purging that involved little Allen wrenches and cheap plywood drawer cubbies.

In addition to finding out those cheap plywood drawer cubbies like to collapse when you ignore the directions during assembly, I found closet cleaning did wonders for self-improvement and mental health. Here’s how.

Eliminates stress and anxiety

Opening the closet door had been a risky experiment before the cleaning. More often than not, someone would get conked in the head by an unstable bin packed with T-shirts that liked to slide off a top shelf. Getting a single shirt or dress off a hanger resulted in at least six adjacent shirts or dresses falling off their hangers to the floor.

Purging and organizing let me say goodbye to the messy, hazardous jumble, which let me say goodbye to the stress and anxiety that had hit every time I previously needed something out of the closet.

Provides quick reality check

One category of closet junk consists of items we keep “just in case” we’ll ever need or want them. Here I had a long, black, filmy dress I purchased from a musty yard sale “just in case” I ever wanted to turn it into a witch costume. I also had a litany of office-ready dresses and pants “just in case” I ever got an office job with a dress code that required ugly prints and plaid.

A too-small velvet tuxedo jacket in this category was pretty cool, so I guess I was saving it “just in case” my shoulder width magically shrunk one day and the jacket actually fit.

Get real. How many of the “just in case” scenarios are ever going to pan out? How many of them do you want to pan out? I decided I never wanted to dress up as a filmy witch in a dress that smelled like a musty basement. Nor was I keen on working in an office wearing ugly prints and plaid or getting surgery to reduce my shoulder width. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Gives you updated view of who you are

It’s tough for us to perceive changes in ourselves, as they often come in very gradual stages. Let your clothes pile up for a decade, however, and you’ll see those changes reflected in different clothing styles.

I was able to trace my New Mexico mini-dress phase that included a cherry-print, 1950s sundress, my Northern California prairie skirt phase, and a flowered capris phase that must have blossomed somewhere around Oregon.

While all those phases were fine at the time, I have been firmly in the yoga pant, shorts and tank top phase for several years running. I no longer even touched most of the clothes that came with the previous phases. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye (except, of course, for the cherry-print, 1950s sundress).

Makes room for future possibilities

If our closets are stuffed to the brink, they may be serving as a reflection of the state of our minds. Just like we can’t fit any new clothes into a closet that’s already exploding, we’re unable to learn and embrace new thoughts and ideas if our minds are packed with all kinds of outdated and useless clutter.

It’s like that story about the Zen master who kept pouring his visitor’s tea until it overflowed from the cup. He said he couldn’t teach his visitor anything new until the visitor emptied his cup. We need to do the same with our own minds if we hope to advance and grow. And a good way to start emptying our own cups is to clean out our closets.

If you want to go beyond closet cleaning for self-improvement, check out what life coaching can do for you.

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