The next step is healing. In his 1954 essay Soap Powders and Detergents, semiotician Roland Barthes wrote of the use of suds – not strictly necessary in the cleaning process – in a laundry detergent advertisement: “What matters is the art of ‘to have disguised the abrasive function of detergent under the delicious image of a substance both deep and airy which can govern the molecular order of matter without damaging it.’ The idea persists that washing renews and refreshes in some way but, in fact, as Barthes points out, it’s quite destructive. Most sustainable clothing experts agree: wash clothes less – and wash them fresher, properly sorted, with mild laundry detergents and natural, and inside out to prevent colors and prints from fading.
In 2019, designer Stella McCartney said it best when she told The Observer: “The rule is that you do not cleans. You let the dirt dry and brush it off. Basically, the rule of thumb in life: if you have absolutely nothing to clean, don’t clean it. I wouldn’t change bras every day, and I don’t throw clothes in a washing machine because they’ve been worn. I’m incredibly hygienic myself, but I’m not a fan of dry cleaning or any cleaning, really.”
“Clothing care is still something people get wrong on a daily basis,” says Mekler. “I wash a lot of clothes, especially the finer clothes, even jeans, with a wool wash unless they’re really dirty.” Consider hanging lightly soiled pieces in the bathroom while you shower and letting the steam do the work. Avoid the dryer; shake out your clothes and hang them out to dry. And then enjoy the positive environmental benefits of your new routine. According to the EPA Energy Efficiency Program Star Energy, the average washing machine uses 6,500 gallons of water per year, about half of what you would drink in your lifetime. Plus, every time we wash, we flush chemicals and microfibers from synthetic garments into overloaded waterways. Finally, most of the emissions produced during the “in use” phase of an item’s life cycle come from machine washing and drying. Cut that and you’re basically an enduring fashionista.
To have and to hold
Once you’ve cleaned your clothes, resist the urge to throw them on the floor or bundle them up on the couch. Proper storage does half the work of caring for clothes; Top tips include keeping cleaned clothes out of direct sunlight and heat, in cool, dry spaces, with enough space between them to breathe. Professional organizer Katrina Hassan uses the KonMari method of tidying up. “Awareness and positive habit change are central to the process,” she says. “And a key principle is to store things so you can see everything easily. When you know exactly what you have, you’re much more likely to take care of it.” Periodic reviews allow you to connect with your items and assess their quality again and again. That’s when it’s time to start getting your hands dirty.