I almost titled this post “Give More,” but then I realized that I’m advising you to do other things with your cast-offs—you know, the things you couldn’t refashion or mend or use in other interesting ways—instead of or in addition to donating them to Goodwill or Oxfam or whatever charity organizations thrive in your part of the world.
That’s not because I am a mean-spirited person who doesn’t believe in charity; quite the opposite. My partner and I live just a few blocks from a St. Vincent de Paul, and we donate there on a regular basis. We also do a lot of shopping there—it’s a great place to pick up furniture on the cheap, and we are almost constantly on the hunt for bookshelves. (Once we were looking at a bookshelf in a furniture store and the salesman asked us if we were actually planning to put books on it and we both had this immediate reaction of shock because what else do people put on their bookshelves, and on their desks, and on their bedside tables, and in their closets, and on their coffee tables, and in their cupboards, and under their couches?)
Anyway, none of that is the point. The point is that there are more things you can do with your old clothes besides handing them over to Goodwill, and in fact you should consider some of these other options, and I’ll tell you why.
One of the books that started me on the conscious closet path was Elizabeth Cline’s fantastic Overdressed: The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Fashion. (Find it at your local library today or buy it from Half Price Books! Avoid the Amazon behemoth!) The book follows the author as she goes from Forever 21 sale rack shopper to fair trade advocate; along the way, she tours factories and sweatshops and boutiques and malls across the world, among other places where clothes tend to be made and sold. One of the places she visits is a massive Goodwill sorting center in New Jersey, where tri-state donations often end up. The scene Cline describes is heartbreaking: huge piles of clothes, tightly packed, far more than can possibly be resold. Some of the clothes, in poor condition or simply the kinds of things that Goodwill can’t sell, will be recycled; others, made of uncertain materials, will fill up a landfill somewhere.
This is not Goodwill’s fault. Cheap fashion inspires a wear-it-and-toss-it mentality; trends are cheap to follow at stores like H&M and Forever 21 and Target, but the clothes aren’t quality enough to hang onto for more than a season. Large charity organizations receive tons of clothing donations, more now than ever before, and much of it is unusable, or will simply get lost in the shuffle.
I’m definitely not saying that you should avoid donating your clothes. Donating clothes is an excellent thing to do, and there are a lot of people out there who could use your donations. Here are a few things to keep in mind when donating:
- Be mindful of where you donate. Major charity organizations absolutely do good work, but there are also a lot of community-level opportunities to donate that can get overlooked, such as women’s shelters, homeless shelters, schools and clinics that serve low-income populations, churches, etc.
- Some things can’t be donated: bras and underwear (once worn—new is always good!), clothing with holes, and so on. Make sure your stuff is in decent condition before taking it in, and if possible, check with the organization you’re donating to in case there’s anything they won’t or can’t take off your hands.
- Things like socks, coats, sweatshirts, pajamas, and other warm items are always in demand. So are outfits or pieces that can be worn for job interviews. Kids’ and babies’ clothes can also do a world of good.
But what else can you do with those old clothes? One option—increasingly popular in the current economic climate, or at least among my graduate student friends—is selling them.
Stores like Buffalo Exchange, Rethreads, Plato’s Closet and various local flavors of the same will take your clothes and pay you either up front or as the clothes are purchased. In our modern age of computers and world wide webs and GIFs and so on, you can even sell your clothes online through shops like Twice.
Two things about resale shops:
1. You will never make as much money as you personally think you should. It’s easy to forget that these shops have to turn a profit, but them’s the breaks; you can take in a dress you bought for $100, they will decide they can sell it for $50, and you might make $20 off the deal (or $35 in store credit!). But hey, $20 in your pocket is better than no dollars in your pocket.
2. They will never take everything. I’ve taken in clothes in great condition, that I thought for sure would be snatched greedily out of my hands, and they’ve been turned down. Most stores have certain standards by which they have to abide (and in some cases this includes brands they cannot sell). Many won’t take items that are out of season or in that tricky limbo between “no longer trendy” and “not quite vintage yet.” Sadface.
However, those pieces that don’t make the resale shop cut may yet have one more chance at a second life. For one thing, many resale shops will donate clothes that they either don’t take or that they take but can’t sell. For another, you can always throw a clothing swap.
I throw a clothing swap at least once or twice every year because I like giving things and I like getting them. Swaps are the easiest things in the world to organize: get a group of friends together, have everyone bring an assortment of castoff clothes, arrange them on a couch or bed or table, set aside some space for a trying-on area, and draw names from a hat to see who picks first. You can also equate the number of items someone can take to the number of items they brought, but sooner or later it all devolves into a free-for-all anyway, so I don’t tend to bother with this; anyway, some people have more to give than others.
I’ve picked some great things at clothing swaps—nice jackets, pretty skirts, and one very successful Valentine’s Day dress. And I like seeing my friends give new life to old things. Clothing swaps are also fantastic ways to refresh your style by plucking from the closets of the people around you.
And of course, whatever doesn’t get picked up is ripe for donating to a worthy cause. (See—I’m not anti-donation; I’m just pro-being-mindful-about-it.) So my advice for our third resolution is this: share your old clothes, whether it’s with your friends or with your community. You don’t need them anymore, so why not send them along to someone who does?