There’s a weird new problem with decluttering: how to donate clothes now, along with all the other things we declutter. Thrift stores are overloaded and might not take all the things you want to give. Here’s the hard truth…our organizing problem isn’t just an organizing problem, it’s a consumer problem.
Most of our clothes are made of synthetic fibers that don’t break down, and aren’t even useful as rags in the secondary market. (Those lovely stretchy, wicking properties that make our clothes so comfy are exactly the opposite of what rags need to be: stable and absorbent).
Most of us have purchased or received way more clothing than we’ve needed over the years, and at a certain point (after retiring, moving, or losing weight), we dump an entire wardrobe on the thrift market.
During the last century, we went from 4 seasons to 52 fashion seasons. Fast fashion means those “perfectly good” clothes in your closet were dated before you brought them home. They may be functional, but only a small portion are desirable now. So, yes, Goodwill and the like are overwhelmed.
Because of COVID, in-person stores had fewer buyers for a while and still have less foot traffic than they need to move their inventory. (Interesting fact, big thrift organizations store their inventory in tractor trailers for their “off season.” Containers have been hard to come by in the last year. Fewer containers, higher costs, less space to store your old clothes until they can sell them.)
Speaking of thrift stores, somehow we’ve gotten the idea that we should be able to “pass on” our used things for free, at no cost to us. We think that it gives us a tax break (which doesn’t exist anymore for many households) and someone (less fortunate than us) must surely be able to use them. But that’s often not the case. Trash has a cost. There is a cost for disposal both in $$$ and ecological toll on the earth and our resources.
What to do? I don’t have all the answers. It starts with teaching the next generation, but also rethinking how often and what we buy NOW.
I bought almost nothing new for myself for nearly two years. I bought one shirt at Target, which my growing daughter quickly claimed. And I bought a fashion subscription box of used clothing. I specifically asked my stylist to ensure clothing has classic styling. Figuring out which cuts and colors work for my body took decades, but I am able to keep clothes for years when they look good and make me feel good. (Check out Darla’s Wardrobe Laws to help you find your ideal clothes already in your closet.) If you love your clothes, you may be highly motivated to do the things needed to stay in the same size, eliminating the yo-yo sizing problem that’s so common today. There are so many sides to this clothes donation issue.
We’ve got to change our habits and expectations at the front end of the consumer process. It’s called “voting with your wallet.” If we demand higher quality things, even if it means buying fewer things, retailers will take note. Slowly change can happen.
How to Donate Clothes Now
What to do with your old clothes if you can’t donate clothes now?
-List for free on Facebook Marketplace, CraigsList, or local BuyNothing groups.
-Instead of putting all donations together, cherry pick the best and offer them to specialty charities in your area that outfit people headed back to work. You might have to mail them.
-Check out the GiveBackBox, where you can mail donations to a larger organization that, as far as I know, is still taking contributions. Yes, you’ll have you’ll have to ship them. Last I knew, they were still paying shipping, but even if you have to pay, is it better than putting useable items in a landfill?
-Learn to make a rag rug (very old school, but making a comeback).
-Tailor or repair your old clothes instead of buying new. My beautiful merino wool sweater was eaten by moths last year; I mended it, and it’s become my under-layer for other outfits. Learning how to sew a button is an important life skill. Teach your kids if they don’t learn in whatever they call Home Economics class now. (Ours is called FACS: Family and Consumer Sciences.)
-Learn to “shop your closet.” I love when organizing clients let me do this. I can pull together “new” outfits in a way that you never would our of your old wardrobe.
-Hang onto them a while longer. This problem of not being able to donate to thrift stores is a phase, and I suspect our supply chain issues and commerce will look more normal within a year.
What other ideas do you folks have on how to donate clothes now? What are you seeing where you live?