These days, the average American has about 70 pounds of clothes annually to donate or throw away, with the vast majority (around 85 percent) of those old clothes ending up in landfills. Even when we donate our clothes, they may end up doing less good than you think.
The reality is that 1) some old clothes can be worth a lot of money; 2) donating to a local charity reseller puts clothes back into circulation, which can contribute to hoarding and shopping disorders; and 3) many clothing donations eventually end up in landfills. To get the most value (for you and others) while keeping your clothing out of the waste stream, sort your used clothing into the following four categories.
Compared to, say, gold coins, the resell value of secondhand clothes may not seem obvious. But we’ve helped clients identify and sell thousands of dollars worth of vintage clothing, including a crate of Pucci dresses from Italy, a closet full of Diane von Furstenberg dresses, Versace scarves and designer shoes. Even contemporary clothing, if it’s in good shape, can fetch top dollar. Local consignment shops are one option, but Internet sites, such as Poshmark, Everything But the House and eBay, have made finding willing buyers for single items easier than ever.
2. Targeted Donation
The internet is also helping connect those who have clothes to donate with individuals in need of specialty clothing items. Tracking down a prom dress, winter coat or business suit charity may take more effort than dropping your clothes off at a donation site, but the opportunity to deeply impact an individual’s life can bring rewards far greater than cash. Here are some good options.
Gently worn prom, bridesmaid and other formal dresses can help those who can’t afford a fancy dress for a special event. Becca’s Closet was started in honor of Rebecca Kirtman, who launched a successful prom-dress drive as a high-school freshman and then died tragically in a car accident. This nonprofit collects and gives out formal dresses to teens in need.
Founded in 1997 and now operating in 148 cities in 26 countries, Dress for Success distributes women’s professional clothing—suits, shoes, accessories—to women to wear on job interviews. If the clients are hired, the nonprofit provides them with enough work outfits to get started. They accept nearly-new suits, other business-appropriate apparel, shoes, handbags, jewelry and (unused) cosmetics.
Career Gear is based in New York City, with offshoots in Houston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Miami and Jersey City, New Jersey. This charity distributes interview and work-appropriate clothing to men and also provides job-readiness training and other career counseling. They accept a range of clothing and accessories, including suits, dress pants, sport coats in solid colors, dress shirts, dress shoes, belts, ties, tie clips and cufflinks.
Suiting Warriors was founded with the belief that one suit can change the life of a job-seeking Veteran by helping “open doors to introductions, connections, opportunities and advancement.” The nonprofit sends its Mobile Suiting Unit truck to Veteran job fairs and other events, providing free suits along with individual guidance on dressing to impress.
The Nashville-based charity Soles4Souls gives secondhand shoes to small-business entrepreneurs in developing countries. Since 2006, Soles4Souls has helped reduce poverty while diverting 23.8 million pounds of shoes and clothes from landfills.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, One World Running provides donated shoes to people in the U.S. and developing countries. It calls itself “an organization for runners in need by runners who care.”
Winter coats, especially those outgrown by children, are usually in great shape. One Warm Coat started in 1992 with a San Francisco coat drive, and has grown to support more than 3,000 annual coat drives around the country.
3. Bulk Clothes to Donate - Wearable
For clothing that’s in good condition—no stains, holes or frayed cuffs—start by calling area homeless shelters, family service agencies, immigrant support groups and churches. Sometimes these local groups can get clothing donations directly to the people who need them the most. Wherever you choose to make a donation, make sure your items are clean—and don’t forget to check all clothing pockets for valuables or family keepsakes.
4. Bulk Clothes to Donate - Unwearable
If you have clothing that’s torn, stained or threadbare, you may still be able to donate it. Those old textiles might still have some use in them yet as industrial wipes, upholstery stuffing, carpet pads or even fibers for making new clothes. Some municipalities—including Greenwich, CT; Montgomery County, MD; and Clifton, NJ—are adding post-consumer textiles to their glass, plastic and paper recycling programs.
There are also private companies and associations that will help you find a place to donate old clothes for recycling. Check with the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (SMART) Association or the Council for Textile Recycling. Make sure your recyclable textiles are clean and dry; otherwise, they might be sent to that clothes donation choice of last resort – the local landfill.