What do you do with your clothes when you're done with them? The estimate of how much of our clothing ends up in landfills (even after we donate to resale stores since the leftovers get shipped overseas into saturated markets) sits around 85%. That's 26 billion pounds of textile waste in the US alone. IN ONE YEAR. Whaaaa? Luckily the conversation has been sparked and now many of us are thinking of ways to purge our closet without letting our duds end up in a dump. And yes, right at the source of the problem is that we need to shop more consciously, choosing long-term pieces and ideally second-hand, but what about those tired pieces already crowding your closet? Here are a few ways to deal with old clothes mindfully:
- RESTYLE. Sometimes we get bored of pieces because we wear them, in the same way, all the time. But knot that long top and pair with high-waisted jeans and it gets a new lease on life. As a personal stylist, one of the things I love most is reintroducing a piece to a client who says, "I never thought of wearing it with that!" If a stylist isn't in your budget, you can google "ways to style a button-up", look on Pinterest with keywords, or invite a friend over to play in your closet (pay them in wine).
- STORE TEMPORARILY. Sick of seeing the same things all the time? The capsule wardrobe might be up your alley. The concept is that you have a limited amount of pieces in your closet at one time but that the collection is easy to style in many permutations and is switched out seasonally or more. This way, when you see that striped top again, it's suddenly a breath of fresh air.
- STORE FOR THE NEXT GEN. There's a huge emphasis on minimalism but if you've got pieces you want to hand down to your kid one day, don't feel silly about keeping them. I was in a band for years and couldn't resist stashing away some of my stage outfits just in case I had a girl who loved dresses. (And I did have a girl. And my god she loves dresses. My gamble paid off!) I'm fortunate that my grandmas and mom kept key pieces for me which are always a delight to wear.
- TAILOR TO TREND. Love the print of a top but don't love that elastic bottom? The fabric of your old maxiskirt but feeling 'over it' anyway? A tailor can make that top into a peplum tee and take that maxi to high-low. I can sew but am terribly lazy and yet don't want to pay someone to do something I could, so gotta admit I skip this. But you shouldn't!
- REPURPOSE. A reusable bag out of a t-shirt, mittens from a sweater, reusable food wrap from a dress and some beeswax, a rug from denim strips... the internet is a wealth of ideas for how to make completely new items from your unwanted clothes. Use it.
- GIFT IT TO A FRIEND. If you've got a favourite piece that it's time to part with but there's someone in your life that would love it, make that connection.
- SWAP. Clothing swaps are a fun way to refresh your closet as you purge and I recently wrote the how-to for making it happen. (In fact, I was just speaking at one locally in Saskatoon about how to keep clothes out of landfills, hence it being on my mind!)
- SELL. When you're buying good quality, well-fitting pieces and you're taking care of them, they retain more value. Why not sell them? Take them to a consignment store, use Kijiji, request to sell on a local Instagram resale account, join your neighbourhood Buy & Sell page on Facebook, or use Facebook Marketplace. My tips to increase your sale price: start by buying quality pieces and caring for them through their life; launder each piece nicely, steaming it like you're going to wear it yourself; when taking pictures, turn the lights off and use window light for the truest colours; lay it flat rather than using a hanger; allow try-ons; sell individual items rather than a big bag full.
- GIVE TO SOMEONE IN NEED. Giving a few things to one specific person who needs them is much different than giving to a bigger entity because you know the clothes are going to be used. Where I live, in Saskatoon, there's a wonderful Facebook page called Over The Rainbow that connects people who can use help to people who are able to help and clothing is always on someone's wish list.
- DONATE TO NONPROFITS. Halfway houses and shelters, organizations like Dress For Success, and charitable opportunity shops like your local YWCA Opportunity shop, Food Bank, or MCC Thrift Shop are in place to address a need rather than to make money. And, because of their not-for-profit mandate, they go above and beyond to repurpose pieces that would otherwise not see wear. For example, Saskatoon's MCC takes denim material to make quilts and they use scrap material for blankets to send overseas in their relief kits.
- DONATE TO FOR-PROFITS. I have to defend Value Village and other big chains in that they do bring a second life to clothes. Yes, the pieces that don't sell are shipped to so-called 'third world' or 'developing' countries and do no favours for the economies, and the discards simply end up in the trash there, but if more people patronized those bigger thrift shops and the clothing donated was all well-taken-care-of, that clothing could be reused within our communities more often. They also work with charities like Diabetes Canada that rely on that funding.
- RECYCLE. Although this can sometimes be a toughie because mixed fibres aren't typically simple to recycle, there are programs like Textile Waste Diversion, The North Face's Clothes The Loop, and Blue Jeans Go Green that tackle the problem. With Blue Jeans Go Green, you can just mail in your denim scraps and they turn it into housing insulation, which is in turn available for sale. It's the perfect solution for the legs of your summer cut-offs!
See? If this were a flowchart for dealing with old clothes, you'd end at twelve resourseful ideas and not once at the trash. Care to make it a bakers' dozen? Let me know if there's anything I should add and I will!