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The Most Sustainable Ways to Get Rid of Unwanted Clothes

by Emily DeLong | 28 November 16

The title of this blog post is a bit of an oxymoron: there is no real "sustainable" way to get rid of clothing. Ideally, all the clothing you buy would last forever, always fit you even as your body changes, and never go out of style, allowing you never to have to discard anything. That's just not realistic, though. We are all going to end up with clothing we no longer want or need, and the best we can do is get rid of it in the most sustainable way possible.

First things first: there's basically always a better alternative than throwing your clothes away. Some of the alternatives to throwing away your clothing may not be that great, but almost anything is better than destining your clothes to a lifetime of sitting in a landfill. Even clothes covered in holes can be recycled and turned into something like insulation or industrial rags (most national thrift store chains will accept tattered clothing and send them along to a textile recycler).

With that said, here's a list of some things you can do with your unwanted clothes, in order from most sustainable to least sustainable (but all better than trashing them):


1) Don't buy things you can't see yourself with five years from now.

This includes overly trendy things, things in a size smaller than you currently are, and things that are likely to fall apart after a few wears. Not making any bad purchases is, of course, a lot easier said than done. I know I've bought a lot of things I shouldn't have in the past! One trick I have found to cut down on unnecessary purchases is to wait at least one week (preferably more) before buying something after you decide you want it. If you still love it just as much weeks later, that's a good sign you aren't going to be throwing it out in a year.


2) Attend (or host) a clothing swap.

Clothing swaps are a great way to get rid of clothes you are tired of or that don't fit you anymore while ensuring that your clothes end up with someone excited to wear them. You also get to hang out with friends and get some new (free!) clothes in the process.


3) Repurpose your clothing.

There are limitless options when it comes to repurposing your clothing. (Pinterest is so full of ideas.) Not only can you make drastic transformations like turning an old sweater into mittens, turning old jeans into baby bibs, or making a quilt out of several old shirts, but with a sewing machine and a bit of know-how, you can make minor changes to your clothes to make them almost like new, such as changing/removing sleeves and lowering/raising hemlines.


4) Donate your clothing to a local organization or non-profit.

What's available where you live will vary widely, but many areas have family shelters, community outreach centers, homeless shelters, or churches that accept gently used clothing. Donating your clothing to local organizations allows you to help your neighbors out by keeping your clothes within your community.


5) Sell your clothing to a consignment store.

If there aren't any consignment stores around where you live, there are tons of sites these days for selling your used clothing online (as well as eBay, of course). Selling your used clothing is great not only because you get to make some money in the process, but also because you're ensuring your clothing gets a second life with someone who's excited to wear it. The downside? Most shops are picky about what they'll buy from you, so you'll have to get rid of your stained, pilled, and untrendy clothing elsewhere.


6) Donate your clothes to a national non-profit.

This includes organizations like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and Dress for Success (plus a lot more!). Each organization has different rules on what they will take (Dress for Success, for example, accepts only women's professional attire), so make sure you do your research before you dump off a bag off stuff. While a lot of the clothing donated to places like Goodwill and The Salvation Army doesn't actually end up being sold in their retail stores (instead, much of it goes to textile recyclers or is exported overseas), donating your clothes is still a better alternative than trashing them.