Spring cleaning your closet is one of those things we all aspire to do Pull all the clothes out and only put back what you know you will use. That sounds good in principle but what do you do with the piles of clothes that are left on your bed and the heaps of discards blocking the door? Do national donation centers really need every sweater? Do “recycling” programs at local shops actually benefit anyone? And what about the truly worn-out garments that nobody wants?

Spring Cleaning Your Closet Starts with Sorting

The first step of spring cleaning your closet is to separate the clean and unstained clothes from those that are dirty or torn.  Then sort your clothes by type.  Label them for easier sorting by a charity.  Set aside and repurpose stained and torn items as household wipe cloths or send them away for textile recycling.

Don’t expect someone in need to be grateful for a stained T-shirt or a pair of ratty sweats. Clothes that don’t make someone feel good—or wouldn’t fetch any money if they were resold—are unlikely to find a new home.

Recycle Worn or Torn Clothing at Shady Grove

Did you know that if you live in Montgomery County you can recycle worn and torn clothing at the Shady Grove Transfer Station? (Other jurisdictions have similar services.)  Drop off clothing, shoes, and other textiles that are dry and free of mildew—place materials in a closed plastic bag to keep out moisture that could cause mildew. The Transfer Station partners with Reclothing, LLC (DBA Helpsy) and a local non-profit that collects, sorts, and reuses or recycles the material.  You can drop off tops, sweaters, coats, underwear, linens, boots, back packs and luggage.  It’s a wonderful idea to keep all this stuff out of the landfills and do some good for people in need!

If you don’t feel like driving out to the dump at Shady Grove Road, you can work with nationwide recycling options like the clothing company For Days and industrial recycler TerraCycle. These companies are transparent about their recycling efforts and ensure that low-value textiles are put to use.  They’re easy to take advantage of, too: For $20, For Days will ship you a giant Take Back Bag that you can fill with 15 pounds of textiles that are then downcycled into rags and insulation or resold. When For Days receives the bag, you get $20 in store credit or the option to buy gift cards and rewards for brands such as Sephora, Uber Eats, and more. Everything it sells on its site is made with recyclable material and can be recycled with For Days when you’re done with that piece, as well.

Dress for Success—a not-for-profit that provides professional attire for financially insecure women rejoining the workforce— is a great place to donate business attire that is in good condition but not your style any more.  After all, now that everyone is working from home several days a week, do you need all those suits and high heels?  Dress for Success particularly needs size 18-32 clothes, dress khaki pants, solid polo style tops, or scrubs, purses, scarves, simple classic jewelry such as pearls, plain gold or silver earrings and necklaces, and winter coats (particularly in larger sizes.)

Unfortunately,  70% of items the organization receives during clothing drives are unusable because they’re damaged or unsuitable as business attire so they would welcome your business clothes that are in good condition but just not your style any more.   Dress for Success in DC does not accept children’s or men’s clothing.

If you do have season-specific items, sometimes it’s best to hold on to them until the time of year when they’ll be usable. So if you have extra winter coats that you’re eager to offload, consider waiting until late fall to donate them.

Spring Cleaning Your Closet by Selling Your Clothes

If spring cleaning your closet is better when you recoup some cash, or if your favorite charity is overwhelmed with donations, consider consigning or reselling your clothes yourself. You might want to check out local consignment stores because you can inquire in person about how much of the store’s inventory is later donated or destroyed.

Reselling locally instead of online reduces your shipping-associated carbon footprint, so it might be considered a slightly more sustainable choice. But reselling online—through sites like Depop or Poshmark—might be more profitable for you since you’re selling directly to someone who is willing to pay on the spot. Of course, it’s also more work: You have to photograph your items and craft written descriptions with flourish if you want your stuff to sell, and then you have to package and ship them yourself. Diligent shoppers expect a lot of detail in such listings, so it’s smart to take measurements of the garment or link to size charts when possible.

Online consignment shops demand less effort from the seller, but they’re often quite selective about what they accept, or they don’t offer much commission. The RealReal accepts high-end contemporary designer clothes and jewelry, as well as art and home goods, and gives sellers a commission ranging from 20% to 75%. ThredUp takes midlevel and designer clothes (think J.Crew to Gucci) but limits how long listings can remain online, and the commissions you earn are relatively low, starting at 3% if you sell anything for less than $20.

Spring Clean Your Closet and Participate in the Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project is a good option for people who want to give away items to others who need them within their communities. Folks post things from their closets for free in hopes that their neighbors will take the items off their hands and breathe new life into them.  Participants can get to know their neighbors better through this mini economy of exchanged goods, and clothes are more likely to be put to good use locally rather than shipped away.  The easiest way to join a group is to download the Buy Nothing Project app (Android or iOS) or to search for the term “buy nothing [location]” on Facebook and filter the results by your neighborhood. Once you’re in a group, you can post giveaways of items and services, ask for items you’re searching for, or request to borrow, say, someone’s evening dress for a formal event. (Items offered should be clean and in good condition.) The system works best when you post clear images and take the time to include all the relevant information someone might need when they’re deciding whether they want to take advantage of your freebie.

Recycle When Spring Cleaning Your Closet

Several retailers have established recycling programs so that customers can unload clothing they no longer need. Some, like Eileen Fisher’s Renew program, accept only their own products. Others, like Madewell Forever, take all types of clothing from any brand via mail, as well as any-label denim in Madewell stores. DSW and Nike will recycle any brand of shoe that you give them, but while DSW accepts all shoe types, Nike accepts only athletic sneakers. A few stores—including H&M—offer reward points, discounts, or vouchers in return for old articles.

Depending on the program, shoppers either drop off items in store or mail in pieces, which the companies then sort for resale or recycling—often working with a third party or an industrial-recycling program. (For example, Madewell partners with ThredUp, and DSW partners with Soles4Soles.)

Donating through one of these programs is a low-effort way to clear out unwanted clothes, but the programs are not all created equal. Whichever big-brand recycling program you choose, make sure it offers tangible and transparent information about its efforts.


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