What to do with old clothing? A giant list of ideas
A friend of mine sent me a message the other day asking for some ideas on what to do with old clothing. After sending back some ideas, I thought perhaps other people might have some similar questions especially at the beginning of a year when many people are making resolutions to clean out their closets. I've previously done a post about clearing out your sewing supplies which you can read HERE. You probably know I'm a huge advocate for Marie Kondo and her tidying methods, but what do you do with the items you've decided to let go of? How can you be more intentional when getting rid of your clothing?
I've put together a few ideas for you, some of which I've tried myself with links to my blog posts about it. For ideas I had but have not personally had a chance to try, I've included links to other great blog posts for you to explore.
Before we begin, a few notes:
1. I am writing this during the covid pandemic. I'm hoping it can be universal ideas that may work even if someone finds this post in the future. I recognize that some suggestions may not be possible choices at the date of publishing.
2. Before you begin, fix anything you can. Wash all items, reattach that loose button, and do whatever else you have the time to do that gives the item a little extra value. If you give it away, the recipient will appreciate that it's in good condition. If you sell it, you will likely get a better price for the item. If something is beyond repair or cleaning, the final few ideas may be more what you're looking for.
Okay! Onto the ideas! What should you do with your clothing when it's time to say goodbye?
Gift it to someone directly
Friend and Family- You might feel awkward offering used clothing to friends, but I bet plenty of people you know would be interested! You can even regift items for holidays. In fact, my Christmas gift from my mother-in-law this year was some clothing she wanted to get rid of! My mom has also made a habit of gifting me used items for holidays including items of hers she thinks I would like, Christmas ornaments from my childhood, family heirloom items, etc. Regifting and gifting used can sometimes have a stigma, but I would encourage you to give it a try!
Join a Buy Nothing group- I've sung the praises of Buy Nothing groups before, but (seriously!) joining them has been amazing. I've been able to gift a dining table, a desk, a coffee table, pour over coffee carafe, dog toys, and more. I've also received kids items to prepare for being foster parents including baby clothing. In my Buy Nothing groups there are ALWAYS people asking for clothing for both kids and adults. Many Buy Nothing groups also have traveling bins which means you can donate clothing to the bin for future needs even if someone isn't necessarily looking for it at that exact moment. The easiest way to join one is to search Facebook groups for your Buy Nothing in your area. I am in two groups: one for my specific neighborhood which is great for quick handoffs and one for the greater Austin area.
Donate it directly to an organization looking for that specific item
Personally, I think this is way more impactful than making a huge dump of a donation in one big clean out. The item is more likely to go directly in the hands of someone who truly needs it. I think winter clothing such as coats and gloves are the most well-known examples and many organizations are seeking those items at the start of winter. I would suggest following local charities or shelters on social media or join their newsletter so you can stay in the loop if/when they are looking for items you may have to give.
There are so many chains and local places that might work for you. Sometimes they are found all in the same part of town especially if you live near a college. Kinda funny how that happens, but you can use it to your advantage! Many of them are looking for speciality items and they don't all purchase the same things. Some take athletic wear, some don't, some are looking for designer pieces, some focus more on fast fashion trends, etc, etc. What that means is it's a little easier to load up your trunk, a suitcase, a cart, or whatever your transport is and try going to a few stores in one trip. I have had a lot of luck selling clothes to a store that other stores have turned down. Each buyer is looking for something different! You may be familiar with Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads Exchange, but I would Google what's closest to you.
In terms of mailing items in to sell online, I highly recommend ThredUP! It is easily where the majority of my clothing purchases are made. It's an online thrift store where you can shop by size, brand, material, and more. It's so much easier than digging through racks at the store in person, but you can also send in your clothing to them! Even better, what they choose not to resell, they will responsibly dispose of so you don't have to worry about the item ending up in a landfill.
There are also several apps such as Poshmark and Depop, but the effort of selling your items on those platforms can often turn into a fullblown part time side hustle. I chose not to go into detail on those options for the sake of this list.
Use it for sewing projects
There is a never ending list of sewing projects for scraps! However, the type of clothing you are looking to get rid of may dictate your desired project. Do you want to make a quilt with old socks? Maybe not. Here's a huge list and hopefully there will be a little something for everyone!
T-Shirts: t-shirt quilts are super popular and you can make one even if you don't have super amazing graphic tees. Check out the one that I made here and it's made using used white undershirts! You can make a quilt whith just about anything. Check out the sanctuary blanket I made here which is actually a mix of t-shirts and quilting cotton. Need some non-quilt ideas? Visit this large list of assorted ideas for t-shirt fabrics.
Cotton, linen, or other woven fabrics: cut them down for new quilting projects. I have hemmed dresses and used the scrap for quilt squares, used old prints I really liked to make a bunting banner, etc. Don't have a specific idea in mind right away? You can always cut them down to your standard sizes. I always keep a box of 5.5 inch squares so I will cut items down to that size and set it to the side for later until I'm ready.
Wool: try making wool dryer balls or any of these ideas on reusing wool garments.
Denim: here's a list of ideas for on what to do with old jeans.
Towels: Not quite clothing, but I am always looking for ideas for old towels! I though including this list would be super helpful to many.
Assorted Fabrics: For small scraps that would accommodate a variety of materials, try these scrappy coasters or this scrappy wreath. Here's an idea on how to make scrap rope which can be done with an assortment of fibers as well as this list which includes several ideas for mixed clothing items.
Stained or undesirable clothing: dirty socks, stained shirts, scraps from any of the above sewing projects, etc. What do you do with items that seem to be truly at the end of their life? I think cleaning rags are the obvious first choice. But, hypothetically, if you have enough cleaning rags what ELSE can you do?
Make them into pet toys because I guarantee your furry friend does not mind that their new favorite toy is made from a coffee stained t-shirt. You can try one like this for cats or like this for dogs.
Make your own stuffing. All those teeny scraps of sewing fabric that are just too small or not suitable for other projects? I keep a bin of all my scraps and use it fill stuffed animals, pillows, pin cushions, etc. Sometimes if a piece of fabric isn't teeny but is still unusable, I will go ahead and cut it down into pieces and add it to the box. The trick is to make sure everything is cut down very small or your filling will be lumpy. This stuffing can also be quite dense which means if you need to wash whatever you've stuffed it with, it can take a while to dry. I recommend a longer dry time and using dryer balls.
What about just donating to a resale or thrift shop?
Sure, worst case scenario you can donate your items to a store. However, I intentionally did not include that as an option on this list as I feel like it is a last resort. I tried to list choices that intentionally put the items in the hands of someone who truly wants it or guaranteeing its reuse. With donations to large organizations such as Goodwill, items may still end up in landfill. Here's an article with some more info from the Huffington Post. If this option is what works best for you, I would do a little research on the store, what they accept, and where your items are going.
Here's some other good companies to send your clothing to:
Thred Up- Ahh yes here we are again. I love ThredUp, can ya tell? Since I already sung their praises earlier in the post, I'll just remind you that it's a great source to donate clothes. Throw it all in a box, put it in the mail, and have peace of mind that it's being ethically sorted through. You may even get a bit of cash in the end! You can learn more about ThredUp here.
Terra Cycle- If you don't know, Terra Cycle is an amazing company where you can recycle pretty much anything. They will even take things like old undergarments that you may feel you have no choice but the trash bin. The main draw back is that if you can't find a local public drop off point, you will have to pay a fee for them to take your old clothing off your hands. The money is going to a good cause, but this may be a financial barrier to some. It's a good to keep it bookmarked, but might not work for everyone. Check it out here!
Whew! Okay I think that's all. I hope that list is comprehensive enough for you. Have questions? Ideas I didn't include? Ideas for future posts? I would love to hear from you!