The truly clean closet: How to donate the right way

This I Wear | Lost Sock Textile Recycling

When I was growing up, my mom regularly dropped off donations to a shelter for victims of domestic violence. It was just one of the ways she served our local community. She set a great example for me, and it’s a habit I still keep. But are we all good donors? While donating unwanted clothing is a great way to do something good and clean out your closet, are we donating the right way?

Small nonprofits, such as your local shelter, have little capacity to process these abundant donations. After seeing this firsthand during a recent volunteer stint, I realized that some individuals are dumping rather than donating. Instead of thoughtfully contributing to a cause they want to support, donating becomes a quick way to get rid of the burden of unwanted clothes. We know we shouldn’t throw away that moth-eaten sweater, so we tuck it in a donation bag in hopes that someone else can do our dirty work for us. Are we all guilty of this classic “donation hit-and-run”?

It is time to start being responsible owners of the things we’ve allowed into our lives and closets. Here are a few tips to make sure your closet clean up makes a difference:

1. Target your donation. If your donation is a handful of evening gowns, and the nonprofit you plan to give to needs business attire, your dresses won’t be of much help. In this example, a quick search for “evening gown donation” will direct you to a nonprofit like that provides prom dresses for high school students in need. A little research will ensure your donations make it to the right place and deliver the maximum impact.

2. Ask the nonprofit for its needs and requirements. Each nonprofit is different, which means they all have unique rules for donations. Rules could include that clothing must be on hangers or only seasonal or certain types of clothing are accepted. Call ahead or check their website to make sure your donation is drop-off ready.

3. Wash those clothes. This may seem like common sense, but if you’ve ever volunteered in a donation center, you know it is not. There are no secret Laundromats in the back of charity shops and donation centers, so make sure the clothes are clean before you drop them off. If you’ve had a piece dry-cleaned, keep the dry cleaner tags on. This may take time and even a bit of money, but proper cleaning makes sure your donation is put to use rather than tossed in the trash.

4. Recycle rather than donate damaged or unusable clothing. Many cities now host textile recycling days or have drop off points for clothes that are seemingly beyond repair. This includes clothing with holes, stains, broken zippers, and yes, even that lone sock. To find a center near you, search for “clothing” recycling in your area. In NYC, textiles are collected at select Grow NYC Farmer’s Markets. Textile recycling is a huge industry and your items are likely to find a whole new life.

As a little lagniappe, here are a few of my favorite places to give:
Housing Works (NYC) – Great charity shops that support the organization’s incredible work serving New Yorkers living with AIDS.
Dress for Success (International) – Provides suits and career support for low income women who are job hunting.
Bridge House / Grace House (New Orleans) – Donations to their thrift shops support their residential recovery program for men and women with alcohol or drug dependencies.

Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear #cleancloset to share your favorite place or tips to donate or recycle clothing.

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  4. Ken M

    I agree with Sandra – excellent story and really great ideas. Thanks also for doing the research on those websites you mention and including a hyperlink!

  5. Sandra

    Excellent piece. I haven’t thought about asking my donation center for their needs but I will do so next time. I’ll also make sure that I’m carefully considering which items I’m donating. Thank you for the resources. Great blog! : )

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