WHY I'LL NEVER DONATE MY CLOTHES TO CHARITY
(and what I do instead)
I have a confession to make...
I used to have a dirty little habit of ordering lots.....and lots.........and LOTS of cheap clothing from a website that rhymes with Endeavor Penny-Fun.
I was young, broke, and living in NYC where you leave your excruciatingly expensive shoebox apartment every morning convinced that you're about to find fame on the New York Times style page.
I believed this behavior was justified because at the end of each season I would stuff my (sometimes completely un-worn) stash of cheap goodies into a giant trash bag and haul it down the street to Good Will. Surely, I thought, someone would snap up my treasure (trash) and give it a second life, right? RIGHT???
Well, maybe not.
The Secret Life of (Secondhand) Clothes
Here's the catch. Yes, GoodWill is a great place to make donations. They do a pretty great job of making sure that what can be sold gets sold. Anything wet or mildew-y must be disposed of, but anything else they receive is fair game. But to whom? And where?
According to GoodWill, merchandise that sits on their floor un-sold for more than four weeks has to move on. The first step is that it's shipped to one of their outlet stores or auction houses where it is sold by the pound. After that? It goes on a loooooong journey overseas (um hello, CARBON FOOTPRINT?) which seems like it would be a good solution...if those countries actually wanted our trash. Which they don't.
As a matter of fact, our clothing "imports" are having a pretty devastating effect on developing nations' own textile and garment industries. In 2014 the East Africa Community (EAC) comprised of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, proposed banning all imported used clothing and shoes by 2019.
And after all that?
5% OF CLOTHING DONATIONS STILL END UP IN LANDFILLS
Wait, what? Yep, in spite of our best efforts...a significant portion of donated clothing still ends up joining the 12.8 million tons of textile waste America dumps into landfills EACH YEAR. And that's just the US.
So much for feeling OK about buying so much cheap stuff...
SO NOW WHAT?
Got it. Fast fashion bad. GoodWill....also bad?
I'm totally not going to stop making donations to GoodWill. Or other charities, but only as a last resort. There are a few other great and easy tactics that I now employ to extend the use of my clothes and minimize the need to off-load them to charity.
DO I NEED THIS?
These days I pay a lot more attention to the things I buy in the first place. This does NOT mean that I spend a bunch of money on clothes, it just means I spend smarter. Here are the questions I ask before I add to cart:
- Is it well constructed? Are the seams securely stitched and is the fabric sturdy?
- Is it classic enough to stand the test of time? Will this piece still be "cool" ten years from now?
- Is it basic? Can it easily be mixed-and-matched with the things I already own?
- Is it flexible? Can I wear this if I gain or lose a pound or 5? Or 15?
GIVE IT AWAY NOW
Say what you will about social media, but one thing it's GREAT at is connecting people who have things to people who need those things.
My number one favorite group on Facebook is my local Buy-Nothing group. These exist in just about every city and town, and they're so busy that I can usually un-load my stuff in a matter of hours.
There are a few people in this life that you need to know. One of them is a good tailor. I'm pretty handy, so I never thought it made sense to pay someone to mend my clothes for me...but now that I have witnessed a full-on resurrection of a pair of my ripped jeans in the hands of an expert tailor I'm a true believer. I hold on to my clothes SO MUCH LONGER now that I know there is almost no hole too big to be mended, no fit problem that can't be solved by the pros.
I have a large plastic bin of clothes of my daughter's (and sometimes mine) that is truly beyond hope--stained, faded, sad-looking. When the bin gets full enough, I dye the whole lot a darker color. Nothing fancy, a humble box of RIT dye will do...and voila! That pitiful pink top with the coffee stain is now a chic, black sheath!
To be clear. I'm not anti-GoodWill! In fact, I shop there a lot! Some of my favorite outfits came from there--beautifully made pieces that are classic and stand the test of time. But we can do much better than buying new stuff like there's no tomorrow and feeling good about it just because we "donate" when we're finished. With a little planning and great connections, it can be easy (and dare I say fun?) to reduce our impact on the planet.
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