How to Responsibly Get Rid of Old Clothes

I love a good closet purge.

Now that I shop responsibly (and way less frequently), I don't have to clean out my closet very often. However, there inevitably comes a time when something is too worn or doesn't fit me anymore. 

While getting rid of unwanted clothing is personally helpful, I want to make sure I'm doing it in a way that isn't wasteful or damaging to the environment. 

Dumping a bag of old clothes in the trash can be out-of-sight-out-of-mind for me, but those items will end up sitting in a landfill and releasing toxic gas into the environment as they decompose. I've been surprised to learn about how damaging our old clothing can actually be! (More info in this article.)

Even dropping of a bag of clothes at Goodwill is less than ideal. Only a fraction of donated items are actually sold in Goodwill stores, anything that can't be sold in stores here (which, as you can imagine, is a LOT of stuff) is sold overseas at extremely low prices. The unbeatable prices of this used clothing has wreaked havoc on the local garment industries in those countries. Items that are too damaged to sell overseas end up in landfills. (More info in this article.)


So what's a girl (or guy) to do? 


1. Buy less clothes.

I can't stress this enough. It's such a simple concept, but makes such a difference. Buying less frequently and choosing well-made pieces is the absolute best way to be responsible with your closet. 


2. Give or sell your used clothes to friends.

This method seems to be gaining more and more popularity. I love seeing someone I know giving new life to an item that no longer suits me. There's a few different ways to go about this:

  • Organize a clothing swap with your friends. Ask everyone to bring some items they're getting rid of.
  • Host a "pop up boutique" at your house. I did this a couple years ago and loved it! I set out all of my used items had some refreshments available while friends perused the selection. 
  • Surprise a friend with a piece of yours that they love. This has brought me so much joy recently! Instead of only giving away items that are totally tattered, consider giving a piece that you like to someone who will love it. 


3. Sell your clothes online. 

I've had a lot of success with this recently. It's especially worthwhile for items that are in great condition and from popular brands. Here are a few approaches:

  • Sell your clothes on Instagram. It works well to create a separate account and post your clothes on there so that people can comment to purchase them. Make sure the photos are in good light; it also helps to share photos of yourself wearing the clothes so that people can see what they look like on. 
  • Post your items on eBay or Craigslist. This takes a bit of work, but is worth it for higher-end items. 
  • Use an app like Poshmark or Tradesy to broaden your pool of potential buyers! 


4. Order a Cleanout kit from ThredUP

This is one of the easiest ways to responsibly get rid of old clothing. ThredUp will send you a bag with prepaid shipping to fill with your lightly-used clothes. You send the full bag back to them and they will process it and pay you for what they buy. I really appreciate that ThredUp responsibly handles the clothing they are unable to sell. They'll either return it to you or have textile recyclers upcycle the material. 


5. Donate to your local shelter.

This article offers a great list of locations in the Portland area for you to donate your clothing to. An outfit that you might not need could provide an amazing boost of confidence to someone who desperately needs it. It just takes a quick Google search to find homeless shelters, foster closets, etc. in your own city! 


6. Sell at your local consignment store.

The cool thing about selling clothes to consignment stores is that you know they'll only accept pieces that are pretty much guaranteed to sell. This means they don't end up throwing away items that they acquire! 


7. Recycle unwearable items 

Of course there will always be some items that just can't be reused. (I'm looking at you, socks and underwear.) Instead of throwing these into garbage sacks that end up in landfills, drop them off to be recycled. Gem Text Recycling has hundreds of locations across the country, and there are dozens of other organizations if you do a search for "textile recycling" in your city. 


It may take a little more effort to pursue these options, but it's so worth it. You can earn money, help someone in need, swap for a new item, or at least rest knowing your clothes aren't dangerously decomposing somewhere!