The secondhand clothing economy has grown dramatically over the years, due to the Marie Kondo influence, along with growing consumer awareness of the negative effects of fast fashion. We think it’s a positive change that emphasizes the sustainability cycle, and we support this industry wholeheartedly.
But can there be too much of a good thing? Due to the popularity of “clothing purges” and the aesthetic impact of minimalism, some thrift stores are now swamped with unwanted donations, often to the point of having to set restrictions on what gets taken in. The surplus of unsold wares often gets shipped overseas to be resold, trashed or shredded for insulation and rags.
So how can we donate mindfully and ethically, without cramming secondhand stores full of unwanted goods? Where are the best places to donate clothing? And how can we ensure that our clothing is ready for the next wearer?
Follow us as we outline the ethical process for donating your goods.
Finding the Right Donation Venue
Picking your donation venue may seem like a simple step — Google the nearest donation center, pack up your clothes and drop them off, right? We’ve all followed this process while paring down our closets and pantries.
We encourage thinking a little deeper about where your clothing donation goes. Take a second to consider your values: Do you prefer a community-based organization or a group with more national reach? Do you support religious organizations? Is it important for your donation center to have a charitable component?
Salvation Army and Goodwill are both found nationwide and emphasize helping members of local communities, either through donations of goods or money. At Goodwill, you can usually round up your sum to support a local charity. Salvation Army also picks up donations if you have a large enough collection of goods. Almost all thrift stores offer a tax deduction for donations as well.
Though both options are great places to donate, you can also ask neighborhood Facebook groups or poll friends to find smaller — but no less worthy — organizations you can support. When looking at lesser-known organizations particularly, be sure to do your research. Make sure they are legitimate and that their mission is in line with their actions in the community.
Other donation centers you may consider are refugee organizations, women’s shelters, churches with a wide network of goods distribution or Habitat for Humanity. Dress for Success is specifically aimed at improving the economic position of women by providing them with professional attire for the workplace and interviews. If you have children’s items, check out Once Upon A Child for donations.
And as always, we encourage connecting with others directly, so if you know someone in your community in need, reach out or let others know that you have donations to pass along.
There’s no lack of donation centers in your community, so it’s key to find the one where your donations can make the most impact. And always feel free to pick up the phone or stop by the store to chat with the staff. Often, they know what items they are in most need of and what would benefit their patrons best. Most donation centers also list acceptable/unacceptable items on their website.
We must shift our mentality around donating to think about what benefits the recipient — instead of how we can quickly get rid of an item in our closets. This is a small shift, but helps us make better buying and donating decisions, and will ensure that our donation process is an ethical one.
Preparing Your Clothes for Donation
Step 1. Choose your clothing carefully.
With the overflow of donations we mentioned, it’s even more important than ever to be considerate about what you choose to donate. Examine your items to see if there is any irreparable damage — broken zippers, large ripped pieces of fabric or prominent staining.
If your clothing is truly unusable or unwanted, consider transforming it into rags for your home instead of donating. You can also see if your local zoo or animal shelter will take old sheets and blankets for the animals. American Textile Recycling Service also has drop-off bins and collection services for unwanted textiles.
Step 2. Wash and fix any items you can.
All too often, we will find items of clothing in a donation center that carries odors or stains that can be easily treated and remedied before they make their way to the center. Ease the burden of the next wearer by paying attention to these details beforehand.
It takes little effort to throw in a quick load of laundry before you go to the donation center. If you see any stains, treat them before you bring them in. Check your pockets for old receipts, candy wrappers or debris. Take pride in what you are doing and make sure that your clothing is in the best possible state for the next wearer.
Step 3. Package your clothing mindfully for a donation center.
Workers at donation centers spend hours a day sorting through clothing, which can understandably be an unpleasant task, especially if people aren’t considerate about how they donate.
Try to place similar items together in bags and fold them as you would any other item in your closet. This will make the donation center’s employees’ jobs much easier.
Keep in mind that your boxes or bags won’t be returned, so select packaging that you won’t care about leaving behind. When you’re packing clothes, be sure that you’re not cramming too much into a bag. A ripped bag (and resulting clothing spillover) can be an unnecessary annoyance for a donation center employee.
Step 4. Drop off your donations.
The simplest part of the process: Drive or walk to your local donation center and drop off your goods at appropriate business hours. (It’s rude to just leave them outside the door, unless the donation center specifies that it’s okay to do so.)
You may even consider creating a pre-itemized list of your donations if you are looking for a charitable tax deduction. It will keep you organized and help out the employees at a donation center.
As you select and prepare your clothing for donation, always keep in mind that the recipients of your donations are real people who deserve to feel good and protected in what they are wearing. The positive impact we make on the world depends on thoughtful execution as well as good intentions.