Sustainable style includes what you do with your clothes after you’re done wearing them

What to do with your unwanted clothes?

When you’ve gone through a closet clean out or moved or just periodically review and remove things from your wardrobe, you may be left stuck wondering what to do with those unwanted items. Especially if you want to avoid just throwing them away and want to be mindful about what you do.

Here is a hierarchy for what to do with those unwanted clothes.

Have a clothing swap with friends

If you don’t care about creating a consignment account or making money from your clothes, consider a clothing swap with your friends. This is a fun way to get together, have everyone bring their clothes, shoes and accessories (that are still in good quality) and have a swap. Make it a party and have fun!

Consider consigning your unwanted clothes

To start – anything you have that is new with tags (NWT) put in a pile for consignment. Because of the tags, there is an increased chance that those items will be accepted (and therefore make you money). Then…

  1. Separate the rest of the items into piles of varying quality.
    • My rule for things that should go in the consignment pile is – if you would give it to a friend then it’s ok to take to a consignment store. This means it should not have stains, pulls, tears, holes, missing pieces. It should not be pilled, overly worn, faded, etc. Everything that doesn’t make the cut goes into the donation pile.
  2. Now comes the second assessment – how old is the item? Most consignment stores only accept things in the past 1-2 years. Very rarely (and there are exceptions) will they take clothes more than a few years old. However, those clothes must be in impeccable quality. So anything that is “old” should probably go in the donate pile.
  3. Next recall roughly how much the item cost new – most stores prefer the items to have cost $50 or more when new. Unfortunately this is the reality. I have had people tell me how they have nice clothes from a department store (like Kohls or JC Penney) but they aren’t taken at the consignment store. That is because those brands are not what they are looking for. The clothes need to be a higher level brand and usually the $50 mark is the test. If it’s from a cheaper brand or store, it should go to the donate pile.
  4. Online options – Consider sending all of your unwanted clothes to a site such as ThredUP and see what they’ll take (and sell for you, you get part of the sale) and they donate the rest. Or you can consider selling the items yourself on sites such as Poshmark.
  5. Lastly, before taking an item to consignment (or sending them in for online resale) make sure the items are wrinkle-free and clean. Use a cloth or sponge to clean up shoes, it makes a difference, trust me! And by all means, NEVER take your items in a plastic garbage bag. Use nice reusable bags or old paper shopping bags.

Every consignment store (and online site) is different and quite frankly you will learn through trial and error. It also helps to call or go online and read their guidance. However, from experience it often depends on the people who intake the clothes. For more on how to be effective with consignment check out my blog on why you need a consignment store strategy.

What about the rest of the unwanted clothes?

Anything that did not make it into the first pile goes to the second pile. If it is stained, has holes, is broken, faded, pilled, torn, missing buttons or other finishing elements, it should be put in the donate pile.

When it comes to donations, call the intended store and see what they will accept. Larger thrift stores like Goodwill don’t care what quality the clothing is in because they sort and send the items that can’t be sold to downstream recyclers where the clothes are turned into rags or car seat stuffing.

However, a smaller charity thrift store may not have that option, so when you take them really “ratty” clothes, you are making more work for them. I have experienced this firsthand as I volunteered at a smaller thrift store and they threw away the clothes that were unsellable. So if you aren’t interested in consigning or would rather help a non-profit, then donate your nicer items instead of just your lower quality items.

You have a lot of options when it comes to your unwanted clothes. So consider if you want to make some money from consignment, do good by donating to a non-profit thrift store or do both.

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