Springtime is almost here, and that means for many individuals, spring cleaning! After Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix show Tidying Up made its debut,people around the world started asking themselves if their belongings “sparked joy” and sought out to declutter the items that didn’t. The show was great in getting people to be more mindful of what they want to bring into their life and demonstrated that having a lot of “stuff” is not the answer to happiness, however, I realized that there was a disconnect in understanding how to clean your closet in a responsible and sustainable way.
Many people think that by donating their clothes to thrift stores and charities, they are getting rid of their stuff more responsibly than throwing it out. An upswing in donations to these organizations might seem like a great thing, but there are hidden issues that thrift stores and charity shops face when they get way more donations than they can sell.
What’s the deal with donations?
Donating clothing that is unused or in good condition is definitely a better option than throwing it out, but there are more responsible ways to purge your closet. However, the reality is that thrift stores get insane piles of cheap, fast fashion clothing that few people want to buy, so an easy way to address sustainability in your own closet is to stop buying fast fashion. The hard truth is that only about 25% of donated clothing items actually get sold. The other 75% might end up in landfills or get shipped to other countries, specifically, developing countries — which is actually the fate of most clothing items that are “donated.”
Africa has become a big target for used clothing. Many countries are fighting back against this and say that it’s harming their local apparel economy and placing an unjust burden on their waste systems. Sel Kofiga, the founder of The Slum Studio (@theslumstudio) — a Ghanaian brand that creates wearable art pieces with clothing waste sourced in Accra– says, “there is the notion that Africa should always be the destination for the obsolete, for the outmoded, for things that have outlived their usefulness… we all know the politics involved in how the West’s mass production has for a long time underdeveloped not just African fashion but the economic growth of the continent as a whole simply because our space is seen as a dumping site. No, it is not about charity or help. It is a business and economic strategy which locks us into the idea of need and over dependency on the West.” His words are powerful. The dumping of used clothes happens in many countries which include Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The idea that we’re giving our “garbage” to someone else, especially developing countries, is a dire ethical issue that stems from racial and socioeconomic inequalities.
How can we donate better?
- Make sure everything is clean and in good condition (if you wouldn’t wear/use it, it’s better to recycle and not donate it)
- Check Facebook marketplace for low-income households that are looking for specific clothing items
- Check with shelters, charities, and other local organizations to see who might want your clothing — it’s important to contact them first because some groups may only need or accept specific items
Sell your clothes instead
This can be a great way to ensure your clothes go to someone who will use it. You can use local buy/sell sites or groups (like FB marketplace or Kijiji), sell through consignment stores or online marketplaces (Poshmark, The RealReal, ThredUp, ASOS Marketplace, and other platforms). Consider even donating the funds from your clothing to support your favourite organizations! That can be a lot more helpful than donating your clothes to them.
What are other ways to purge your closet?
Consider doing a clothing swap with your friends or family members that may want your things. You can also post what you’re getting rid of on social media to see if anyone wants it. This way, you know your clothes are going to someone who will use it. There’s also a cool website called Freecycle that allows users to give away free stuff for any takers, all you have to do is type in your local area! Facebook has many similar “free trading” groups. For clothes that need to be repaired or have the potential to be upcycled and turned into something new, check out Pinterest, Youtube, and other blogs to find ways to DIY your clothes into something new.
Can you recycle clothes?
Depending on where you live and the condition of the clothes you’re looking to recycle, you can look into a few of these options:
- Research if the brand of clothing has a take-back program (check out Patagonia’s recycling program!)
- Look to see if local recycling facilities accept what you’re looking to donate
- Look into TerraCycle because they recycle many items that recycling facilities won’t take
After you’ve cleaned your closet
The time has come. You’ve finished cleaning your closet and the decluttering process is done. So, enjoy your new space! To make the most of these de-cluttering efforts, one of the most important first steps is to make a conscious effort to not re-accumulate the clothes you’ve thrown out. In order to not re-accumulate your clothes, here are some mindful behaviours and questions you can ask yourself to reshape Western cultures regarding consumerism:
- Refrain from purchasing anything in the first place, true sustainability comes from a place of curbing our consumption and finding ways to use what we already have
- Will this item continuously “spark joy” for years to come?
- Are you purchasing something made from an ethical company? Is it made out of sustainable material? Read more about the impact of non-sustainable materials on the environment
- Do you really need this outfit?
- Do you shop for fun or for stress relief?
- When you think purchasing a piece of clothing will spark happiness, does it? And if so, for how long? What are some other ways you can spark joy in your life?
- Are you an impulse shopper? How do sales impact your consumption patterns?
Let’s ring in the 2021 Spring Cleaning season with more mindful behaviour and try to find other creative outlets to bring joy and excitement into our lives besides a new outfit. For more information on how to spring clean your wardrobe, Threading Change is hosting a “Sustainable Spring Cleaning” Webinar at 8 AM PST on April 1st, featuring a panel full of waste and slow fashion experts! Follow Threading Change on Instagram for more updates on this webinar!