A new year, a new you, a new closet

Written by Zenda Nel
Sustainability reporter

Does your wardrobe greet you with a bunch of crumpled clothes when you open it? Is it a jumbled mess that you would rather not have anyone set eyes on? If so, it might be time to reorganise the mess and while you’re at it, get rid of some of your clothes.

I find the best modus operandi is to take everything out, including shoes, and give the wardrobe a good wipe down before I start putting items back that I wear regularly and know I will keep wearing. Even if you are not into the current declutter craze, it makes sense to reorganise your clothes as most of us tend to have more clothes than we need or use.

When doing a cleanout, you want to do it sustainably, prolonging the usefulness of every clothing item for as long as possible and doing your best to avoid it ending up in a landfill. 

What to keep, recycle, toss or donate

The traditional advice is to toss everything you haven’t worn in the last year, but life isn’t that neat. You can’t reorganise a closet by answering one simple question. For instance, you may not recently have worn that pink suit you bought for your sister’s wedding because you had no opportunity to wear it in the last twelve months.

No, there are many more questions to consider. 

  1. Do you get compliments when you wear it? That’s a keeper; you obviously look good in it.
  2. Is it high maintenance? You may want to throw something out that always needs ironing or dry cleaning.
  3. For tops, pants and skirts – do I have something to wear it with? If the answer is no, consider tossing it.
  4. Does it look tired, is it damaged in some way? Don’t keep it in your closet. Either toss it or consider upcycling it.
  5. Is it uncomfortable in any way – too small in the waist, always falling off your shoulders, irritating your skin – consider getting rid of it.
  6. If you are not wearing it, ask yourself why it’s taking up space in your cupboard. Perhaps because you paid an unreasonably high price for it and can’t just throw it out? You love it, but it’s really outdated now? It doesn’t fit, but you WILL lose that extra weight soon. Whatever the reason, be brutally honest and don’t keep what you don’t wear.
  7. Here is a great question to consider for those pieces you don’t have an instant answer: would you buy it now? If the answer is no, get rid of whatever it is.
  8. Does it bring back painful memories? If you associate a dress, however lovely, with wearing it when your ex broke up with you or a fight you had with a friend or family member, don’t keep it. Let it make space for something that gives you pleasure instead.

Before we get to what you can do with the clothes and shoes you plan to throw out, here are a few tips to help you avoid having to do a major clean-out in the first place.

Don’t wait until your cupboard is in a complete mess – do a regular clean-out. At least sort through everything when the season changes. It will avoid a build-up of clothes. 

Commit to a certain number of clothes and don’t go beyond that. The number will be different for different women, but the point is to discipline yourself to avoid impulse buying. To get to a number, figure out how many clothes you need for a basic wardrobe and add a few pieces for special occasions. Take your lifestyle into account; if you socialise a lot, or attend a gym, include smart clothes and activewear.

Simply learn to do with less. Just look at the pile you have decided to dispose of - doesn’t that tell you that you can do with less?

Photo by Sonia Sanmartin on Unsplash


What to do with the clothes you’re not keeping

Depending on the condition of these pieces, you may decide to toss, recycle, upcycle or donate them.

Put natural fabrics back into the earth

If you have a garden, you can compost clothing made of natural fibres like cotton, linen, wool and silk, by digging it back into the soil. Over time, the fabric will slowly decompose and become part of the organic matter that plants grow in. Natural fibres will biodegrade in a couple of weeks or a few months depending on the conditions. Cut the clothes into small pieces and remove all buttons, zips and other embellishments before composting.

Recycling

Old clothes that you no longer want to wear, can be mended, sold or donated to be worn by someone else. Most councils offer recycling bins spread around cities but you can also hand in your clothes at fashion outlets like H&M and Zara. They both have a recycling service for unwanted clothes. H&M accepts any brand no matter what the condition at all their stores in Australia.

Charities also accept clothing in good condition. Vinnies welcome good quality clothes, shoes and accessories all year round. The organisation uses the income to support people recovering from crises and disasters in Australia and overseas.

Many charities in Australia sell good quality second-hand clothing. However, make sure you donate clothes fit for wearing, otherwise, the organisation will just send it to a landfill.  Charities send all unusable donations to a dump, and that amounts to 60,000 tonnes of waste every year. 

You can also visit recyclingnearyou.com/au/clothing to find out all about recycling clothes and other items in Australia.

Sell unspoilt clothes you no longer wear on consignment online

Do you have clothing items, shoes and accessories you no longer use? Do you want to make some money while getting rid of them, but don’t want the hassle of schlepping everything to a market or a car boot sale?

The Closet will sell your clothes for you, dealing with buyers, complaints and returns on your behalf. All you have to do is order a thrift bag to put your stuff in, and a courier will collect it from you. The Closet sells and ships them for you, and you can earn credit or cash. Keep in mind, The Closet only accepts clothing items in immaculate condition. 

If you only have a few pieces to sell, Facebook Market and apps like Depop or Poshmark may also be the way to go.

Upcycling

This is by far the most fun thing to do with old clothes you no longer wear but don’t want to get rid of. With a little time, creativity and initiative, you can give new life to old, well-loved pieces or something that never really fitted very well. For ideas, take out your phone and scroll through Pinterest and Etsy – both are fantastic sources of inspiration. 

Just shortening the sleeves of a blouse or summer jacket can change the look completely, especially if you add a detail somewhere, like a row of buttons or a patch of embroidery. 

If the item has a stain or a tear, you can patch it with a contrasting piece of fabric and some simple stitching. All you need is a needle and thread. 

There are loads of sewing lessons online that will give you the skills and confidence to transform the pieces you just can’t part with.

If you don’t have the time or the inclination to do some cutting and sewing, there are other ways to deal with unwanted clothes.

Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash

Donate sustainably

Donate to Homeless Shelters

Several organisations across Australia take clothing donations to help people experiencing a difficult time. Make sure how they want to receive the clothes – some will only accept items that are sorted and boxed or organised in some way. This way, someone may still get years of use out of your clothes.

Photo by Latrach Med Jamil on Unsplash

Wedding dresses, maternity clothes, high school uniforms, etc.

It’s very tempting to take these items to the nearest charity shop and be done with it. Unfortunately, most charities will simply send these kinds of items off to a landfill and that you want to avoid.

Instead, take old school uniforms directly to the school. There are always students who can’t afford more than one uniform and all students need at least two per season. Maternity clothes are usually still in good condition. Take them straight to local women’s shelters where they definitely will get a second life. As for your old wedding dress or evening gown that is just taking up space in your closet, find a store that takes such items and will sell them.

Donate to Dress for Success

Dress for Success accepts spotless office attire, shoes and accessories to help job seekers across regional and the metropolis of NSW who can’t afford business attire nail their job interviews. Only take items that you would consider wearing for an important appointment.

Return it to where you bought it

Australia has a host of sustainable clothing brands committed to producing quality garments while being cognisant of how their business affairs may affect the environment. Some of these brands will take the clothes back that you bought from them.

Melbourne-based womenswear brand Lois Hazel has an agreement with textile recycling company UPPAREL to encourage recycling among its customers. Lois Hazel receives used shoes, linen and clothing from customers in exchange for store credit. Madre Natura, based in Sydney, works towards sustainability by offering customers free repair services for the lifetime of their clothes. The brand also accepts unwanted textiles, which it uses in its upcoming collections.

Final thoughts

There is no sense in owning more clothes than you need, and there’s no need to throw clothes away when there are literally countless ways to extend their usefulness. But ultimately, a more sustainable relationship with clothes starts with buying less. 

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