How to Donate Your Clothes Like a Champ

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Although we generally focus on the shopping part of the thrift chain, I want to take a moment to talk about donation. If you want to rack up some good thrift karma, learning to be a great clothing donor is a fantastic place to start. Most of these tips are pretty self-explanatory, but since thrift stores can end up as dumping grounds for closet castoffs it’s worth discussing the basics.

Don’t donate ruined stuff

A snag here or small stain there isn’t the end of the world, but clothing that is truly and completely ruined? The thrift store can’t re-sell that any more than you can wear it. Large rips or tears, obvious stains, overwhelming smells, holes, broken and hard to replace closures can be deal-breakers. If you’re donating a high-end or designer item with flaws, shoppers may be more willing to overlook them. But that sweater from H&M with the giant snag across the chest? Use it as a rag, make it into a cat bed, cut off the sleeves and use them as fake socks, or find another way to repurpose it.

Don’t donate dirty stuff

Launder before donating. Please and thank you.

Try to donate before or during the current season

If you purge your entire wardrobe all at once, you’ll have some summer sundresses to jettison alongside your cozy cardigans and old boots. If you have any storage available to you – a basement, crawlspace, or roomy closet – try to focus on giving over your seasonally appropriate stuff. Thrift stores are generally inundated with clothing donations year-round, and if you give them flip-flops in February they will have to store them until someone in your climate will want to buy them. If you’re moving, have no real storage, or really need to clear out your space you can certainly donate at will. But you’ll do your local stores a major favor if you can hang onto the stuff until the right season, or a month or two before.

Consign, too … but consider your choices

Better quality stuff can make you back a bit of money, and that can be essential if you’re strapped for cash or plagued by guilt over an item that was purchased and never worn. But you’ll never make back your full amount, and a never-worn item can be a huge boon to your local charity shop. Don’t feel guilty if you’d rather consign! They’re your clothes and your choices. But if you can afford to throw a gorgeous new goodie into the donation pile on occasion, you’ll be helping others.

Research your causes

Virtually all thrift stores support charity organizations. Do you want to help disabled people find jobs? Support veterans? Give to the church, temple, or mosque? Support research for specific health causes? Most American cities have Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but there might be other charities that can use your donations and fit with your own values and priorities.

What other tips would you share for being a helpful clothing donor?

Image courtesy William Ward

  • Margaret

    I appreciate all of these tips however it is my understanding that for clothes that are not in shape for selling, Goodwill recycles (sells) these items to either industrial entities for rags, etc. or to salvage brokers. This is what their website says. I would agree that for any smaller thrift stores, you are simply passing along a problem but for this large entity, they seem to have a method for addressing it. If anyone else has suggestions for what to do with ripped jeans, paint stained t shirts, etc., I would love to hear it since the trash bin hardly seems right. I am not crafty and won’t be making those ripped kids’ jeans into potholders, backpacks, etc. so I want to do the greenest thing.

    • http://www.tragicsandwich.com Tragic Sandwich

      The problem is that their method often results in undercutting clothing industries in developing countries.

    • Kim

      Also, in Canada there are charities that collect donations, then sell by the pound to places like Value Village. I want that charity to get full benefit of every ounce of product that I have available to give them and I am willing to let the for-profit company sort it out on their end.

      Admittedly, I am more likely to save my nice stuff for smaller groups that do their own sorting

  • Dina

    I have one addendum to the first point on your list: check with the organization. Many will take damaged clothing and turn them into rags. It’s worth checking: places like goodwill will turn the items into rags or sell them to salvage companies if someone like me has no need for that. Not saying you should, but if you’re like me and wear clothes out to the point of staining or tears, it’s still a donation.

  • Anonymous

    I heard this story on NPR several weeks ago and found it fascinating: “The Afterlife of American Clothes” (Program: Planet Money).

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/12/10/247362140/the-afterlife-of-american-clothes

  • Emily

    The other thing that I would suggest is to think about where and to whom you are donating your old clothes. My boys outgrow their shoes and winter jackets faster than they can wear them out. I donate all kids clothes in excellent condition, women’s winter coats, hats, mittens, bras and jeans in great condition and gently used toys to a local women’s shelter. Women who leave abuse almost always leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs. What they can’t use the shelter either donates or sells to a thrift store. I like knowing that I am helping in a small way.
    I also donate winter clothing and men’s shoes in good condition to organizations like Out of the Cold for people who are homeless. Evening clothes, dress shoes, suits and business clothes that are current and in excellent condition can be donated to organizations that provide prom dresses or interview clothes for people in need.

    • Margaret

      These are excellent points: there are so many people in need who cannot “shop” at all. Many women arrive at shelters without anything for themselves or their children. Our family has also donated furniture to a housing program which transitions formerly homeless families to permanent new homes. As an aside, I do find that sometimes the desire to find the “right place” to donate stalls my efforts at decluttering (or whatever one calls it) but perhaps that is a post for another day!

  • rebecca

    I really like to donate to Dress for Success http://www.dressforsuccess.org, for any kind of professional wear. Donating to them makes it easier for me to let go of some nicer things that don’t work for me, but I am not quite ready to just send them off to Goodwill and I never get around to consigning. I am plus size and that is one category that they always need donations in.

    • Jen

      Oh, thanks for this! I have 2 or 3 blazers that I found are just too formal, even for my teaching position interviews. I’m also plus-sized, and I know how hard good blazers can be to find, especially cheaply. Off to check this out!

  • LinB

    As one who haunts at least five thrift stores every week, I have a tip about donating your used electronics: if you can’t find the adaptor/recharger, or wouldn’t be seen dead with such an outdated piece of equipment, chances are that your average thrift store customer won’t want that old thing, either. And don’t be all nasty and mean to the donations staff, when they won’t take your television set from the 1980s: their donations policy is clearly posted at the door, and “No t.v.s” is the first item on the list. Believe them when they say “no cribs, no playpens, no carseats.” Safety regulations have changed since your grandmother’s mother put her in in that old baby bed.

    Heck, don’t ever be nasty and mean to the donations staff! It reflects far worse on you than on them.

  • anonymous

    I have actually gone to the length in my past of calling my local and state recycling offices to ask where to donate unusable textiles for recycling; they both told me perkily to “just drop it off in the Value Village or Goodwill donation bins.” I have checked both of their websites and they do run large textile recycling programs but it is not at all clear to me whether they want to be in this business or whether they are breaking even on it. I also have qualms about harming the market for local textiles in any countries where my unsaleable donations might end up, but I also don’t want to put them in a landfill. I feel like I am really between a rock and hard place on this one, as there are only so many rags, paint clothes and cute felted craft objects a household can reasonably absorb! I wish someone could offer clearer guidance on this.

    • Jen

      Maybe check for crafting organizations like quilters or sewers in your area? Or a community college with a textile program or classes might accept junk fabric. Also check elementary schools or preschools –I teach preschool, and I can always use paint-splattered t-shirts to put over the kids’ clothes for art time and smallish-sized clothes for dress-up.

    • zora

      In California there is an actual state-run textile recycling program now. It will be broken down and turned into stuffing/insulation/other things. So for anyone in CA, collect those torn, stained, whatever clothes and look online for a textile recycling location near you. Hopefully more states will start this kind of thing soon, because it has lots of industrial applications.

  • http://bahnwaerterhaeuschen.blogspot.de/ beate

    sadly i wear my clothes to rags.
    80% of them are self sewn, the rest is vintage. i never buy/sew stuff i will not wear, and when i had a figure change 2 years ago from physical labor at our new home i could alter my dresses. if they get a little worn out for the town i wear them as house/garden dresses. some stuff in my closet is over 10 years in my use……..
    so to help charity organizations i have to find another way :-)

  • http://bagandaberet.blogspot.com/ Melanie

    If you’re in Vancouver, BC, don’t put clothing donations into donation bins. Despite the complex loading systems on these bins, the items you have taken care to clean, wrap, and deposit are often pulled out and dragged down alleys and streets by mischief-makers (a nice word), and become garbage. Arrange to have your items picked up or take them yourself to a depot. Great tips in this post.

  • Jen

    Another tip is to ask nicely for a donation receipt when you drop off your donations. If you itemize, you can deduct your donated items for a tax refund. I think the IRS has a list of what your donated goods are worth; I’m often surprised at how they value items. I think used jeans you donate are “worth” $7, for instance. Most charities will give you a blank receipt and you fill in the estimated worth of your goods. if you donate often, you may also want to keep an itemized list for taxes, I.e., “2/28/14, 4 pairs of jeans, 2 sweaters donated to Goodwill”.

    Another thing is if I am making a large donation, I separate items by category and maybe even label the trash bags with masking tape as to what’s inside them. My dad died two years ago, and we have probably taken over 20 bags to Goodwill, even after giving some stuff to family and friends. A couple of the employees mentioned that they appreciate this.

  • marsha calhoun

    Do I need to dry clean things before donating? That seems a bit counter-intuitive in some way, and anyhow, I can’t afford it. I guess I’m hoping that if something is in otherwise great shape, having to dry clean it won’t seem like such a problem if the price is right.

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  • Yipp ee

    Every thrift store I’ve ever been in has off season merchandise out, so I definitely would not let that deter you from donating summer wear, in the middle of winter.

    I’ve only seen them save up the holiday stuff, to put out at holiday time.