What do you do with your old clothes?

Hands up who has a wardrobe overflowing with clothes they just don’t wear?

Coat hanger by Cara Photography

Image by Cara Photography

I know I do. There are even a few items of self-made clothing gathering dust at the bottom of my wardrobe. It’s a pretty shameful yet almost normal part of this culture of excess we’re living in.

Take this article by the Guardian, which while being from 2009, is still very much relevant today.

On average £470 per British woman was spent on items that were never worn and – as an extra sartorial slap in the face – one in 10 just chucked them in the bin, contributing to the estimated 900,000 tonnes of clothing currently thrown into landfill each year.

Whether or not this is the same today in 2011, I couldn’t tell you right now, but it’s pretty shocking, especially to me, as Cardiff women are named and shamed in the article as the worst offenders.

The fact is, whether we like it or not, as consumers of fast fashion we are flighty by nature. I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve complained I have nothing to wear when actually my wardrobe is bursting with clothes I’m actually just bored with.

This again boils down to this feeling of dissatisfaction Zoe spoke about when I interviewed her. How often have you seen a feature in a magazine criticising a high profile female celebrity for wearing the same outfit?

Advertising makes us feel as though we should wear something completely different every day because if (insert celebrity name here) can’t get away with it, then why should we be able to?

Rather than make a real commitment to a well constructed garment, we’ll happily fork out a fiver for something which will provide the quick fix satisfaction we crave. After wearing it once, it’ll probably end up in pieces in the bin a few months down the line.

Over the years I’ve filled charity bag after charity bag with clothing I no longer wear for whatever reason. While I won’t just throw something out after wearing it only the once, I can’t say hand on heart I haven’t thrown away clothes when they’ve worn out. Considering the amount of clothing I have owned over the years, this is worrying. This is without even taking any scrap fabric from sewing into account.

What I’d really like to learn more about is textile recycling. Textiles are one of those things which tend to be absent from the list of household recyclables. On top of this, I have to wonder what happens to the clothing high street retailers can’t shift.

Over to you. What do you do with your old clothes? By old, I don’t just mean those which are falling apart; I’m also talking about those impulse buys you were never able to take back, the clothes which don’t quite fit or even ones you just got bored with. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

22 thoughts on “What do you do with your old clothes?

  1. Minnado says:

    I have seen that some high street stores donate unsold some stock to charity shops. I don’t know how many do this though, definitely tesco! The one thing I don’t do is put my old clothes into a door step collection bag as I don’t always trust that they are from genuine charities and I have read articles about how they are sold for profit to private individuals, or the charity only gets a percentage. I prefer to take the clothes straight to a local charity shop where I know the charity will get maximum value from them. Also in the last couple of years holey sweat shorts and t shirts I have cut up for cleaning cloths.

  2. tabathatweedie says:

    I regularly donate to charity my old clothes and household stuff I no longer want (provided it’s in good enough condition to resell of course!). I was brought up to do so – my Mum and Grandma always had a charity bag on the go! I never throw clothes in the bin unless they’re completely worn out or ruined. I occasionally put some clothes into my ‘recycling’ pile with a view to refashioning them at some point. I’m on an eternal mission to declutter, and recently I actually bagged up over thirty dresses to give to charity, as well as other clothes that I had been holding onto for ages without wearing. I had so much to get rid of because throughout my twenties I went through a phase of buying clothes obsessively from anywhere and everywhere – charity shops, eBay, high street stores. I wanted to wear something different every day. But when I started sewing in my late twenties, I lost interest in buying new clothes from the high street. Why spend, for instance, £60 on a new dress, when I can make a nicer one for about a tenth of the price? And why buy clothes just for the sake of having something new? Now I’d much rather have self-stitched items in my wardrobe along with a few other treasured shop bought items, all of which I love and which fit me properly.

  3. molly says:

    I always give my old or unwanted cloths to charity or my friends or sisters (but my sisters have all out grown me now!). If it’s just too ratty for that I try my best to find a new purpose for the fabric – doll cloths for cousins, rags, facings and pockets, etc. Once I was able to donate fabric to a local high school’s home economics department. It would be nice if recyclers took textiles though.

  4. Layla says:

    In the last couple of years i have tried to recycle everything i wanted to chuck- by using the fabric, refashioning the item or making it into fabric scraps or cleaning cloths.Before that i used to give to charity shops, but i guess not always. Truthfully i still have lots of unwanted in my clost that i dont know what to do with, especially if its me-made. I just commented on Dixie’s post http://dixiediy.blogspot.com/ who said she’s giving her own made stuff to charity- brave and respect-worthy.

  5. aviewintomyworld says:

    isn’t it weird that textile recycling isn’t a proper “thing”?! we have clothes banks but its unclear whether they recycle what can’t be resold for charity or whether they sort it, take what can be resold and dump the rest. its something i want to look into too.
    i give to charity, including stuff that i’ve made but no longer wear

    • Amelia May says:

      Clothes that do not get used by charities end up sold on the cheap to companies that take them to developing countries to sell to NGO’s there, or at least that is how I have seen it work in the states.

      • Elena Cresci says:

        It is odd isn’t it? I’ll be looking into it, but if you find anything of interest, just shoot me an email and we can chat about it!

        What seems to happen a lot in the Uk at least is clothes are sent off to the retail outlets where they’re sold at a cut price. What happens from there, I don’t know – but I’ll find out! There’s no transparency with the way big clothing companies manufacture and deal with their clothing, which is frustrating if you want to try your best to be an ethical consumer.

        One interesting tidbit I found out about my area is that they have a problem with counterfeit goods every year – when they confiscate them, they actually get chucked away. This is something I’ll be looking into as well – I wonder if it’s something which happens often?

    • gingermakes says:

      There’s textile recycling in the States (it’s uncommon, but it’s featured at greenmarkets here in NYC). Hopefully it will become more prevalent and widespread in the future.

  6. Trice says:

    I usually wear my clothes until they are falling apart. I have clothes that are probably 10 years old sitting in my dresser and I still wear them. My t-shirts I don’t wear as much but I refused to get rid of them. Any clothes that I can no longer wear due to them shrinking (clearly it’s not because I’ve gain weight) I will try to give away to a friend.

  7. dizzle says:

    i just recently held a clothing/accessories swap with my coworkers. it was lots of fun and at the end, we took all the clothes none of us wanted and donated them to charity. i would like to work more on repurposing clothes though – sewing a skirt onto a tshirt to turn it into a dress, embroidering tees , etc.

  8. Ali says:

    I’ve donated so many clothes to charity it’s embarrassing (as if they grew like mushrooms in the night! ha). But I think I’m getting closer to not buying so many impulse purchases and lately, I’ve been doing a good job at making and buying things that last. With lots of those in my closet, I’m hoping to curb my consumption and thus, my waste. I’ve even thought of giving myself all sorts of challenges that will help me get into this habit, i.e. Project 333.

  9. Rachelle says:

    Most of mine go to charity, my boys are sent to friends with smaller boys unless worn out. The worn out ones go to the clothing bins where I believe they’re recycled for cleaning rags and stuffing. Any of my stuff or my husbands that is worn in just small parts and is suitable for the boys will be upcycled into clothing for them; they’ve just outgrown a wool cardigan that I downsized for them when it felted slightly and was no longer comfortable for me.

  10. Amelia May says:

    I am struggling with this question right now as my closet is overdue for some purging, and while I will take most of the clothes to charity, I feel bad even about throwing away clothes that are basically ruined. Even a shirt with a hopeless paint stain or tear on the front has a perfectly good piece of fabric on the back, right? I am going to try and get more crafty this time. The solution I’m working on for the future is a limit to the number of clothing items I can have: every time I buy something new, I will have to give up something old. My best inspiration for being more crafty with what I have (although admittedly, you’d need a good store of accessories to pull it off) is the Uniform Project: http://vimeo.com/11113046

    • Elena Cresci says:

      I absolutely love the Uniform Project! I actually have the pattern for the dress – it’ll probably be my Christmas project 🙂

  11. Minnado says:

    I linked to this post on my blog today as I had been writing a decluttering post with some similarities in issues to your concerns. Hope this is okay! I am trying to remember where I read an interview with a woman who runs a textile recycling business. It was very informative about where clothes end up…when I remember I will email you.

  12. Ninnie says:

    Where I currently live has a fortnightly collection for everything (except plastic bizarrely and dishearteningly enough). This means that we can dispose of bedding and old clothing with ease and know that it will be reused/rehoused/resomethinged, although I do tend to recycle my own textiles anyway. I’m currently making a couple of bolster cushions out of a pair of trousers that I didn’t wear because the beautiful green striped velvet that they’re made from doesn’t look so hot as a pair of trousers! I also have reems of fabric stored from other items of clothing that I plan to use for future projects. If I can’t reuse something myself, and it is in a good state, then I always donate it to a charity shop. I hate waste!

  13. Elena Cresci says:

    Just wanted to leave a quick comment to thank you all for commenting and taking the poll, it’s been so helpful! Normally I’d try to comment back to you all – but I plan on doing a follow up for this post with some more research. So keep your eyes peeled for that one!

  14. 2barbara says:

    i think sewers are by nature a frugal breed and i cannot bear the thought of tearing anything up for rags or throwing anything away. i live near enough to depressed areas to see for myself how people live when they don’t have enough. in my town there are a number of charity boxes and a cathedral which distributes directly to those in need. all of my unwanted clothing goes where it’s most needed. my children also give their clothing to charity. we are very selective about where we donate.

    did you know that a number of charities sell everything by the pound at auction each year because they need the money more than they need the clothing? i wonder what happens to clothing then?

    • Elena Cresci says:

      I’ve seen a couple of shops crop up offering to pay for unwanted clothing by weight, but I wasn’t sure if charity shops were using them on a regular basis. I did know of one which tended to sell holey clothing they couldn’t sell on the shop floor to the rag and bone man who’d then recycle it.

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