I still cannot believe it’s been over a year (pre-pandemic times, oh my!) since I volunteered with sorting items to be processed and priced at Goodwill. One by one, I went through clothing donations, inspecting their condition and evaluating each piece, making the call on what could be sold in-store.
Although this experience sometimes feels like a distant memory, the insights and wisdom I gained are everlasting. Of the many things I learned, it’s clear that we have a long way to go with changing perceptions of secondhand, especially slightly damaged clothing. When an item has a small hole or tiny stain at the thrift store, even if it’s easy to mend or wash, the garment is quickly dismissed. It’s harder to resell – making it destined for salvage. We throw away damaged goods directly in the trash at home, thinking they are a lost cause. We avoid confronting the challenge of taking the time to mend something. We do not want to deal with any problems, especially if it takes effort.
This lack of action contributes to the belief that flaws immensely devalue an item.
But if we take the extra time to clear stains and mend items, we could do wonders for our planet. If we prioritized the importance of preserving the climate over saving an additional mere thirty minutes (which is NOTHING, in the long run), who knows how the future could look.
These epiphanies bring me to the point of this article – to provide you with some reminders and tips to ensure that your donations can be reused and resold. Many nonprofit thrift stores accept most donations and are always eager to sort and recycle anything that they can. But sometimes, not everything can make it to the store floor. This is due to various reasons, including the presence of stains and the coating of pet hairs. Therefore, we can make a truly sustainable difference by taking some more time to clean and remove lint debris from clothing. By taking just a little more time prepping our donations, we can save the planet AND help nonprofits like Goodwill further fund their missions of supporting the community beyond an environmental sustainability angle.
- Launder: Nonprofit thrift stores don’t wash items. These higher costs take away from the funds to support the nonprofit’s mission. It also takes time away from sorting more clothes sold on the store floor. Lastly, laundering can affect store prices, driving them up. One thing to highlight is that thrift stores also avoid selling stained and torn clothing because it can affect their image, reputation, and promise of quality of products. They’re trying to break the thrift stigma and encourage reuse. Therefore, please wash your clothing before donating to remove stains. Do NOT donate wet items, though! These breed bacteria which can contaminate other perfectly sellable goods.
- Sort, fold, & organize: Sorting and organizing items before donating makes the sorting process easier for Merchandise Processors, helping to make the overall donation cycle faster and more efficient. Consider labeling boxes by type, securing shoes in pairs, and pinning together matching gloves.
- Mend: When sorting donations, I noticed that some items had rescuable tiny holes in them. Eek! These could have easily been sewn up, repaired, or used as rags at home. It was interesting to note that the fabrics we buy are of poor quality and quickly torn. Not only that, I was reminded about how the fashion industry avoids talking about how we should care for our clothing items to make them last longer. They encourage us all to buy, buy, buy more!
- Remove Lint & Pet Hair: If an item is visibly stained, has holes, or is coated with pet hair, thrift stores typically send it to salvage recycling operations. This process keeps as many donations as possible out of landfills. Salvage businesses repurpose fabric into things like rags and insulation. But to get to my point, lint roll your clothing because thrift stores do not usually clean pet hair off goods. They do not perform this task because store employees and customers can be sensitive to pet dander, even if an item is lint-rolled to perfection. Lint rolling also takes time away from sorting items that will sell faster.
- Donate in Recyclable & Reusable Containers: Avoid using plastic bags when possible! These are hard to recycle effectively, making them destined for the garbage. Instead, donate using easier-to-recycle vessels such as cardboard boxes and paper bags. Consider using a re-sellable plastic storage bin as a vessel! Why not use a suitcase that you do not need as a way to hold your clothing donations?
Although these five tips are just hitting the tip of the iceberg, I hope you find them helpful as you collect unwanted items for your next donation.
Remember that perfection is the enemy of progress.
Your next donation does not need to earn an A+ grade. Just do the best you can because even little changes in our behaviors can benefit the overall community and change the world, one reusable item at a time.
*Goodwill does not sponsor this piece. These views and opinions are my own.
Updated, December 23, 2021