This post was written by Hannah Theisen and originally appeared on Life Style Justice.
Any aspiring minimalist or zero-waste living enthusiast will eventually run into the ethical issues with getting rid of stuff. Most of us who are on this lifestyle path haven’t been minimalists or conscious consumers from birth, so how do we dispose of all the stuff we’ve accumulated that we don’t want or need without contributing toward the environmental stress that’s being placed on our planet by our massive amounts of cast off goods…
I generally don’t support big thrift shops.
Only about 20% of what gets donated to those Goodwill-type stores is actually put out for sale.
The rest is sorted and either sent to landfill or shipped overseas- and the crazy surplus of cheap American fashion in developing companies has ruined many countries’ own textile/clothing industries and contributed to the lack of sustainable work. Kind of like how TOMS dumps shoes in “poor” communities and brings ruin to local shoemakers, or how we dump excess crops from the US into Haiti and put local farmers out of business. In addition, the financials and “charitable giving” of these big-box thrift stores are somewhat sketchy. Goodwill, for example, pays top executives millions per year while paying workers as little as 22 cents an hour.
Since I’ve been trying to avoid simply hauling bags of my no-longer-wanted stuff to a donation site at Goodwill or Salvation Army, I’ve had to get a bit more creative (and alot slower) as I downsize my belongings. Here are some ways that I’ve been able to get rid of my old “junk” in a more sustainable way:
Many non profits and art organizations accept donations of used art supplies. I was able to recently get rid of a bunch of old card stock, half-used acrylic paints, brushes, and more by donating it to a local group that teaches free art classes to youth.
Free The Girls collects used bras to donate to a social enterprise in Mozambique where women repair and remake the undergarments and sell them in the local market. I’ve donated to Free The Girls several times… and will most likely continue to do so because I haven’t found a better alternative and I believe very strongly in providing jobs for women leaving the sex trafficking industry. However, I am going to be honest and say that I don’t love the organizations messaging and the general rescue-y vibe. In addition, I know that donating used goods to be sold in overseas markets can be quite detrimental to the local economy and apparel industry. However, I still believe that donating used bras to be refurbished and worn again is a better alternative than throwing them in the landfill. You can mail bras to Free the Girls, or see if there is a local drop off center near you. I drop mine off at a local midwifery office!
When getting rid of clothing, I go by a certain formula:
- Give Away
- Trash or compost
First, I always try to sell my lightly used clothing. Not because I need to get money from my old stuff, but because my philosophy is that people place more value on stuff when it’s not free, and think more carefully about whether they want something or not. For example, when I go to a clothing swap and am faced with piles of free clothes, I am far more likely to pick up something that I don’t really need/won’t end up wearing a lot! (Leah recommends selling on ebay or poshmark.)
Second, I’ll give away anything that my friends or family want. Thankfully I have two sisters who wear similar sizes! Sometimes this step is first, if I’m getting rid of a piece that I know a certain friend would like or fit into well.
Third, I try to repurpose. If an item isn’t sellable or easy to give away, most likely it’s a bit ratty. I tear old cotton tees into rags, make headbands from old shirts, and have even made cloth napkins from some of Andrew’s old button downs.
Fourth is donation. This, of course, is only for things in good condition, and only as a last resort if I haven’t been able to give them away, sell them, or repurpose them. When I do donate, I donate to a small local thrift and vintage shop rather than Goodwill.
Fifth is Trash. Thankfully I don’t have to use this option very often, but occasionally some of Andrew’s work shirts will be so torn up, filled with holes, and covered with glue that they aren’t salvageable for any purpose. Anything that’s 100% natural fiber gets composted, a few things do find their way to the trash can…