It has been awhile since I volunteered to sort 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 extra problems, especially if it takes effort that is beyond our comfort zone.
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 thirty minutes (which is nothing, in the long run), we could create a massive impact and see the change we all want.
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 a variety of 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 and take time away from sorting more clothes sold on the store floor. This also affects the prices of the item and can drive up costs to compensate for loss of time and funding to prepare them. 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 and remove stains before donating. Do not donate wet items, though—they can be bacteria breeding grounds, which can contaminate other perfectly sellable goods.
- Sort, fold, & organize: Sorting and organizing items before donating makes the process easier for merchandise processors and helps 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 tiny holes in them—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 ways we can 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. 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 storage bin or suitcase that you do not need as ways to carry your 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.
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.