BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

Get fit, get organized, & get your financial affairs in order

What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear

Posted by denisefisher on April 17, 2009

Thrift Store Clothing Display Purging one’s possessions is not as easy as it would seem. There are mental blocks and rationalities that make this task difficult. We get attached to our stuff and tend to overvalue things that we own, even when we’re ready to part with them. The value we see in our inactive wardrobe items generally falls into one or more of these categories:

  • Utilitarian Value
    I don’t want it, but it’s too good to throw out.
  • Monetary Value
    This is worth some money.
  • Inherent Value
    I would wear this if it still fit me. Do you want it?
  • Sentimental Value
    Aw, I remember when I wore this. OR I can’t throw this out – it’s my lucky hat.
  • Salvage Value
    I can’t wear this anymore, but I really like the fabric (or trim or some other feature). I wish I could do something with it.

When making these tough decisions about what to do with what you don’t wear, it helps to have options. If you have options, you can take action. It will get you unstuck if you’re frozen in a state of indecision. Here’s are the options I came up with to address the values we want to maintain:

Sell it – Consignment Store, E-bay, Craig’s List, Garage Sale

Donate it – Non-profit Organization/Thrift Store (for tax deduction)

Give it away – Hand-me-downs, Clothing Swaps, Freecycle.com, Organized Events, Theater Wardrobe, Random Giveaway

Repurpose it – Alterations or New Use (pants to shorts, long skirt to short skirt), Relegate items to categories of work clothes or costumes

Salvage it – Make it into a new textile item (quilt, comforter, picnic spread, pillow), cut it up for rags, use it for pet bedding

Save it – Display it, Store it as an archive/heirloom

Trash it – Last resort option for unusable items taking up space

If the options seem a bit overwhelming and you need a reality check to assess your options, you might try a rating system. From the options suggested above, list the specific options that you’d honestly consider acting upon. Next to each option listed, use a five-level rating system with these icons, to evaluate which options are best:

$ Financial benefit (a definite plus)

* Time & effort involved (a possible detraction)

@ Space needed to work on or store items (a possible detraction)

+ Your satisfaction with that particular option (a definite plus)

# Likelihood that you’ll follow through and finish (the determining factor)

By creating a rating system, you can explore each option separately, using the icon factors on a scale of one to five ($$$$$ next to the option of consignment shop or e-bay would indicate a substantial sum of money could be earned if you chose that option). Then you can compare the composite ratings to see which options are most realistic for you. The trump card lies in your likelihood to do (and finish) whichever option you favor. Even if a garage sale would net you a tidy profit, and you’d be happy with the outcome, scratch it off the list of viable alternatives if you know you’re not likely to get it done (despite your good intentions). You’ve still got other alternatives, and you can save the garage sale option for your next round of closet organizations, when your life is more orderly.

For some people, this exercise is a no-brainer. No need to make this task difficult or complicated. They limit their options and require little deliberation to decide and then act. But for others, the process is excruciating and time consuming. It’s better to have options and some kind of assessment process (even if it may seem overly elaborate) than to remain indecisive and action-averse. The good thing about thinking through this decision-making process, and coming up with what works for you, is that it is a skill that you will reuse and strengthen through practice. You’re not going to clear out your closet once and be done with it forever. So it can be worth the time and effort to make a major production out of it once, so that you can confidently take action and learn to hone your process through repetition.

What happens to clothing I donate?
I have read a lot of misinformation about what clothing is acceptable to donate to charitable organizations and where it it ends up. I’ve heard “experts” admonish readers not to donate clothing that’s  out of fashion or unsuitable to wear, and I’ve heard others talk about how they donate items to clothe the poor and homeless. Both of these perceptions are largely inaccurate and are explanations that are retold so frequently that they are presumed to be true. But most donors are so far removed from the people and the processes involved that they are simply ignorant and fill in the gaps of the story with ideal imaginings (similar to the way people imagine where meat and produce come from and what happens to trash and whatever is poured down the drains or sewers).

Thrift Store Clothing - Womens
So, to get the story straight about donated clothing, I visited several thrift stores, talked to the managers, and called corporate offices. I was able to talk to some local and national organizations, for profit and non-profit, who could give me the scoop. Of course, there are variations to this process and its details, amongst the wide array of business models, but for the eight organizations that I checked out, the process was fairly typical.

1. For most non-profit (and even for-profit) organizations, they are basically running a full-time garage sale to take your donated items, sell them at a market price to whomever wants to buy them, take the liquidated proceeds and use that money to fund and administer their service programs. The organization to whom you make your donations is the cause you are supporting with your clothing contributions. Some clothing items are designated for unemployed career seekers who need interview outfits or for other select recipients. But mostly, it’s all sold to the public and turned into cash.

2. Clothing items are dropped off by donors at designated locations (usually at the thrift store location – many have specific hours where you can drop off items at the back, where someone will help you unload and give you a receipt). Alternatively, some organizations provide pick-up service – with calls initiated by the donor; though sometimes monthly calls are made by the non-profit organization from a calling list of regular donors. Other organizations will drop off collection bags with instructions and a designated pick-up date noted on the bag.

3. Collected clothing is sorted, priced, and arranged for display on racks or shelves in their thrift store locations. Many of the thrift stores use a color-coded price tag system that changes weekly, so they can tell how long an item has been on display without being sold, and the inventory can be rotated. Clothing is not laundered, dry cleaned, or repaired when put out for sale. Everything is displayed and sold “as is,” with no guarantees, no returns, and no exchanges.

4. Thrift stores are open to the public, and look similar to retail outlets. Typical shoppers are working class or middle class people. Most seem to be frugal-minded shoppers, not destitute or homeless, and once exposed to the thrift store offerings and purchase prices, many become regulars. Clothing in these stores is typically grouped by gender, type of item, and color, but not size. In most stores, there are fitting rooms, where shoppers can try on the items they wish to buy, to make sure they fit. Some of the clothing items do not have sizes labeled, so buyers have to make their best guess.

5. For those stores that use the color-coded price tag system, they will post a sign in a prominent location to indicate that a certain color price tag has an additional discount.

Thrift Store Color Tag Discount Sign
These items are on their last week of the inventory rotation. Whatever (yellow tag) items remain will be purged from the racks to make room for new arrivals that will be priced using a new round of yellow tags. Some stores offer additional discounts to students, military members, and seniors. Others feature a designated day of the week when additional discounts apply.

6. Clothing that does not sell (and some damaged items that are weeded out and never make it to the racks) are sold or given to a salvage company which picks up the unsold clothing and distributes it for other purposes. Some of the functional clothing items are distributed to organizations which eventually make their way to third world countries (have you ever seen news stories on TV and wondered why hungry children in Asia or Africa are wearing T-shirts with a logo that says Baby Gap on them? now you know). Other garments are cut into pieces, after having of fasteners and trim removed, and then baled into bundles and sold in bulk as rags for mechanic shops, painters, and other blue-collar industries. Some scraps are recycled with other textiles and fibrous materials to make packaging materials. I didn’t follow the lifecycle of these items into further detail, but this explanation should provide some insight into what happens to donated clothing, which most consumers wouldn’t be aware of.

Thrift Store Racks
Consignment Shops
Some consignment shops still use the sales model of displaying your selected goods in their stores with the hope of selling them and splitting the profit with you after the sale. But others are simplifying the process with a single cash-for-goods transaction up front. The simplified process reduces record keeping and follow-up, but requires a greater cash flow for the consignment shop and assumes greater risk. More cash is needed to pay for the inventory, and the owner could get stuck paying for items that don’t sell or that take up valuable store space for weeks and weeks, awaiting an interested buyer. But savvy shop owners become skilled at knowing what items will sell and how much shoppers will pay; and the consignment donors will settle for a lower percentage of the expected profit in exchange for cash in hand.

So the “cash upfront” model has replaced many of the original consignment models, and added a modified twist to the process. I spoke to Valerie at a store called Plato’s Closet – a national franchise whose target market is the fashion-conscious teenage girl demographic. Valerie explained that they use a pay-on-the-spot payment model for their consignments. They accept current fashions (within the past two years – hey that would coincide nicely with the 3-year wardrobe plan) of teen clothing and pay you 1/3 of retail price for items in excellent condition. For items over $20, they pay you half of retail price. A photo identification is required for the transaction, but cash is paid for the items, up to $60 (if the amount is above $60, a check is given as payment). The prices and conditions are somewhat negotiable, and the store claims to work with the consignment donor to reach a fair price. For items that don’t sell, Valerie told me that they are picked up by the Salvation Army, and get a second chance for purchase at a thrift store outlet.

Though I doubt readers of this blog would be teenage girls who had never heard of Plato’s Closet (if there was one in their area), you might be the parent of such a teenager or a pre-teen, and would appreciate an explanation of what these shops are and how they work. Even if the Plato’s Closet store has no relevance to you, it still might be helpful for you to know about such places. Then you can look up stores in your area and not be intimidated by your unfamiliarity with them, should you choose to pursue consignment shops as an option. Just call one, tell them that you are new to consignment stores (or thrift shops) and ask them how their processes are set up.

So now you know how thrift stores and consignment shops work. And you can consider these among the other options I mentioned, which might be more familiar to you. When you decide that you are ready to do your wardrobe reorganization, you will need to have a plan in place for how to handle the clothing and other items you want to purge. So it’s good to begin considering your options now, and start thinking about what to do with clothes you don’t wear.

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4 Responses to “What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear”

  1. Great post, Denise! I’m a big fan of secondhand clothing stores, both for donating and for buying. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead buying used clothing, but there are lots of benefits!

    (1) They’ve already been washed, usually lots of times, so they’re probably not going to shrink. (I often find the used clothing I buy lasts me longer than when I buy new, simply because the new stuff shrinks and doesn’t fit me anymore.)

    (2) It’s so inexpensive, that I can get a whole wardrobe for the cost of one brand new outfit. Of course, there are times when I want something brand new, but for day-to-day clothing to wear when working at home, it’s just not necessary.

    (3) If I end up hating it after wearing it only once or twice, I can just redonate it and not feel guilty for spending a lot of money.

  2. Absolutely, Janet. Buyer’s remorse is barely more than a mild disappointment when it happens with a thrift store. You can almost think of it as a “rental”.

    I had never shopped in a thrift store until I hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan several years ago. In Japan, thrift store shopping was all the rage for teenage girls, and she asked if I would take her. When I saw the range of clothing on the racks (some still bearing original price tags), I was converted.

    I’m glad there are some people who wouldn’t be caught dead buying used clothing. Less competition for actual thrift store shoppers, PLUS, another incoming source of merchandise.

  3. Oh yes, I forgot to mention finding brand new items with tags still intact!

  4. […] What To Do With Clothes You Don’t Wear […]

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