Let old clothes live on

Living

CONSCIENTIOUS CLEAR OUT There are responsible ways of dealing with clothing we no longer need.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

We are now at the end of the month designated ‘Secondhand September’ by Oxfam International, a campaign to get people to recognise the impact on our planet of buying new items constantly, and to generate sales in their charity shops to fund their work fighting poverty. Even I was floored to read the amount of clothes that go to landfill each year: Oxfam says it’s 13 million pieces per year in the UK alone!
I just can’t imagine throwing clothes into the bin, but I do also know it can be hard to know what to do with items you no longer need. Recent books and television programmes aimed at helping us organise our homes have advocated for getting rid of things that don’t ‘spark joy’ in our lives, without a lot of instructions about how to do that in an environmentally friendly way.
Bagging everything up to take to charity shops is not the answer; they can only sell on clothing and homewares that are in good to excellent condition, and they are not usually very big and are staffed by volunteers. When they receive items that won’t generate revenue for their organisation, they have to have them removed, so often donations end up shipped on to other countries, where the influx of cheap western goods does damage to their local industries, or ends up in their waste streams.   
When I am doing a clear out, I am guided by three questions:
Can I find a use for it myself first? It’s important to take responsibility for the items we buy, whether by taking the time to keep things clean and in good repair, or by mending them if necessary. Faded clothes can be dyed again, and there are great tutorials for refashioning clothes to make them fit better or look more stylish. Even worn socks, old T-shirts and threadbare sheets can be used for cleaning, instead of going straight into the bin.
Can I find someone else who can use it? I have been successful in rehoming a lot of goods that I know someone will want at some point, especially baby and kids’ clothes and toys, homewares that just don’t ‘fit’ or are under-appreciated, or hobby goods. The key to this is to have a place to store items until you find the right person, or taking time to list items in ‘freecycle’ groups or to sell items online. Occasional clothing swaps among friends are also great for this, and are not just for women.
Where do I need to take items that are no longer functional? Mywaste.ie is a great resource, as the site lists what to do with items from A to Z, along with alternative ideas for (re)use. Then, there are specialist upcyclers who make new things from old: Lynn Haughton of The Upcycle Movement takes apart wetsuits to make bags and other goods, and she has launched an appeal for more materials to be redesigned by other makers.  
Being thoughtful and responsible about how we deal with our old textiles can give them new life, and help to slow the impact of consumerism on the planet. Let’s do what we can to keep  clothes out of landfill, where they definitely won’t spark any joy.  

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.