How do you decide when something should be thrown away vs. donated?
May 8, 2013 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I have some old, seemingly useless clothing. How do I decide what is worth donating and what should just be thrown away?

Examples of what I am talking about:
- Crosstraining shoes that look okay, but recently started to hurt my knees when I walk around in them, presumably because they are took worn out to wear
- Very old, worn out clothing with small stains or holes
- Single socks in good condition
- Underwear with stretched out elastic
- Jeans with large holes in the thigh area (these are theoretically repairable, but surprisingly difficult to repair, because the material around that area gets very thin. The holes are too high up to make them in to cutoffs. This happens to all my jeans eventually)

Looking at the list, it seems to me that all of these items should just be thrown away, because no one would want them. But, I'd rather not add to a landfill if it could be helped, and I like to donate things. Ideally the items end up helping someone in some way, but in the end keeping stuff out of the trash is a good enough reason for me to donate.

I have historically donated items to Goodwill (because it's so easy). The next time I donate clothing - which will include many items in good condition that I just no longer wear - I am planning to take it to a women's shelter instead. I am happy to take the very used items to the same place as the good condition items, or to a separate location (or two). I am not willing to list the very used items individually online on craigslist/ freecycle / etc.

I am in Los Angeles.
posted by insectosaurus to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I try to ask myself, will the store I'm donating to be able to sell this? And, might I, thrift store shopper, see this on the racks and not be totally grossed out? I would probably throw out everything you mention above (definitely the underwear and anything very old and worn out).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:00 AM on May 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

In your examples:

- shoes: Goodwill
- stained or holey clothes: tear into cleaning/painting rags
- jeans: post on craigslist or freecycle as good for projects only
- socks: tie a knot in the middle to make into dog toys

The only thing I'd throw away is the underwear.
posted by headnsouth at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: Hi! The Downtown Women's Center in L.A., a place of unrivaled dignity for homeless women, will use the shoes and the jeans. The rest is trash.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: Goodwill recycles clothing it doesn't distribute. So I think your choices are: give the worn clothing to Goodwill (including the underwear!) or take it directly to a textile recycler in LA.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:02 AM on May 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: At the farmers markets here, there are often donation bins for textile items just like what you're describing. The unusable clothing items are sold to recycling markets that might turn them into "materials into wiping rags, fiber for car door panels and insulation" according to my farmers market website. See if there's something like that near you?
posted by EmilyFlew at 9:03 AM on May 8, 2013

When in doubt, donate it. If they can't use it, donation centers recycle it, sometimes for money (it's chump change, but every little bit helps). Let the donation center decide.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:12 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to volunteer at a non-profit that received a ton of clothing donations. Frankly; if you wouldn't wear it yourself, or if you'd be grossed out sorting through it, it's not worth donating. It may make you feel good to donate things rather than throwing them out, but think for a minute about the poor workers or volunteers sorting through your single socks and used underwear. All you're doing is transfering the burden of decision making or throwing stuff out onto other people. We'd occasionally get bags and bags of stuff that was clearly given to us unsorted following moves or evictions, holey underwear and all. That's profoundly disrespectful of volunteers and low-paid staff members' time, not to mention the implicit attitude about recipients of the clothes. (They're struggling, they should be grateful for these clothes even though they're holey and dirty!)

Donate the shoes, make the holey things and maybe the socks into rags, throw out the underwear, I'm honestly not sure about jeans.

Also, read the chapter about goodwill donations in Elizabeth Cline's Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. I was surprised to learn how little donated clothing actually makes it onto thrift store/non-profit racks; most ends up at textile recyclers.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:12 AM on May 8, 2013 [17 favorites]

Some of the thrift stores will sell the not-saleable-as-clothing textile stuff as well -- bag it separately from the actual useful stuff you could see yourself buying, and let them know that's what it is. You don't want to make them spend time going through it, and for a lot of it, there's no reason to put it in a landfill -- textiles are frequently recyclable.
posted by asperity at 9:13 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This similar question notes that shabby used clothing can be donated to animal shelters for use as bedding.
posted by troika at 9:15 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can drop off the shoes at a Nike store and they will recycle them. I would try to find a textile recycling drop-off for the rest of it.
posted by payoto at 9:18 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Single socks, and worn-out cotton clothing make excellent cleaning rags, and cut down on your usage of paper towels. I love single socks for dusting...I stick my hand in the sock, slightly dampen it, and go to town. Used socks get turned inside out, and when a small pile has collected, thrown in the washer on hot water.
posted by psycheslamp at 9:19 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I worked in a sorting center for donations after Hurricane Andrew in Miami. We threw away about 70% of everything donated because it was beyond disgusting. Don't make people sort through your gross underwear! I agree 100% with ActionPopulated, if it looks good and is wearable, then donate it.

If you can recycle it in your home, then do so. But as a regular person, socks, underwear, old bras and nightgowns...just throw it away. Honestly, no one wants it, not really.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

The shoes might be fine for someone else. The jeans, some teenager could probably find a fashionable use for. Lone socks are good for polishing shoes, stick your hand in and you won't get shoe polish on your skin. Everything else, ew, throw away. Why would anyone want to wear your stained clothes or old underwear?!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:25 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your charity shops will get per-pound prices on textile recycling. You can probably call and ask if they want the un-reusable stuff bagged separately for that purpose.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:27 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I use the metric, "Would I be embarrassed to offer this item to a friend?" when deciding what to donate for reuse vs bundling up for recycling.

The moment you find yourself having to justify anything about the condition of an item, it fails the "give it to a friend" test.
posted by jamaro at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify, I would never donate anything gross/disgusting/that I wouldn't want to touch. Everything would be washed. And of course I realize that most of the items listed cannot be sold; that's exactly why I am asking the question.

I did not know textile recycling existed! Thus far it sounds like the best option would to give the jeans/shoes to the center Sophie suggested, and figure out a way to donate the rest for textile recycling.

Other suggestions are still appreciated, however!
posted by insectosaurus at 9:46 AM on May 8, 2013

Borderline quality shoes may still be welcomed by someone who has worse, or no, shoes.
posted by thelonius at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2013

I have bought used socks, bras, and underwear at thrift stores and garage sales.
posted by aniola at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2013

My rule is, if it's in too bad of condition for me to wear, I toss it. (Basically, your whole list --- worn-out and holey stuff --- I'd toss.) If it's in good condition but I might've just gotten too fat to fit it (um yeah....) or it's simply no longer in style, it's donatable.

I've put in some time with clothing donations for disasters and such, and their rule on socks and underwear is, new or never-worn only: any socks or underwear that have ever been worn are not accepted, for sanitary/health reasons.
posted by easily confused at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2013

H&M recycles clothing that is too worn, torn, or stained to be donated. You get a coupon too for each bag of clothing you bring in.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:41 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I bag it separately and label the bag "rag recycling." If I'm not sure about something I'll put it in with the "good" clothes and the knowledge they'll sort it out if it's bad. You can call ahead to your Goodwill or Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul or whatever and ask them if they do rag recycling and how they prefer to have that labeled. You can also put it all in one sack and they'll sort it -- I've done it for hours on end for a charity thrift sale, it's really not that big a deal, even when there's underwear, and that's what we were there for, to sort the sellable stuff from the stuff going for textile recycling. It's sort-of mindless, soothing work where you get to chat with other sorters and talk about people's crazy clothes from the 80s.

Towels, sheets, blankets, etc., are great for animal shelters. Some of them like solo socks, too, to make toys.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 AM on May 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

My Girl Scout troop made cute little purses from otherwise unwearable jeans that still had the pockets intact. I know you said you didn't want to deal with individual items, but I'm not clear if you have just one pair of jeans, or a bunch. But you might get some nibbles if you call up your local Girl Scout office. Even stuff that's not wearable might be useful for crafts or sewing practice.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:49 AM on May 8, 2013

Yes, nthing donating to a thrift store. At my local Goodwill, they have bin specifically set aside for (clean) underwear. So long as you sort it out before hand and tell the person taking the donation what's inside the bag, they have no issues at all accepting it. Give them a call, but I bet your local Goodwill is the same way.

As I learned in this previous question, no clothing that's donated to Goodwill (or most major thrift stores) gets thrown in the dumpster--it's either resold, sent overseas, or recycled.
posted by yuwtze at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: Here in LA, St. Vincent de Paul is the best choice--they take everything, and find good uses for just about all donations. They're my first choice--Out of the Closet is very picky.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've worked in charity shops/thrift stores - nthing that anything that's unsaleable will be recycled in some way and give them some sort of income. Definitely preferable over chucking it into landfill.
posted by turkeyphant at 11:53 AM on May 8, 2013

Why not just donate it all and let them sort it out? The stuff they can't use will probably end up getting shredded and used for cotton paper fibers, if nothing else. Still seems better than sending it to a landfill to me.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:59 PM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am employed by a non-profit thrift store that accepts donations of used clothing, among other things. If you came into our store and said, "Here's this stuff but some of it, I just threw away" we'd be sad. We have an outlet for recycling nearly everything! And as mentioned, every little bit counts. We employ people to sort your clothes and we appreciate when you label a bag as recycling but really, we'll sort it out anyway and make sure it goes where it needs to. Don't assume that if you donate it, it'll hit the shelves. As I said, we sort EVERYTHING.

If it makes you feel more comfortable about your donation maybe pick a thrift store and call and ask exactly what kinds of things they can use. While some might not have outlets for your bad used clothing, I'd imagine that most do.
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:44 PM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, just give it to them. They are the ones with the experience and knowledge as to whether something is useful or not.

(I still wouldn't donate used underpants, but that's just me. If I felt like someone needed underpants, I'd donate new ones.)
posted by gjc at 7:23 PM on May 8, 2013

Best answer: I also volunteer at a non-profit thrift store and donations like you describe end up costing us money. We do not have a textile recycling program in our county so we would not take your donation as described. My rule of thumb when making a donation is, "Can this item really be sold?" I think you need to ask before donating. It really is a big problem where I am because people either can't afford to go to the dump with stuff or just don't care.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:03 AM on May 9, 2013

I often search thrift stores for clothing to cut up and use the fabric from in craft projects. So something with a stain on it, a hole in it, or woollens that have felted would still be of interest to me if it's made of high quality or pretty fabric. And my thrift store near me sells clothes in that condition too. So I'd ask your potential shop before throwing things out. (Underpants in any case are probably a no.)
posted by lollusc at 1:13 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: The plan is to email the women's center and ask what they would find useful; I'll give them whatever items they want plus the items in good condition.

Then, I'll call around to local thrift stores, and find one that confirms they actively want items for textile recycling. The rest can go there.

And then, nothing will go in a landfill, and I won't create problems for a thrift store.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:51 AM on May 9, 2013

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