standards for charity giveaway items
September 28, 2019 8:15 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been wanting to declutter but often I find myself unable to decide whether an item is fit for giving to a charity such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, Purple Heart Pickup, and other such charities for gently used goods.

On one hand, if something isn’t in complete tatters but has a small unobtrusive hole, I think that someone might find a novel use such as recycling for an art project, dramatic play, costume, or other such repurposed use. Previously I have given away pilled sweaters, items with some staining— in other words less than good condition, thinking that someone else may have a plausible use for them and potentially saving them albeit temporarily from a landfill.
On the other hand, in recent years I have become more thoughtful about what I opt to give away versus throw away. I don’t want to insult people who shop at secondhand stores or inconvenience staff or workers there with anything that is legit unwanted trash. Does anyone have a good set of rules for determining what qualifies condition-wise for donating? I generally don’t donate completely ruined items— I am asking where do you draw the line and how do you decide when the reuse quality is debatable? I would hate to throw away, for example, clearly used items that may be repurposed somehow. Bras are a good example: I have the luxury of buying new bras when the old ones look worn, but maybe someone would need a used bra for reasons I don’t relate to? (Examples: theater, costuming, some kind of art project that upcycles fabric?).
I am specifically asking about items that still sort of function for their original purpose but are definitely worn. May potentially have small hole or stain. Does charity want these or am I just including trash with the occasional treasure? Trying to strike a balance between my waste guilt but also want to help reuse without insulting charity. Helpful suggestions, anecdotes, grounded advice welcome.
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Charity shops vet the items donated. If it doesn't meet their standards, they recycle it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:38 PM on September 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

My friend's brother-in-law is a clothes-sorter at Goodwill, and he reports that they can use almost any clothes, unless they're moldy or contaminated. Apparently there are industrial uses for fabric scraps, and if something is torn or stained, it can be sold by the pound to companies who will use it for things like stuffing furniture.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:40 PM on September 28, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'd try directly calling the charities you donate to to see what they say they need / can handle.
posted by oneear at 8:53 PM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think that someone might find a novel use such as recycling for an art project, dramatic play, costume, or other such repurposed use.

That's pretty much not going to happen. A lot of the stuff with holes or stains will be turned into scrap. Unless it's something obviously vintage, high end label, or otherwise collectible, the stores aren't going to give space to something that isn't in like new condition. Anything that isn't immediately obviously sellable is taking space from something that is. Many thrift stores have a surplus of clothing coming in these days but only so many buyers.

However, homeless charities that work directly with them may be less picky - you can try contacting some around you and find out what their criteria for donations are.
posted by Candleman at 9:06 PM on September 28, 2019

I solved this for myself by taking items like this directly to a place that does fabric recycling. That way I don’t feel bad about the item taking up space in a sorting facility or making its way to the sales floor accidentally.
posted by Mouse Army at 9:27 PM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I put items like this in a box on the curb, labeled "free". Usually everything is taken, but possibly this only works if you are in a sufficiently urban area.

It would be weird to expect someone to pay for such items, and a reasonable thrift shop is probably not going to try to sell them (they will at best go to fabric recycling). But, for example, if someone could really use some jeans even if the inner thigh is worn, or scuffed up shoes that still keep feet warm and dry, or clean socks that have lost some stretch, they can just take them for free. It seems like a better home for the items than being recycled.
posted by ktkt at 9:34 PM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

What we are told from charity shops is that if that it’s in good enough condition that you’d give it to a friend, they’ll take it. If not, it’s landfill. Things like old blankets etc that might have holes can go to pet rescue centres.
posted by Jubey at 9:37 PM on September 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think that someone might find a novel use such as recycling for an art project, dramatic play, costume, or other such repurposed use.

This is mostly just wishful thinking. There are not nearly enough art projects, dramatic plays, costumes, or other such repurposed uses to absorb all of the slightly damaged clothes that people discard.

Basically, you can't ... donate the guilt. These are things that have lived past their usefulness. It's possible that some of the charities in your area can sell them as scraps, but not all do - and you could be taking up their time and resources. I would just ask if they want it next time you go in.

I wouldn't feel too bad about discarding clothes that are no longer useful as clothes. It's completely normal for things to become too worn or damaged to be useful, and while reuse/repurpose is a great ideal, it's not something that's realistic for 100% of the items that outlive their original usefulness.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:53 PM on September 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

Keep in mind that they don't have facilities to wash or dryclean your donations, so please make sure they are clean, even the marginal donations. Things will be forwarded or sold as-is.
posted by citygirl at 9:54 PM on September 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

With clothing, I just donate it without any sort of complicated evaluation/triage process, as long as it isn't unwearably unsound (things with large rips or material literally too fragile to wear are cut up into cleaning rags) or would be a mess for whoever processes it (mildewy, soaked in oil or cat urine). The only exception is when a particular charity has explicit guidelines--for instance, my favorite nonprofit resale shop won't take baby or children's clothing at all. Honor these requests, obviously.

In general, I assume charities know better than I do what they can and can't sell, and if they can't put something out on the floor it's likely that they'll have several other streams into which it can be diverted. The choices aren't only "it gets re-sold to someone who can wear it" or "it goes to the landfill." Beyond reselling unsold/unsellable donations to raggers, some thrift stores will donate to other charities, run public "dollar a pound" sales, etc.

I also encourage you not to make assumptions about what other people will buy and wear secondhand, or what they (or the charity) would find insulting--I don't wear bras, but I'd probably buy them from the thrift store if I could. I absolutely do get underwear, shoes and socks from the thrift, and I'll buy holey/moth-eaten sweaters to bike to work in (why cover something nice in sweat and grease?).
posted by pullayup at 10:04 PM on September 28, 2019

I don't generally donate anything unless I'd buy it. If I have some really crappy stuff I put it in a separate bag and let them know, so they don't have to sort it.
posted by kate4914 at 11:03 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Echoing the idea to check with your local op shop about what they personally want. My boyfriend paid $46 for a 20 kg bag of torn up clothing from our local op shop the other day to stuff his BJJ dummy with. So, they definitely still made money off someone's rough-looking clothes.
posted by BeeJiddy at 12:51 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Put a safety pin on any stain or hole or a bit of painter's tape with an arrow. They will briefly look at clothes, then put them out so make it easy to spot defects. It's okay to throw out clothing that is damaged. It sounds like you actually wear clothes out, which is a good strategy.
posted by theora55 at 3:04 AM on September 29, 2019

If you are near an H & M store, they accept clothes in all conditions and say that they sort donations into rewear/reuse/recycle. "All textiles are welcome – any brand, any condition – even odd socks, worn-out T-shirts and old sheets."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:58 AM on September 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who shops at thrift stores, in my area at least, the second question you ask about anything you buy is "What is wrong with it?" Nothing ends up in a thrift shop unless there is something wrong with it and many things end up in the thrift shop with several things wrong with it.

The absolute best case scenario is the garment with the original tags that someone bought and didn't fit and didn't get around to returning. But unworn with tags doesn't mean the garment is in good condition. You find things where the reason the person didn't wear it is because there was a manufacturing error, such as a skirt zipper missing parts. Quite often brand new clothes with tags are not worth looking at because our local Value Village charges the highest price they can get away with, which means sometimes there is a tag with discounts but the price the store is charging is the before discount prices - at that point it's better to shop new.

There is still a legion of savvy shoppers who are capable of mending clothes and will buy that shirt that is missing the three middle buttons, or that dress where the side seam has let go, because when they inspect the garment they can see what is required and how much work is required to mend it. Pilled sweaters can be shaved. There are a lot of repairs that other people know how to do, even if you don't. So if it is in good ready to mend condition someone in most areas will want it.

I think what you need to be looking at is who shops at the thrift store you are donating to. Anything really good will be snapped up by resellers if the price is low, so the thrift stores charge a lot more than the working poor can usually afford because they are being kept in business by the economical middle class who will pay 8$ for a sweater that is made of modern materials and has only one years wear in it. However, if you have a social worker, you can get a voucher from them and the charity shops honour the voucher. The social worker writes the voucher for however much, say $45 for kids back to school and fall clothes and this way the poorer people who can't scrape up $8 for a sweater can get what they need. The working poor generally get their clothes from non-thrift store donations, which is to say hand me downs from friends and relatives who are slightly better off.

If the garment is one that nobody could wear at school or a job where they see the public, it would be nice to divert it from the clothing pile and into a rag pile. That means stained or shapeless. But there are a lot of people who wear used, wilted limp bras by doing things like tying knots in the back straps that have lot elasticity, to shorten them. The question is, are those people shopping at your location? There are also lots of working people who wear quite shabby clothes to work, because if you are a guy who is working casual whenever they call you unloading stuff at a dock it really doesn't matter if that big comfy flannel shirt has a torn shirt tail as it will be worn under a jacket. However that shirt is likely to not move for weeks at the thrift store and likely to take up inventory space, so your thrift store may not cover expenses on it. Before it is sold it will probably turn into a thrift store markdown.

I suggest that you go to the outlet where you donate you clothes and browse there and see what they have on the racks and what the other shoppers are buying and wearing.

Also consider the management of the store. Value Village is a for profit corporation that pays a minimal subsidy to use certain charities names so that they can claim that your donations support charity. If they sell a shirt for $9 the Diabetes Association may get four and a half cents. So you are supporting a charity only in the most begrudging fashion when you donate to Value Village as opposed to donating to Oxfam or the Salvation Army. However Value Village has the staff and organization to sort things in a way that maximizes their profit. If you give them a shirt with the elbows out, you can be sure that it will get transferred to a location where people will buy the veriest trash clothes out of desperation, or get properly sorted for rag.

So in short, don't donate to any charity what you can't observe them selling, and don't donate anything that would contaminate otherwise good stuff, but seriously consider donating stuff that just requires twenty minutes of work to it make nice. But if you have stuff you think would only do for rag or art projects or trashy costuming, give it to a for profit location, not one that actually supports a charity.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:28 AM on September 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Let the charity decide - make sure it is all clean and just give it away. Clothing that is not wearable is often recycled. You are not insulting anyone by giving items away. I assure you they have seen much worse.
posted by soelo at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2019

Things like worn sheets and blankets may be of interest to animal shelters - the one I foster for uses a lot of it for bedding.
posted by Candleman at 10:35 AM on September 29, 2019

Seconding Jane regarding high quality clothing with a fixable defect. I bought a bespoke men's dress shirt from my a local thrift store that was on sale for a buck or two due to a prominent yellow stain. I figured there were decent odds that I could get it out with an OxiClean soak, and in fact I got a couple years of use out of it before the collar gave out.

If it was just a t-shirt, though, I wouldn't have bothered.
posted by serathen at 4:28 PM on September 29, 2019

Echoing those who say old bedding, towels, and linens can be used by animal shelters. My old one also took t-shirts and sweaters, fleeces, and other soft, easily washable clothing.
posted by schroedinger at 2:29 AM on September 30, 2019

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