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I have been a thrift store junkie since I was 18 years old. I wrote an entire chapter about how to shop at thrift stores in my first book, Dirt Cheap Adult, and shared the experience that got me hooked on thrift store shopping in the first place.
First, let’s talk about why you would want to donate clothes. Obviously, you could always sell them on places like Mercari, Poshmark, or Facebook Marketplace for some extra change. Sometimes I do that, but in all honesty – that takes a lot of time for me and once I declutter things, I want them out of my house, not waiting around for the ideal buyer to come to my house after dinner to buy a sweater.
Environmental Impact of Buying Secondhand
Aside from the ease of just taking things somewhere to donate them, the biggest draw of donation is reducing the environmental impact caused by the wastefulness and toxic leftovers of the textile industry. I go into much more detail in my next book (which will hopefully be published in 2021 or 2022), but here’s a brief synopsis:
Buying a used article of clothing saves an average of 700 gallons of water.
It also keeps that item out of the landfill, where 13 million tons (that’s 26 billion pounds) of textiles are thrown away every single year. While some clothing might decompose given the right conditions, things made of synthetics like polyester take decades or longer to break down. In essence, the fast fashion industry is choking the environment.
I was a huge fan of Goodwill because the entire idea of the organization is not only to keep clothing out of landfills and be able to purchase clothes at a heavily discounted price, but also provide a job for people who need it and offer them opportunities to complete or further their education. I felt really good about my humanitarian efforts to further their cause every time I dumped another bag of donations off at the drop-off sites.
Until I learned about where the funds are actually allocated.
Unfortunately, a common theme of franchised thrift stores is that while they claim to exist for good causes, the upper tier management might be taking home a substantial amount of the money generated.
Follow The Money
Did you know in 2018, a Goodwill CEO had a salary of over $700,000, but the company utilized a legal loophole to justify paying employees with disabilities an hourly wage of $0.58? EVEN THOUGH the CEO had a disability himself?
As recent as November of 2019, Goodwill settled a lawsuit for disability discrimination when they fired an employee with known cognitive challenges.
The Salvation Army, while they report the CEO only receives an annual salary of $13,000, actually pays over $90,000 a year (which is actually a realistic salary for a charity, I’m just wondering why report $13,000 if you actually mean $90,000?). This discrepancy was reported by Charity Navigators, a metrics-based website that analyzes tons of details and is trusted by Consumer Reports. Salvation Army, while they have recently denied allegations of discrimination, have a long-standing history as being anti-LGBTQ+ and for that, I haven’t supported them in years.
When March 2020 hit and we all started staying home more, I, like many Americans, started decluttering. Being that I am not only frugal with my own money, but want my charitable efforts to have a significant impact on the intended outcome, I started looking for other options, and compiled a list of different charitable organizations to donate your unwanted items.
Note: I do still occasionally donate to places like Savers thrift store, because you get a 20% coupon to use on your next purchase. I am on a tight budget with two children who seem to grow out of something every other minute. However, I also donate to these organizations and would love to help support them however I can:
Where to Donate Unwanted Items
Crisis nurseries provide free emergency care and supplies for families with children in, well, crisis situations. These crises can be anything from health emergencies, domestic violence, homelessness, or even intense parental stress.
Typically, they accept donations of all things baby and young child related. Right now due to restrictions, the crisis nurseries in my area are only accepting new clothes and toys, but typically they accept used baby and toddler clothes and all of the various accessories that they might require. Do a google search to find a local crisis nursery in your area and call them to see what they can accept.
As you can probably imagine, homeless shelters often need clothing items for the people they help, who often come with nothing or almost nothing. They are almost always in need of new socks and underwear (please please please don’t donate used undergarments to the unhoused, that is just so undignified), and quite often in need of other basic garments (which can be pre-worn).
Note: if your clothes are nasty, like covered in paint or hair dye or has so many holes the shirt looks like swiss cheese, please don’t donate those to the shelters. Remember the unhoused also deserve to be treated and thought of with dignity. I helped sort through bags and bags of donations at a homeless shelter in high school, and seeing what people thought was acceptable to donate to them hurt my heart.
Habitat for Humanity
Our oldest living former President, Jimmy Carter, has donated his time to Habitat for Humanity for the last few decades, consistently helping to build houses for those who need them. His philanthropy is inspiring, but you don’t need to know how to build a house to support this great organization.
The Habitat for Humanity ReStore accepts new and used furniture, appliances, and household goods. Like Goodwill, they sell them to the public for a fraction of the cost. Click here to find a ReStore to donate near you.
Part of the concept of sustainability is that when you know the effects of your actions, you can make more informed choices for how to live. If we as an American people have learned anything in the last few months, it’s that our collective voices matter. Voting with our actions and our money matters. Where we donate our unwanted items matters and can have a maximum positive impact on our environment and our culture as a whole.
Won’t you join me in reducing excessive clutter, lessening the environmental impact in the landfills, and supporting good causes?
Be sure to share for future reference!