The fresh spring air is floating through the open windows, the playlist is hitting, and you’re ready to get. shit. done. This is your sign that it’s time to take advantage of Spring and clean out your closet. Sustainably!
We’re sure you’ve given it a try before but it can be hard to know what the most sustainable method to a closet clean out is.
We’re here to help with 7 tips to sustainable clean out your closet this Spring!
we can probably blame fast fashion
WikiMedia Commons/Falkue, CC BY-SA 4.0
Beyond just another item to tackle on the Spring cleaning list, there are a lot of feelings wrapped up in our clothes. They’re so much more than pieces of fabric that protect us from the elements.
Whether you consider yourself “into fashion” or not, almost every piece of clothing you purchase has a meaning. And beyond the dopamine hit when you make the purchase, what you wear can affect how you feel inside.
Just as fast fashion has totally transformed the industry, it has also changed our buying habits.
Today we own an average of 60% more clothing than people did just 15 years ago, yet we keep it half as long. Many of us have never owned a high-quality, well-constructed garment and wouldn’t know how to identify one.
Americans alone generate 16 million tons of textile waste every year.
Everywhere we look there’s fast fashion — social media hauls, ads, celebrities, Google search results. The FOMO and the glamour of the constant exposure, keep us focused on buying a new outfit for every event instead of thinking about why the clothing is so cheap to begin with.
This is why our closets are overflowing yet we can never find anything to wear. Eventually, it gets to be too much but you don’t know how to downsize without throwing it all in the trash or taking it to Goodwill (which is basically throwing it in someone else’s trash across the world).
All of this to say, we get it. We know how it builds up, we know how hard it is to make a sustainable decision, and we’re here to help you through it!
Let’s lean into the urge to purge and sustainably give your closet a fresh, new outlook.
7 steps to a sustainable spring closet clean out!
1. mentally prepare
If you’re anything like us, you’ll start super motivated and lose steam right as the last item comes out of the closet and lands on the bed. Rather than sleeping around a pile of clothes tonight, prepare to go slow.
2. avoid purging
The goal is to declutter but not to mindlessly purge. Looking at it from a sustainable perspective (both for right now and the future) you want to keep a few things in mind:
- what’s in your closet now
- how did it get there
- do you want it to stay there
- what you want your closet to look like in the future
3. think mindfully/creatively
Most of our closets are a reflection of things we’ve set out to buy, from thrift stores we’ve wandered into, from gifts, from special events, from dopamine-boosting shopping trips, and from irresistible online sales.
Each piece reflects a little bit of who we were in that moment and that doesn’t always reflect who we are now.
As you’re sorting and organizing, think about your wardrobe as if it were a Spotify Wrapped:
- what did you actually wear this year?
- what did you not wear that you wanted to?
- how can you wear more of what you want to?
- how did you feel in the clothes you wore this past year?
- how do you want to feel this year?
- do your clothes allow you the ability to grow and evolve?
- can you repurpose what you have now into multiple outfits?
Whether your closet is a hole in the wall or large enough to fit a bed this is your time to get into all those corners and clean it.
5. start sorting
We’re dividing the sorting process into 3 steps: end goals, seasons, and putting it all back.
sort by end goals
The first thing you’ll do is sort your clothes into 5 piles:
- Items you wear often that need to be repaired, or items you want to wear more but don’t because they need to be repaired.
- (If you have room) store items that take up a lot of space or that you don’t use often. Every season or year, revisit the items you were unsure about. (think formal wear, old bridesmaid dresses, business formal clothes, unsure items).
- If you can’t decide/can’t part ways, use the 3-year rule and put these in the ‘store’ pile.
- Items you don’t like, haven’t worn in 1-3 years, clothes that haven’t fit in over 12 months, items that don’t make you happy, feel comfortable in, or fit your long-term wardrobe goals.
Tip: If you forgot you had it and you’re excited to see it, that’s a good indicator that you should keep it and make it more visible so you can wear it. If it doesn’t fit and hasn’t in a while, thank it for the memories and put it in the goodbye pile.
sort by seasons
If you have room for storage bins anywhere in your house, storing seasonal items elsewhere is going to free up a lot of (physical and mental) space. Doing a seasonal swap can help you keep tabs on what you have, stay organized, and keep your closet clean!
sort what’s left
With the seasonal and stored items packed up and put away, let’s now focus on the items you want to keep and divide them into 4 categories:
Items you wear at least once a week/month
Items you don’t wear often but would notice if they were gone
Formal dresses, business professional items you don’t need anymore, and the items we already covered: seasonal and unsure.
Items you want to wear more of but either forget about or always opt for your comfort items instead.
6. put back what’s staying
After dividing the keep pile into the 4 categories from above, start putting your items away. Organization is incredibly personal so we can’t tell you what to do but we can give you some ideas!
- hang by type
- color coordinate
- sort by categories
- make the items you want to see more of more visible
- make a plan to mend
- use the 3 year storage rule (instead of 1 year)
Put the items you can’t part ways with in the storage or seasonal pile. “Hide” them from yourself for a year or two then revisit them. If they’re still not inspiring you they can go.
- color coordinate by hangers!
- use the backward hanger method
Everytime you wear an item put it back with the hanger facing backwards. This way you can easily see what you haven’t worn yet. Check in every season/year to see what is and isn’t being worn.
7. sustainably purge the rest of it
The moment you’ve been waiting for. Take that goodbye pile and sustainably reset your closet with these 7 tips. Let’s go!
buy nothing groups
Buy Nothing, Free Groups on Facebook, FreeCycle.org, (and other apps) are great places to look for secondhand items and to give away things you no longer need. Every time we’ve used it we’re reminded of how one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
local community organizations
There are plenty of local chapters and local organizations helping your community. Start your search by looking for organizations helping:
- victims of domestic violence
- refugee resettlement
- children and infants for houseless or low-income families
- with workforce development (usually looking for professional clothing)
Animal shelters are often in need of supplies for the pets such as t-shirts, rags, and towels.
- host or find a clothing swap
Keep it small with a close group of friends or get the community involved! Check out your local library for an event list or talk to the person in charge of events/programming about hosting a clothing exchange.
This is a great way to find non-profit organizations that align with your goals and could be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Look for secondhand stores that only buy back what they think they can sell. It’s worth the trip to offload some items but be prepared to have a backup plan. Try your hand at selling directly to other people looking for what you have:
- The RealReal
- Vestiaire Collective (banned fast fashion, certified B corp)
- Swap Society
Did you know: 95% of discarded textiles can actually be recycled!
recycle your textiles & donate
Textile recycling isn’t perfect (yet) but presently, textiles can be broken down in various ways to make new products such as rags, wipes, fiber for a new piece of clothing, insulation, or mattress stuffing. This is a great blog breaking down textile recycling if you want to learn more.
- For Days Takeback Bag
- Accepted items: shoes, socks, undies, old clothes
- Details: They use a company called trashie to recycle the textiles but the website doesn’t offer much information and only encourages you to keep shopping.
- Cost: $20
- Subset (formerly Knickey)
- Accepted items: intimates, underwear, bras, socks, tights
- Details: Their website specifically states, “Nothing that comes through SuperCircle’s system will end up in the landfill.”
- Cost: $20
- Retold Recycling
- Accepted Items: All clean and dry household textiles and clothes — the good and the bad.
- Details: Their website states, “Our recycling partners may remove some hardware or zips etc, but the fabric itself will be diverted from landfills.”
- Cost: $14.50 for one bag
- The Bra Recyclers
- Accepted Items: regular bras, sports bras, nursing bras, and new with tag women’s panties and men’s boxers and briefs.
- Details: Their website states, “Underwear that doesn’t meet our quality standards for donation is either downcycled or sold to other textile recyclers that support developing countries worldwide where access to these items is limited.”
- Cost: Free/Shipping Envelope
Notably absent from this list are H&M’s takeback program, ThredUp, and corporate shops like Goodwill.
- ThredUp’s website simply didn’t offer enough information or clarity about their process or partners.
- H&M’s program is utterly useless so long as they continue to produce, sell, and advocate for fast fashion. P.S. there’s a class action lawsuit against them for this very reason.
- What Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Buffalo Exchange can’t sell gets shipped abroad (usually to the Global South).
Do your own research and find organizations that matter to you, but most of all don’t get overwhelmed and stop. Spring cleaning your closet is a good thing, even though we know it comes with some decision paralysis.
Stick with it and in the end, you’ll feel better, you’ll make better decisions, and you’ll do better tomorrow than you did yesterday.