Anyone else “never have anything to wear” yet somehow find themselves under a mountain of clothing after trying to pick out one outfit? Same. While this situation may make you think “hm, guess it’s time to buy some new clothes” it may actually be a sign that you need to clean out your closet.
A good declutter session will help you determine which pieces of clothing inspire you and which ones leave you less than enthused. Not only can this lead to a more curated closet, but it can help you discover your personal style. And both revelations can start you on the path toward a more conscious wardrobe.
But back to the task at hand—cleaning out. And no, that doesn’t mean throwing away all your unused garments. It means consciously disposing of them in a way that’s good for the planet. To get started, continue reading below for a step-by-step guide on how to clean out your closet sustainably.
How to Clean Out Your Closet Sustainably
Start by deciding what you don’t need anymore
Determining which items to get rid of can be difficult, but here are a couple ways to narrow it down.
1) The Hanger Method: To use this method simply face the hook of all your hangers toward you in your closet. After you wear something rehang it with the hanger hook facing away from you. Over the course of a few months you’ll be able to easily visualize what you no longer wear. Anything on a hanger facing toward you may be a candidate for discarding.
2) The Wear it and Forget it Method: After you wear an outfit, move it to a part of your closet that isn’t as easily accessible. Or maybe even move it to a different closet in your house. Do this for a couple weeks and see what’s left in your closet. If you feel uninspired by these pieces, it’s likely a hint that it’s time to let them move on.
Related: Eco-Friendly Shopping Tips for a More Sustainable Wardrobe
Decide how to dispose of your clothes
Once you’ve determined what you don’t want you have to decide its fate. And no, it’s not as simple as sending it to the nearest donation center. Instead, start by forming four piles.
1) Unusable: Look at each item of clothing. Remove any bias or emotional connection and consider: is the condition of this garment good enough that another human being would actually want to wear it? Not would they be able to wear it (because yes, someone can wear a stained t-shirt), but would they want to wear it? If the answer is no. If you cringe at the thought of putting it on your own body, it is unusable. From here you have a few options.
You can upcycle the items by turning them into rags, reusable cotton rounds, or even making them into a tote bag.
You can recycle them, but warning, this can get dicey. Many in-store recycling or “take back” programs ultimately don’t end up recycling your clothes. Many end up shipped off to developing countries, where they negatively impact the local economy and still end up in the landfill. If recycling is your only option, make sure to carefully review the organization your donating to. A reputable organization will provide transparency around their process, share exactly what happens to recycled garments, and provide clear insight into what happens to the non-recyclable clothing.
The last option is to throw them in the trash. While anyone who considers themselves Team Earth may find this blasphemous, it’s ultimately the more ethical option. After all, it’s better to have your own country deal with your clothing waste, than to risk it being shipped off to a developing country for them to deal with.
2) Repair: This pile is different from the unusable pile in the sense that you like these garments, there’s just something about them that no longer functions. Maybe your dog chewed a hole in the sleeve, maybe a zipper broke. Whatever it is, determine how you can get it repaired. It may simply require picking up a small sewing kit or taking it to a local tailor. Either way, repairing your clothing is an incredibly sustainable and quite underused way, of making your wardrobe more planet-friendly.
3) Donate: Before handing your clothes off to the donation bin, see if any friends or family members would like them. For items they don’t snatch up, consider donating to a worthy cause. Not all donation sites are created equal. Instead of making a beeline for your nearest Goodwill, do some research to make sure your items are going to good use and not ending up in the landfill. Local shelters are a great option or national organizations like Dress for Success will make sure your unwanted items get some extra mileage.
4) Sell: If you have high quality, gently used items then your decluttering could likely lead to some cash. Poshmark, ThredUp, Tradesy and even Ebay all offer easy ways to post and sell your garments so someone else can give them a second life. Local consignment stores are also a great option if you’re looking to sell several garments at once.
Related: Thrift Like a Pro—Everything You Need to Know About Building a Pre-Loved Wardrobe
Lay the groundwork for a more sustainable wardrobe in the future
Once you finish cleaning out your closet you’ll likely feel accomplished. For a moment at least. Inevitably though, the desire for newness will creep up on you. And when it does I encourage you not to feel guilty or ignore it. Rather, approach it from a more conscious mindset.
Instead of rushing to your favorite fast fashion website, try out thrifting, borrowing, or even renting clothes. There are plenty of ways to still participate in fashion without harming the planet.
If you enjoyed learning how to clean out your closet the eco-friendly way and are craving more sustainable living tips, then sign up for The Eco Edit! You’ll be joining hundreds of other pro-planet enthusiasts who are passionate about bettering the world through small, sustainable steps.