What Really Happens When you Donate Clothes

At least 1/3 of my clothes came from thrift stores. I come a long line of thrifty people–“garage sale-ing” , salvation army’s 50-cent night, and “fill a bag for a dollar” church sales are family outings (even now when I fly back to Michigan to visit my family there is both a pile of clothes on the guest bed for me to look through and at least one trip to goodwill planned.)

Thrifting in NYC is different, it’s mostly stores like Housing Works, Beacon’s Closet, Monk, and Buffalo Exchange (yes there are several salvation army and good will stores but they aren’t as plentiful as they seem to be in the corner of the Midwest where I grew up), since New York is such a fashionable and expensive it follows that used clothes would also be more fashionable and expensive (although don’t get my started on the  idiocy of $30 t-shirts from some defunct softball league).


Still financial limitations, habit and fun have led me to be a life long thrift shopper. In the grand circle of life I’ve also been a life long donater of clothes and household goods. I’ve written before about how hard it is to donate items in NYC, but thankfully since that post, a clothes drop off bin has gone up a few blocks from our apartment, and I’ve become more vigilant about keeping my neighbor from throwing things that I put on the curb in front of our building (aka the Bermuda Triangle), my book club has also become a kind of a swap meet–although I’ve benefited more from that than I’ve contributed…

Anyways, because of my deep thrifting roots it was with great interest that I read this article about what really happens to clothes when you donate them. (also on Jezebel) The common naïveté that when you donate something there will magically be someone nearby who wants it , is exposed. I knew that a lot of our cast off clothes (like all those t-shirts of the losing team super bowl teams) go to Africa. But I had no idea about that the turn around time is so short, that there’s a “rag bin” since some things no one wants, and that soon the Africa won’t want our mountain of cheap tacky clothes anymore.

Reminds me of this excellent documentary from a few years ago about our addiction to cheap disposable crap and how we are drowning under all of the crap we feel the need to buy constantly. To this end I’m taking a sewing class (which fullfills another life goal) so soon I’ll be able to make new crap out of all of my old crap rather than add it to the “rag bin.”



5 responses

  1. I donate a lot of clothing too and I love thrifting. Good post about where it goes 🙂 Consumerism is so out of control, I wonder what is going to happen once we really reach a breaking point. There is so much you can do to decrease your intake and your output. I think the movement has started and it’ll pick up more and more speed. Thanks again for the enlightening post 😀

  2. I live to thrift shop but I now live in rural NC and the thrift stores are scary, you need to see a row of used bras and panties on hangers to fully appreciate it. And then a matching row of men’s undergarments… I used to live in Boston and daydream about the wonderful finds I made in the Garment District -designer clothes, retro clothes from the 50’s and 60’s…

    My aunt in DC would bring me to a Thrift Shop in Georgetown where debutantes and those who went to Embassy Row parties would sell their gowns on consignment. My aunt could afford to shop anywhere but she was like a kid at Christmas in a thrift shop. I miss those days!

    I enjoyed your article, brought back lots of good memories.

  3. What size are you? If it is a 12/14/16 send it to me. I will put it to good use LOLOL. Just kidding……maybe. I love thrifting too. Maybe we could get a swap system going. Good idea huh.

    1. kathleenerindavis | Reply

      We aren’t the same size…but I think there are lots of established clothing swaps in different areas–try meetup.com maybe?

  4. I sew so many of my own outfits now, by blending pieces of old ones. My goal is to have at least a third of my wardrobe be made by me or altered by me (and used before that). I haven’t bought new clothes in months and I’d love to keep it that way 🙂 I also set up clothing exchanges with my friends and I get so much interest! They always tell me afterwards how much fun it is and how much better it feels to get clothes that way.

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