Lessen the environmental impact of your clothing by hosting a clothing swap.

If you’ve ever stepped back and surveyed your perfectly organized closet after a clothing purge, you know the feeling of pure satisfaction. And most of us feel good about dropping the shirts, sweaters, and pants we no longer want or fit into at the thrift store, where we imagine they’ll be purchased and loved by someone new. Well, that’s necessarily the case.  

Only about 20 percent of items donated to thrift stores end up on clothing racks. The rest is either thrown away — around five percent ends up in landfills as a result of mildew issues — sent to recycling centers, or exported overseas to developing countries where it’s hypothetically resold in open-air markets. 

But according to the EPA, while 2.5 million tons of used clothing get recycled each year, more than 3 million tons are incinerated and 10 million tons are sent to landfills where they emit the greenhouse gasses that accelerate climate change. 

And the castoffs we send to other countries — the U.S. exports more than a billion pounds of used clothing each year — are causing major environmental issues overseas. In places like Ghana, where consumers aren’t interested in our cheaply made secondhand garments, much of the used clothing imports they receive end up in landfills, causing pollution problems and increased climate impact. According to Fast Company, for every three garments sold in Kantamanto, an area in Ghana’s capital city of Accra, two are trashed.  

The best way to ensure your clothing doesn’t end up in landfills? Plan a clothing swap. Clothing swaps are a fun and easy way to give your pre-loved clothes a second life — and you may even go home with a few new favorite wardrobe items, too. 

friends looking at clothing

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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How to Plan a Clothing Swap 

  • Pick a day and time that will work best for the group of people you plan to invite. 
  • Encourage everyone to bring clothes or even household items they were planning to donate. (If a guest doesn’t have any items they’re willing to part with — that’s okay! The more the merrier.)
  • If you’re hosting an inside gathering, choose different areas of your living room or dining room for specific apparel. For example, jeans and pants go in one corner while sweaters go in the opposite. 
  • If you’re hosting outside, do the same. However, you’ll want to make use of a few fold-out tables for guests to place their items on, or lay down fresh towels or sheets that they can stack clothing on top of. 
  • Put on some music and provide refreshments, like water, spritzers, and a few snacks for a laid-back vibe.
  • Look through the clothes more than once — you never know when you might find a new gem hiding under a shirt or two. 

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What To Do With Clothing Swap Leftovers

When you host a clothing swap, there are bound to be a handful of items that weren’t claimed. What you do with these leftovers is another important step in keeping garments from having an oversized environmental impact.

Carefully go through what’s left. Set aside any apparel that has holes, stains, or is simply too worn out. Once you’ve separated these items, figure out ways you can upcycle and repurpose them. 

Old t-shirts can be cut up and used for cleaning rags. Jean scraps can be sewn together to make a patchwork quilt or a tote bag. Sweaters can be transformed into boot toppers or scarves. There are endless ways to get creative. 

friends swapping clothing

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

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Donate With Dignity

For the clothing that you plan to donate, do so with dignity. This starts with making sure the items are in good shape and of high-quality.   

Before you head to the thrift store, do your research. Find out if there are mutual-aid groups or shelters in your area looking for specific types of clothing. For instance, in the winter, they may be asking for jackets, coats, and long sleeves. In the summer, it may be t-shirts and shorts. And chances are they don’t need a silky work blouse, dress, or blazer, so be thoughtful in what you decide to donate. 

If you don’t have clothing that meets the specific needs of shelters or organizations in your community, donating to the thrift store is totally fine. Whether you bring your garments to a shelter or the Goodwill, there are a few key guidelines to follow to ensure they make it into the hands of those who want or need them. 

  • Wash everything so your clothes are clean and smell nice for the next owner. 
  • Sort items by type, fold them neatly, and organize them in separate boxes or bags. 
  • Label the boxes or bags by size and type.  

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