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I have an earthy question. What etiquette should we follow when we donating our clothes to charitable organizations?

My professional organizing friend, Linda Chu, spent Saturday with me informing me that 75% of my wardrobe needed to go. (I think about money. I think about politics. Fashion and clothing? not so much). Thank goodness for Linda, who tossed and sorted with me for two hours. Then I packed up the piles we’d put on my bed labelled “Be Gone!” but it raised some issues for me.

  1. If it’s no longer ‘good enough’ for me, why is it ‘good enough’ for someone of lower economic status? They were quality pieces, to be sure, but a little outdated (or as Linda pointed out, “ummmm…look at how droopy those pockets are getting, Nancy.” Droopy pockets? Droopy pockets? I never thought to consider such a thing.) The truly awful (the ones even I could recognize were bad) went in the garbage. But still. Even if it is Ann Klein, should someone else be the recipient of droopy pockets or last year’s fashion?
  2. And drycleaning. A lot of the pieces could have used a trip to the drycleaners … but it would have cost about $200 if I’d done them all. They weren’t thaaaaat bad, and I’m assuming (?) that the thrift store will give all their outfits a once-over? Anyone know? What’s the etiquette on this?

pile of clothes

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

9 Comments

  1. 1. it’s an interesting issue you raise. Donating items to charity that you would consider a fashion faux pas is still a good idea. It’s better for those who are struggling to pay the bills to have something nice…. out of style or not. Guess what? there are some body types that actually suit droopy pockets (yes, there really are!). There is something in the way you wear a piece of clothing when you know it’s a designer label. No one else may know (and you should try to keep it that way, I hate when Louis Vuitton vomits all over people) but you know, and that helps with your self worth. Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, regardless of their socio economic background. So yes, donate the pieces, and cross your fingers that the person who is the beneficiary to your generosity is handy with a sewing machine. One woman’s castaways are another’s project!
    2. Did you know that some dry cleaning can damage your clothing lessening its lifespan, thereby costing you more than just the cost of dry-cleaning? Need something cleaned because it smells bad (smoke, restaurant, BO)? Hang it outside in the sun, the fresh air will amaze you what it’s capable of. Got something that has yellowed over time? Lay it in the sun on grass, the chlorophyll will brighten it right up. There are tons of money and clothing saving techniques…the internet is your friend (Google is my best friend).
    3. What about consignment? If you can’t bear to give your expensive duds to charity, there are tons of stores that will take your lightly used goods and pay you to take them off your hands.

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  2. As to old clothes, the Thrift stores sell the items to people who are often there looking for a bargain – not just people who can’t afford better. They are usually very observant and can factor in the cost of cleaning vs. the desirability of the item. If the Thrift store doesn’t sell it, they mark it down and after that it gets redonated to somewhere that uses old clothing or fabric or I guess even the dump could get it. I wouldn’t spend extra on dry cleaning as there are ways to clean like dry cleaning at home. I have a piano teacher friend that buys all her clothes at Thrift stores and has promised to show me how she does it. She always looks fabulous – I can’t get anything in a 2nd hand store. My daughter in law also shops there – for a bargain! So my advice: go ahead and donate. They are making money off of your generosity.

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  3. jennifer boeda

    Good for you for getting help to go through your wardrobe! It can be hard to recognize your own wardrobe malfuctions as you are too close to the project. Donating items is a great way to share items that still have some life in them. You did the right thing by tossing the unwearable ones that no one should be wearing. Your heart is in the right place, but donating dirty clothes just isn’t right. The others should be divided into two piles: the ‘I can wash these in a washing machine’ and the ‘these need dry cleaning’. Do at least the first option, and if you can’t afford the dry cleaning, realize that donating them is better than having them end up in a landfill!

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  4. @jennifer – you know, good point. Some of the items probably could have/should have been just plain washed. Believe it or not in the moment, I didn’t even think of that. D’uh.
    @liz – I myself have found some incredible stuff at thrift stores. And you’re right, I factor in the ‘this will need a dryclean’ into the price. I guess I was thinking the people who go to the particular shop I donate to would not even have the $10 to dryclean a piece, but then, who am I to assume anything? And, for all I know other stealthy shoppers like your friend (or me!) may go to this particular shop too.
    @Lisa – I had no idea about those alternative ways to get clothes looking great again. Wow! If you ever want to guest post with a bunch of similar suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  5. I buy second-hand clothing and also donate my own clothing when I am done with it. I definitely have some thoughts about where to draw the line.

    I will not donate anything that is stained or wrecked in a similar fashion. But I do donate things that perhaps I am tired of or no long longer fit me. In terms of when an item becomes outdated, one thing to remember about things is that there are people out there with amazing sewing skills (I am not one of them) who can work wonders. Also, something I might consider outdated, others might consider ‘classic.’

    I guess in the main if it isn’t soiled, ripped or ruined, I let other people choose whether it might work for them. I can only truly know whether it works for me.

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  6. If you’re in a thrift shop, you probably don’t give a lick about the label or fashion style (unless you’re a stealthy-retro fashionista – but I’m focusing on people b/c of pressing economic need), so donate with wild abandon and don’t worry what people will think of it. If it’s not full of holes or embarrassingly soiled, you’re good to go.

    [Reply]

    Feb 04, 2008
  7. Mel says if he bought a nice suit at a Thrift store, the first thing he would do is take it to the drycleaners anyway, regardless. just to get it pressed and really clean. So there is a male perspective for you!!

    [Reply]

    Feb 05, 2008
  8. @Jamie – thanks for dropping by! I loved your snowy pictures on your blog. And yes, most of what I donated were *cough* things I’d outgrown. I kept them for nearly 2 years in vain hopes that I’d soon be able to wear them again, but would rather now get myself properly outfitted at my (current) size.
    @Krupo – you know, I realized when I read your post that I’d gotten so over-anxious about it that I forgot the pure joyousness of passing along stuff to people who might be delighted to find it. Thanks for reminding me!
    @Mel – thanks for the pragmatic perspective. And good point.

    [Reply]

    Feb 05, 2008
  9. Monica

    I donate anything that is in good condition. Sometimes because it no longer fits, or because it just doesn’t suit me, or because I have too much “stuff”, or because my tastes have changed, or because I have a different job with different dress requirements, etc.

    I also shop at thrift stores myself, and I like coming across interesting items. Sometimes I have a use for a garment that you might not have thought off. For example, I unravel wool sweaters and use the wool for my own knitting projects. Or I cut up clothes and use them as the basis for tote bags, quilts, etc.

    [Reply]

    Apr 30, 2008

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