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Re-wear, Repurpose, and Recycle Your Old Clothes

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I spent years working in retail. This means I grew rather accustomed to getting a brand-new wardrobe every four to six weeks. (It was quite a shock to the system when I left retail and had to give that habit up.) All of my friends joked that when I had a baby it was clearly going to be a very well-dressed baby in twee expensive clothes.

Then I got pregnant.

Even before I gave birth, I realized that spending a ton of money on expensive baby clothes (no matter how amazingly adorable they were) was silly because babies grow out of things so quickly. I was perfectly willing to settle for cute and inexpensive, but I was surprised to discover that lots of baby clothes could be free–there’s a thriving hand-me-down system among parents! We got our first hand-me-downs while I was still in my first trimester. And some of the hand-me-downs we’ve been given have been high-quality items on the expensive side (think Janie and Jack, Garnet Hill, Ralph Lauren, and See Kai Run)! I was right though: babies grow fast. So what do you do with the clothes and shoes your baby can’t wear anymore?

From my retail days, I was accustomed to donating my clothing and knew where to do that. But clothing a small child is ridiculously expensive—especially without that retail employee discount, and even including hand-me-downs—and simply giving away a like-new wardrobe every couple of months didn’t seem like the best use of my child’s clothing budget. For more expensive items, I decided to explore the world of consigning. The consignment store I take my daughter’s items to specializes in higher-end items or new-with-tags items from big box stores and larger chains, although there are children’s consignment stores that are less selective. You can find online consignment places like thredUP, Schoola (the sale proceeds benefit your school), or If you don’t want to consign your like-new items but want them to do some good, your local area may also have second-hand shops that benefit local non-profits. Near my house is a second-hand store that benefits a local hospital, and another that benefits a local animal shelter. Some places of worship operate second-hand stores, as well, which frequently help fund community outreach programs.

For my like-new but more mainstream items (like Old Navy or Carter’s), I have found that the money I can make by consigning them is negligible, and I think it’s better to pass them on. Like-new items I give to people I know—or who are at least in my “circle.” My daughter’s infant clothes went to a work friend of my mom’s. Her toddler and preschool clothes are going to a friend with a daughter about a year younger than mine. Many of the moms in my local MOMS Club reach out to the group when they have a need or have clothes or shoes that need a new home. It’s not uncommon to see someone offering up items saying, “I got these from Megan and I’m done with them. Who needs them next?”

Then there’s that stuff that looks a wee bit worn, but is still in good shape (or that gets rejected in the hand-me-down process—no matter how cute the outfit is, it’s not going to be attractive to everyone). Those items I donate. Sometimes it’s to a struggling family, other times it’s to Goodwill or another charity, or even to a local place of worship who can get the donations to people in need. But charities don’t want your junk, so what do you do with clothes that are ripped or stained, or missing pieces (socks, anyone)?

For years, I threw these items away, thinking they were useless. Now we have Pinterest with all its ideas for upcycling. I pin all those awesome projects to a board titled “Craft Projects I Love, But Will Never Make.” So, okay, I may not be crafty, but I love research. I have discovered that there are stores who will take your old clothes and shoes, including the stuff that has no more life left in it. The best part? You only need to head to the mall to recycle your stuff. H&M has a garment collecting program that focuses on re-wearing (if the item is in good shape), reusing (turning textiles into cleaning cloths for example), or recycling (turning old items into new textile fibers or into things like insulation). And as I was skimming through their program to refresh myself on the details, I also learned that they now take home textiles in addition to clothes! And you get an H&M coupon for your troubles. Win-win. H&M’s not your style? Last year, Levi’s announced that they were expanding their clothing recycling program to all their stores. You can drop your old clothes and shoes off at any Levi’s store and they, too, will give you a coupon to use in-store. Good for the earth and good for you! They partner with I:Collect to ensure your items are re-worn, repurposed, or recycled. One of my favorite programs is from Nike. Nike stores offer the Reuse-A-Shoe program, in which old athletic shoes are recycled into Nike Grind, used to create athletic surfaces, building materials, and playground surfaces. (You can also check your local running stores; because running shoes have such a short life, many stores offer recycling programs.)

Long story short: sell it, donate it, hand it down, or recycle it—just don’t throw it away!

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