Closet Cleanout? Now Do the Donations Right

Lots of closets are getting cleaned out during this shelter-at-home period.  But now what are you going to do with those discards?  The good news is that many non-profits – the organizations that will do great things to help in the recovery –  derive a big percentage of their operating budgets from sponsoring resale stores.  So you can make a meaningful contribution to your own community without spending a dime.

But please don’t  just drop it all on their doorstep Day 1 after quarantine ends.  You have time now to sort and prioritize those items.  So here’s a better idea…

Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, not all donations are helpful. Experts tell us that as much as 80% of total donated items never end up on the resale racks.  The massive sorting effort takes staff away from the meaningful work of processing the usable items.  And the task of passing items “down the food chain” to less discriminating re-sellers is far outside the staffing capabilities of any re-sale shop.

You may feel guilty just throwing things out, but sorting  – and tossing when appropriate – is really the responsible approach.  We bought the stuff, now it’s our  job to dispose of it in the most ethical way.  By all means donate the worthwhile items, but let’s take the time to get it right.

Here’s a breakdown of what should go where and why, courtesy of Jessica Duneman – manager of my favorite resale shop:

  •   Upscale items less than 2 years old and in like-new condition can go to a consignment store or one that buys items outright and re-sells them.  These shops tend to be extremely particular about what they accept and you won’t get rich doing this.  But in the right situation the cash can be worth the extra effort.
  • Online re-sellers.  You can sell items yourself through E-Bay or work through one of the big online consignment sites.  Unless the garments are new-ish and very high end, the return on your efforts may be pretty small.
  • If you prefer the feel-good value of donating, many resale shops support important charitable organizations with their proceeds. Many also provide vouchers for clients of social service organizations to “shop” for free.
  • They typically accept a wider range of items than consignment stores and put less emphasis on the exact age of an item than on its condition.  Garments need to be clean and not damaged or showing wear. No stains or fading, missing buttons, broken zippers, etc.  “If you would loan it to your best girlfriend, you can donate it here” is Jessica’s motto.
  • Know what categories a specific shop accepts.  Donating menswear, kids’ clothes or housewares to a shop that doesn’t stock those categories is worse than throwing the items away.  The staff will have to toss them anyway, and will have wasted  time they would have spent processing usable donations.
  • If you are a talented sewist – as I know a portion of my readers are – Jess says most resale stores are happy to take your donations but most consignment shops are not.
  • Items with minor wear or slight damage, imprinted event T-shirts, personalized items, etc. can still be useful for thrift stores and Goodwill.
  • Please don’t take those items to better resale shops; their employees and volunteers are going to be swamped when the world re-opens and they’ll need to devote their time to processing sellable donations.
  • Goodwill, by the way, also accepts housewares and electronics, which they either recycle or use to teach refurbishing in their job-skills program.
  • Even garments that are damaged or stained shouldn’t be tossed away in the trash.  As my daughter reminds me, “There is no “away” to throw things.”  Check online for a textile recycler in your area so you can dispose of them with a clear conscience.

Into the future you can be a more responsible consumer by purchasing fewer items of better quality that coordinate to give you the maximum wardrobe potential.  Check the book LOOKING GOOD … Every Day or my video class Plan Your Best Wardrobe on for details on how to make it happen.

  • If you’re in St. Louis, check out the terrific selection and values at the NCJW ReSale Shop at 295 N Lindbergh. Their proceeds support the organization’s work to support local women, children and families. It’s also an amazing place to shop for great values yourself.


About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.


  1. Katrina on February 4, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks for explaining this in detail. I’m embarrassed to say that I did not, until now, realize the difference between a resale shop and a thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army. I will be more careful in sorting my donation items from now on.

    • Nancy Nix Rice on February 5, 2018 at 1:36 pm

      I wasn’t as clear as I needed to be either; that’s what prompted my conversation with Jessica. I would clean out a client’s closet and just take everything to the Resale Shop, not realizing how much work I was asking them to do in sorting it all out – duh! So now we both know better.

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