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Rehabilitating Your Closet: Spring Cleaning, Sustainable Fashion and Deliberate Choices

Updated: May 24, 2023

By Cassie Bogdan-Slemmer, SNCW board member

I had plenty of items, but nothing to wear. I was in my 20’s, coming out of college with debt and a new job, when I realized that most of my clothes didn’t fit very well and didn’t last very long. Shopping became a chore, full of buyer’s regret.

In the midst of my growing fatigue when it came to finding clothes, I learned about the impacts of the fashion industry, and I was floored:

I realized, unwittingly or no, that I was part of the problem. I had been consuming in a way that supported this system, and directly contradicted my values. I believed people should be treated fairly and that we should clean up after ourselves, yet I was spending my money at businesses that were failing miserably at both those counts. The deals my friends and I boasted of to each other were actually downstream results of toxic business practices. I was spending less on clothing than generations before me ever had, but it came at the cost of so much that was not visible in the store.

Convicted, I started a “clothing fast”: I wasn’t going to buy any more clothing. I thought I’d be fashion-destitute, but I was surprised to feel the opposite. I learned what I liked and discarded what I didn’t. It took some time for me to recognize the clothes I didn’t actually like, the clothes that didn’t fit well, the clothes I wished looked good but didn’t, and the clothes I was keeping “just in case” that I really didn’t need. Yet, gradually, the pieces that survived my scrutiny rose to the top, and the rest were given other homes. Gone were the clothes I didn’t actually enjoy or that didn’t fit well, and the remaining pieces were fun and enjoyable to wear.

I’m no longer on a strict clothing fast, but I’m much more deliberate in my choices than I used to be, and I credit that period of pausing and purging for giving me space to hone in my style and desires. Whatever your wardrobe looks like, doing a spring clean can be the first step to a more thoughtful, functional closet.

Tips for a Spring Clean

  • Sort what you wear and what you don’t. Keep the former, say goodbye to the latter. For anything you may be on the fence about, try putting those items in a box somewhere out of sight. If time goes by and you haven’t used those garments, that’s probably a sign that they aren’t doing your closet any real service, and you can say goodbye with more confidence.

Once you identify what you’re ready to discard:

  • Host a clothing swap; have your friends bring over the items they aren’t into anymore and watch; one person’s discarded shirt may be another’s treasure!

    • Donate. We have a great selection of organizations in the valley, whether it’s YWCA or another thrift store.

    • Try consignment. Whether Colchuck Consignment for outdoor gear, On the Avenue (previously Little Pockets) for women's designer apparel, or ThredUp for regular clothing, this may give someone a chance to purchase what you no longer want, and maybe make a few dollars to boot. You can also sell your used items directly on platforms like Poshmark.

    • Consider ways to up-cycle or use garments for other purposes, especially if it’s in poor condition. Turn t-shirts into cleaning cloths or shop rags, see if your local animal shelter could use some old sweaters as comfort items, or try some DIY projects. For other ideas, check out this list.

    • Recycling tattered clothing is tricky; places like Goodwill do recycle some items into things like furniture stuffing, but it is not always clear if your donation will end up recycled or in a landfill. Some specific agencies are more assured: The Bra Recyclers will give your old bras a new chance for those who need them, and Girlfriend Collective is offering to recycle workout gear of theirs that is beyond repair. Other recycling options will hopefully emerge as time goes on, but as in other categories, it is more effective to limit our consumption from the start, rather than rely on recycling.

What happens after my spring clean?

Maybe an all-out clothing fast feels extreme, or maybe it’s right up your alley. Either way, here are a few additional ideas for how to move forward from a spring clean:

  • Use what you have. An additional 9 months of use can decrease an item’s footprint by as much as 30%.

  • Alter what you have. If the fit is a bit off, take it to a tailor and make it a garment you love, instead of avoid.

  • Repair what you have. Learn to do it yourself or take it in for repair. Explore trends like patches and “visible mending”.

  • Use what your friends have. Sharing a closet is a unique joy and can be a great way to mix up your options, especially for one-time occasions.

  • Rent! Clothing rental companies are becoming more and more common, offering anything from dresses to shorts to coats.

  • Make your changes contagious. Think about how you want to respond if someone asks about your clothes or shopping habits. Invite them to join you without making it a competition or a guilt-trip.

What if I still need some items?

Perhaps you realize you have a specific need, or are lacking in a few key pieces that would help you maximize your wardrobe. What are the best ways to foster a well-honed closet?

First, aim to buy secondhand. If we all bought one used clothing item instead of new this year, it would be like removing 500,000 cars off the road for a year. Secondhand is becoming more popular: 41% of consumers say they look secondhand first, and 62% of Gen Z and Millennials say the same. Whether it comes to physical or online secondhand platforms, the market is growing each year.

And then, the last resort: buying new. I get it, sometimes life forces your hand and you find yourself buying new (after all, some items aren’t very tempting to buy used… like underwear, for instance). First, stop and ask: Were the workers who made the garment paid a living wage? Is the organization committed to reduce their emissions, stop pollution, or make their use of natural resources more efficient? It can be tricky to know these things for sure, especially in the age of “greenwashing” (making items seem more sustainable than they actually are), so look for companies who have allowed third parties to evaluate their supply chain.

  • For quick info, try the app Good On You, which gives brands an overall score based on how they do in three major categories of ethical practices to help you make quick, informed choices, and to help you identify alternatives.

  • Check our Fashion Revolution’s transparency index.

  • Remake did an Accountability Report of selected major brands in 2021.

  • Some third-party certifications can add confidence, others seem too vague to be helpful. The Ecolabel Index is a global directory that can help you understand what different certifications actually mean.

However you feel about clothing, we are all part of the industry, in one way or another. Taking responsibility for our role is important, but it can also be freeing and downright fun. Let’s match our values with our closets and start bragging about the clothing-swap wins, the decade-plus jean records, and the secondhand steals.

What is your fashion footprint?

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