Social impact lifestyle and your wardrobe: More connected than you think

Eva donating clothes

“I’ve got nothing to wear.”

Who hasn’t said that before, even though studies indicate that the average person wears only 20 percent of the clothes in their closet? At the same time as some of our closets are overflowing, millions of other people need assistance with basics like food and clothing. More than 43 million people are living in poverty in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

How can the average person help? In today's social impact culture, it's easy to take on small projects as part of your overall community engagement portfolio. Case in point? Spring cleaning, trimming your closet, and donating a few bags of gently-used clothing to a charity is a popular form of "doing good" in the contemporary application of philanthropy. What's more, donating clothes to people in need isn’t the only good that comes from downsizing and paying more attention to how you build your wardrobe.

Let’s look at the issue.

More than 80 billion pieces of clothing are purchased worldwide each year. That is a 400 percent increase from a decade ago! Those are the staggering statistics from True Cost, a 2015 documentary film about the garment industry.

A recent article in the Atlantic, “Where Does Discarded Clothing Go,” offered these data points:

  • In New York City alone, clothing and textiles account for more than 6 percent of all garbage, which translates to 193,000 tons tossed annually.
  • Americans recycle or donate only 15 percent of their used clothing, and the rest—about 10.5 million tons a year—goes into landfills.
  • Only half of donated clothing gets worn again.

The good news here, though, is that much of the portion of donated clothing that actually can be recycled is ground down and re-formed into things like insulation, carpet padding, and industrial rags.

Don’t forget that your clothing donations may be eligible for a tax deduction. The Internal Revenue Service requires that a value be placed on each item. So how do you know what it’s worth? Check out Goodwill Industry International’s suggested valuation of commonly donated items of women’s clothing. For example, tops, shirts, and blouses are valued between $2 -12, T-shirts between $1 - 6, and jeans in a range of $4 - 21.

Many charities also accept donations of cars, large appliances, building materials, office furniture, computers, and electronics. Some charities are even happy to swing by curbside at your house or come to your office to pick up things.

Think outside the box, too. If you’re healthy and up to it, consider donating blood. Nearly 5 million people need a blood transfusion each year, according to the American Red Cross. When you donate blood, you are truly saving lives.

Reviewing your closets, cabinets, and wardrobe with a critical eye and doing good go hand-in-hand. You will feel a lot better about your own social impact by paying closer attention to what you choose to buy. And when you stop loving that top or pair of jeans, make sure to donate it to a charity instead of throwing it in the trash. Donating is good for your community, it's good for the world, and it's good for you.