How To Benefit Your Community Using Only Items You Already Own

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a clothes junkie.  I used to subscribe to two fashion magazines a month, until I realized that all the articles were exactly the same condescending bullshit over and over, and I never got very many good fashion ideas from them.  Besides, I shop at thrift stores, like a good radical, almost never buying clothes directly from a retailer and definitely not buying clothes at full price, ever, unless it’s merchandise for a band I want to support.

The good part about thrift shopping is the extreme quantity of clothes you can buy with very little money.  The bad part about thrift shopping is…pretty much the same thing, because then you’ve got tons of clothes that you eventually admit to yourself you’re unlikely to wear frequently enough to warrant taking up the closet space.  When that happens, the responsible consumer (such as myself) will ask herself, “What’s the best way I can get rid of these clothes?”picture006

The answer is pretty simple: if you can, donate them (I understand some people resell their clothes, which is also a good solution, especially if you need money).  Donations of clothes in good condition help thrift stores thrive.  I always try to sort out the really shitty stuff when I’m gathering clothes to donate, because let’s be honest, if I grimace at the dark sweat-stains under the pits of that one shirt I haven’t worn in years, I shouldn’t be handing it off to some thrift store worker to deal with. I should nut up and throw that disgusting shirt away…or use it as a cleaning rag or something.

But good clothes that just don’t fit or that I’ve admitted to myself I’m unlikely to wear ever again are going to get donated.  I used to just take the bags over to my nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill, drop them off, and think nothing of it.  I don’t do that anymore.

Ideologically, I don’t like the structure of these giant, international corporations which are well-known for their non-profit status but are also incredibly homophobic or have despicable labor practices.  Not cool, guys.  So I’ve started donating to small, local stores which benefit the community I’m living in and which, as far as I know, aren’t horrifically unjust to already oppressed segments of the population.  My last load of clothes went to a PTA thrift store; instead of collecting dust in my closet or remaining permanently at the bottom of my dresser drawers, my clothes can benefit schools in the area.

This got me thinking about other things that can be done with clothes or household items that have outlived their use to oneself but could absolutely benefit other people.  Here are a few ideas I came up with:

  1. Books, of course, can be donated to the local library.  There are also programs which collect books for children; simply google “donate books to kids” and a dozen organizations pop up on the first page.
  2. In some communities you may be able to find “Free stores” where everything is free, and if you have one of these in your area & you’re anti-capitalist or anarchist, I would absolutely encourage you to donate good items there.  You’re probably more likely to find out about this sort of thing through word of mouth than through a google search.
  3. Shelters for domestic violence or for the homeless are a great place to donate clothes and food (always only good things, again, donating shitty gross stuff just because you don’t want it is a terrible thing to do), after you check into their policies.  Shelters aren’t always run ethically.  If they require religious instruction in exchange for their services, if they are homophobic or if they exclude trans* people, don’t support them.  No place is going to be perfect, but forced religious instruction or turning away the most vulnerable is really something you shouldn’t get behind.  Don’t ever donate goods to a crisis pregnancy center, these are extremely unethical centers which trade on false information and forced proselytization to target vulnerable women.
  4. Organize a community garage sale, with the proceeds going to a particular non-profit that’s doing good work in your community.  I know some churches who have done this sort of thing, or had a garage sale where everything was free, but I think it’s a better idea to do it as a community event rather than an “outreach,” and it will probably be more successful if no one’s afraid you’re going to proselytize them while they’re browsing through gently used scarves or mis-matched dishware.

Let’s be honest, everyone’s got at least a few things lying around that are in pretty good shape and that they don’t need.  If we all pitch in a bit, we can put those currently useless items to good work benefiting the communities we live in.

What are some of your ideas for ways to donate used goods or use them to benefit others?

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