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Closet Cleanup: How Your Donations Benefit You and the Planet

By Martha Michael

Clean Out the Closet

Like the end-of-year clearance sales you find in stores, it’s a good time to do your own inventory and sift through the clothes and household products you’ve accumulated over the last 12 months. That process enables you to reduce and recycle beginning with a thorough review of the overflow in your cupboards and closets.

Retire What’s Expired

A trip to the refrigerator tells you the milk’s sour and the meat is past its expiration date. But many things in your household expire, and once or twice a year it’s a good idea to throw out items past the date of their effectiveness, according to an article on Buzzfeed.

Some Can Become Harmful

Lipstick, mascara, and other types of makeup can dry out after you open them which alters their consistency and application. But more importantly, you don’t want to keep them past the expiration date because bacteria that forms on them will be transferred to your face. Check packaging for an expiration date and record it so you don’t continue using them too long.

Soft, padded, and plush items in your house attract dust mites that may cause allergy symptoms. Assess your need for these playthings and this type of decor regularly. Toys and pillows that can’t be washed should be discarded. Quilts, curtains, and furniture can be cleaned and there are hacks for washing teddy bears if it’s too early for your kids to let go of them.

Lotions may begin to lose moisture and become harder to use, which is more annoying than harmful, but if your body butter is applied using your fingers, there’s a chance for bacteria to develop. Discard them after approximately a year, to be safe.

Items that Lose Potency

The strength of disinfectants such as bleach begins to wane after three months. Though you can still use Clorox to lighten your clothes, many of the most popular products such as Lysol can fall below EPA standards for destroying germs, so you should toss them rather than rely on their ability to disinfect surfaces as advertised.

The clock starts to tick on the expiration date of batteries when they’re made, not when they’re put to use, so open the package soon after purchase. To maximize their shelf life, store them in an area that has a stable temperature and remains dry.

You notice when dried herbs and spices begin to lose their flavor, but you lose something else if you keep them too long. An article by Healthline says that herbs such as rosemary and spices, including cloves and cinnamon, are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Over time you lose some of those healthy properties in addition to their ability to season your food.

Clean Out Closets

If you’re a shopaholic who longs for more space to fit your expanding wardrobe, it may be time to sort through what you don’t need. has a guide for thinning out your closet contents.

First, choose a time frame or special date to go through the process every year -- your birthday, first of the year, etc. It then becomes an annual event, which can make it more appealing and keep you motivated.

You can develop a template for the purging process using such criteria as:

  • Clothes that don’t fit
  • Identical/multiple pieces
  • Stained or ripped items
  • Uncomfortable clothing
  • Anything you haven’t worn all year

If you can’t close your closet doors or you’re considering a storage unit for the overflow, chances are you’re overdue for a cleanout. The following steps will get you started:

Shop your closet - Remove articles from your closet, one by one, and ask yourself if you like the style, fit and wearability of them.

Keep a charity bin nearby - Place a bin or bag on your closet floor to place unwanted articles. It’s a reminder to keep your wardrobe a manageable size and it’s an efficient system to collect and transport clothing for donation.

Determine an endgame - When you know your favorite clothes are going to a good cause, or at least to someone who will love wearing them, it’s easier to give them away.

Donate Sustainably

If dropping off clothes at nonprofit resale stores gives you a charitable feeling, you may not be aware that only about 20 percent of clothing donated to charity is resold. Most of it ends up in landfills, according to an article on citing research by the Council for Textile Recycling.

It doesn’t mean you should stop giving -- just follow some tips for more earth-friendly ways to clean out your closet, beginning with where you bring your castoffs. Goodwill Industries reportedly resells approximately 30 percent of its donations and Salvation Army’s resale rate is 45 to 75 percent. Larger organizations have better infrastructure so they can handle the high cost of sorting. Donate your lowest quality clothes to buyback programs run by for-profit retail stores such as H&M to shift the burden of sorting costs away from struggling charity organizations.

You can also maximize the chance your clothes stay out of landfills by making them more desirable. Donate them before they have snags and holes in them and try to lighten stains. Make your high school T-shirts into dust rags because they probably won’t sell. Before dropping your donations, check the charity’s website to see which items they accept.

The tax write-off is a nice perk when you release your closet contents. You also renew your commitment to sustainability and reduce your carbon footprint. That is, unless you see the extra space and go shopping for more.

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