The First Thing You Should Do Before Selling or Donating Your Old Clothes, According to Experts

updated Mar 25, 2021
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So you’ve conquered the closet clean-out, and now you’re staring at piles of cast-offs on your bedroom floor, wondering what to do with the jackets, pants, and shoes you’ve decided to part with. Should you take a chance and haul them to the local consignment shop? Try your hand at Poshmark? Or should you just drop the whole bundle off at the thrift store and say “See ya!” for good? 

Before you begin the send-off, there’s one important thing you should do:

Go through the items one more time to make sure you won’t regret saying goodbye to something. 

If you’re still unsure about that dress or those shoes, Christina Soderstrom, a stylist and the owner of Bearded Mermaid in St. Paul, Minnesota, recommends giving yourself a time frame for the piece in question. “The first rule of thumb that most people go by is, ‘Have you worn it in a year? Are you going to wear it in a year?’” she says. If that doesn’t help you make a decision about the item’s future, try to make a plan to wear it. “If you can’t say, ‘I’m going to wear that next Tuesday,’ then bye.” Or, in the words of Queen Elsa, it’s time to let it go.

Once you’ve decided what can stay and what needs to go, it’s time to send your clothes to their new homes, or at least to the right people who can help them land forever homes. These pro tips will help you reduce clutter, save items from ending up in a landfill, and potentially make a little cash, whether you’ve got a stash of pristine vintage, some classic designer finds, or a lot of trendy pieces from Zara.

If your closet is filled with trendy pieces from mall staples…

Get thee to online reselling platforms like Poshmark and eBay! Both platforms have simple, intuitive apps that help you snap a few pics and share a listing quickly. 

Soderstrom has sold a plethora of pieces on both platforms and knows the ins and outs of each. (Check out her eBay Tips videos on TikTok!) Before you get started, she says to set realistic expectations for yourself so you don’t get overwhelmed with listing everything in your closet. “If it seems overwhelming, I suggest setting a timer on your phone to just list one item in your closet a day,” she advises. “It takes less than 10 minutes — and that’s for a long listing.” 

When it comes to selling success on apps like Poshmark, it’s all in the photos and descriptions. You want to make sure your buyer has all the info they need so they’re not upset when the item shows up on their doorstep.

“Describe everything twice as bad as it is… share if there’s a snag, a hole, or a rip,” Soderstrom says. “The person who’s getting it in the mail doesn’t want a surprise. Feedback is everything, so they’ll come back and save you as a seller. Think like a buyer.” Soderstrom also advises using ALL CAPS titles on eBay to catch a potential buyer’s eye, and shares that it’s best to use store names versus their in-store brands (i.e. Anthropologie instead of Maeve, and Urban Outfitters instead of Out From Under). 

As for photos, take advantage of good lighting, physically wear the items if you can, and take lots of photos until you get one that will make your listing stand out. “I strongly suggest against mannequins. Use your body or do a flat lay,” says Soderstrom, adding that having a curated page with a signature look can be helpful for selling items. But don’t worry if your aesthetic doesn’t come together overnight. “Don’t aim for perfection while you’re just getting started. You’ll get in the groove and your page will come together soon enough,” Soderstrom says.

If you’d rather rehome your clothes in person, consider hosting a (COVID-safe) swap with friends or coworkers in an outdoor park, or check out your local Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet, Crossroads Trading, or the like to see what their current buying and selling guidelines are. Be prepared to drop items off and wait a few days for buyers to go through your items.

Credit: Anna Spaller

If you want to rehome designer pieces …

You can opt to sell items on online resale sites like The RealReal, or you may want to try bringing your bags, shoes, separates, and more to a local consignment or resale boutique. If you’re going the boutique route, there are a few best practices to keep in mind before you bring your items in.

Daune Stinson, the owner of designer resale shop June Resale in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says the top three things to consider when sorting your items for resale or consignment are condition, season, and age

  • If the item is in poor condition, repurpose it or toss it. 
  • If it’s not in sellable condition but still has life left, donate it to a thrift store. 
  • And if you’re not sure about an item but it’s in perfect condition, bring it along. “It may be a piece we didn’t know we wanted,” Stinson says. 

Overall, however, don’t let something go if you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to it. “Emotional preparation is important. If you’re emotionally or financially attached to an item, it’s best to hold on to it until you’re ready,” Stinson advises. 

It also pays to do your homework before showing up. “Pay attention to shop guidelines for what they do and don’t take,” Stinson says. “That dress may have been expensive, gorgeous, and you had a great time in it. But if it doesn’t fit our shop, it won’t sell. We know what our clients buy. Check which season the shop is buying, ask if there are any specific pieces they’re looking for — this can change week to week.” She also advises checking if an appointment is needed or if the shop has limits or specific buying hours.

Help your pieces succeed by doing some prep work; Stinson says “freshly cleaned items with no flaws are essential.” You don’t need to dry clean them, but presentation makes a huge difference. “Balled-up in a garbage bag is a big ‘No thanks!’” Items that are ready to hit the floor are more likely to be purchased.

“Look over your items. Check the underarms for signs of deodorant,” says Stinson. “Are buttons missing? Is the hem falling? Are there holes at the base of the zipper, pet hair, or smells? It can pay off to take care of these minor issues before bringing them to resell.”

If you’re getting rid of designer shoes and prefer to sell online, Soderstrom recommends using eBay, but notes that you should make sure you’re taking high-quality photos to accompany your listing. “Make sure when you take a picture, nothing is cut off and the item is centered completely,” she says, adding that you should always include photos of the front, sides, back, and soles to give potential buyers a complete view.

If you’ve got some great vintage pieces …

Maybe you were really into a ‘50s or ‘60s vibe a few years ago, but your style has changed. Perhaps your vintage pieces don’t fit or don’t suit your current climate. The vintage market is always booming, but there are a few things to note before bringing your items to the local vintage store or selling them online.

“Clean and repair anything you can,” says Audra Frizzell, the owner of The Golden Pearl Vintage in Minneapolis. “I’m more likely to buy things that don’t need work.” 

She also recommends keeping communication simple and brief when working with potential buyers. “Round up everything you have at one time. Buyers like a one-and-done transaction,” she says. “Don’t over-inform or take too many pictures of every label or tell me all kinds of unnecessary info on the brand. Say approximately how many items you have and what eras and sizes they are, and include a few simple pitches of the best pieces.” Frizzell adds that it’s important to remember that you likely won’t recoup the cost of your vintage unless it’s a very high-end piece. 

You may also have success with vintage, especially if it’s ‘90s or Y2k-era, on Depop. The app does brisk traffic in vintage pieces with a lower price point. And yes, you read that right: aughts fashion is now considered vintage to many members of generation Z. 

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

If your pieces are in good shape, but you don’t need to make money on their resale …

Donate! Thrift stores are always looking for great pieces in good condition, so if there’s a location near you, don’t hesitate to make a drop — just make sure the items are in buyable condition, with no major rips, stains, tears, or smells. If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t donate it. 

You can also reach out to organizations that have real need for your clothing. If you have work-appropriate pieces in your stash, check in with your local Dress for Success or similar organization to see what they’re looking for in order to support people in need of interview-appropriate pieces. 

You can also consider contacting shelters to see what their needs are for people experiencing houselessness. Some religious institutions also take clothing donations, but again, do some research before dropping and make sure they’re accepting donations so you don’t overwhelm them with things they may not use. Not sure how to check? Pick up the phone and call.

And if the last few pieces of your pile are hopeless…

If your cast-offs are in rough shape, consider repurposing them. Old T-shirts are great for cleaning and drying your hair, and worn-out socks can be great dust cloths. If you’d rather get them out of your space (we get it!), check out textile recycling programs in your area to give these items new life.