According to the EPA, in 2018, almost 8% of the municipal solid waste received by landfills in the United States were textiles. That's stuff like clothing, bath linens and bed sheets, and 8% is close to 11.3 million tons! Another 3.2 million tons of textiles that year were combusted.
In short, textiles generate a lot of waste when we throw them in the garbage. But if you're a senior downsizing into an assisted living community such as Autumn View Gardens in Ellisville, MO — or you're cleaning out the closets in your assisted living apartment to make room for some new items — what can you do with old clothing and other textiles other than throw them out?
One thing you can do is sell them. If you have like-new items of certain brands, you may be able to get good money in a consignment shop or on eBay. Consider asking a friend or relative for assistance if you're not sure where to start but would like to consider selling any of your items.
And if you're ready just to give things away, here are a few options to consider.
Before you leave everything on the curb in big black trash bags, make sure you don't know someone who might want or need the items. If you're downsizing a home before moving into an assisted living community, ask friends and family members if they need tablecloths, bedding or gently used items of clothing you will otherwise get rid of.
Your loved ones might be happy to have some of the items. First, because they might actually need them and you being willing to part with them saves your relative or friend money. Second, they may enjoy having that little reminder of you in their home. For example, maybe you have a distinct set of bedding in your spare room and this is where your grandchildren slept when they stayed with you when they were little. One of them might love to have the bedding and those memories for their own home.
You can also consider giving items to charity. Start with your own local congregation or a church you know of that has a charity closet. Churches often keep storage rooms full of clothing, bedding or other goods so they can reach out to people in need. Find out what items might be needed and see if you are getting rid of anything that matches.
You can also box up textiles and donate them to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or similar organizations. These agencies often sell donated items in thrift shops to make money for the charities.
If you're donating a large number of items to these agencies or to a local church, consider asking for a receipt. You may be able to claim the value of your donation as a deduction on your taxes.
If you're a quilter, you could cut and block fabric from some of your favorite pieces and turn them into a quilt over time. This is a great way to enjoy the memories associated with textiles in a functional way. You can make an art quilt or just sew items together randomly for a scrap quilt. T-shirts with logos and designs can be blocked to create a soft cotton quilt, and jeans can be stitched together and the rough edges left right side out to create a rugged fringe.
Don't have enough to make a quilt or not up for that type of sewing challenge? You can turn various pieces of old clothing and fabric into a wide range of crafts and gifts that range from adorable to highly functional. You might convert an old dress shirt into a new sun dress for a little granddaughter or cut a T-shirt and sew it into a reusable produce bag. This article from Lifehack offers 27 ways you can create new things from old clothing, and you can find plenty of other ideas online.
While some items probably do need to end up in the garbage, if you're able to reuse, recycle or give away textiles you won't be using anymore, you'll be making a small but significant positive impact on the environment. Your bags of clothing and other fabrics won't be adding to the millions of tons already showing up in landfills or getting incinerated across the nation each year.
This is just one way seniors in assisted living communities or any other location can help care for the environment. And the added benefit is that you may be making something fun or helping another person in the process.
Bethesda Foundaion is not associated with the Bethesda Health Group of St. Louis, MO.