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What Happens to Your Old Clothes?

Photo courtesy of Thing Three/Flickr

I will openly admit that I have way too many clothes. They are stuffed into every nook and cranny of my bedroom — in dressers, in closets, in plastic storage bins.

I would guess that I wear approximately 25 percent of my wardrobe on a regular basis — and the rest just kind of sits there.

Like many Americans, I try to clean out my closet a few times each year, usually at the start of a new season. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did this a couple of weeks ago, when the weather here in Missoula finally started to warm up.

Whenever I drop off a load of used clothing at the thrift store, I assume that most of it will be placed on clothes racks and eventually sold to someone else. I like to imagine that I’m doing a good deed — that I am perhaps, in a way, helping someone in need.

But, according to an article that recently appeared on Slate, reality doesn’t always reflect this idealistic vision of what happens to my unwanted clothing.

I guess I always assumed that somebody would want my old dress shoes or my too-short pair of gently used Abercrombie and Fitch jeans. I mean, they are perfectly wearable — except for those scuffmarks and that missing back-pocket button.

The truth is, with the enormous oversupply of manufactured clothing in the U.S., consumers of secondhand goods can afford to be a little picky. Even clothes that end up being shipped overseas to poor countries in Africa often go unsold, as shoppers there become increasingly fashion-forward and the supply of cheap imported clothing continues to grow.

Rejected garments are sometimes shredded and recycled, but if the amount of discarded clothing keeps increasing at current rates, more and more of it will end up as waste.

Of course, this shouldn’t stop you from clearing out the stuff you don’t wear, but it might make you think twice about adding unnecessary items to your collection.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.

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