Spring Closet Purge

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“Spring Closet Purge” is a post by Adina J in which she writes about one of her favourite springtime rituals.

Spring Closet Purge

I’m not sure what it is about winter, but it seems like high-season for accumulating clutter around the house; something to do with all those long months of semi-hibernation, perhaps. This winter clutter is ripe for tackling come March, when people seem to “spring” into home cleaning and organizing modes. De-cluttering is not always a fun process, but one of my favourite components is the annual spring closet purge. This not only maintains my wardrobe in a functional state for the rest of the year, it also gives me a chance to (a) make some extra money, and (b) have some fun with my friends. Here are the five steps of my spring closet purge.

Step 1: Purge

Well, duh! This is the hardest step to implement, but not nearly as drastic as it sounds. To help me get started, I try to stick as much as possible to the following rules of thumb and toss anything that:

  • I haven’t worn in the last year;
  • has irreversible signs of wear and/or aging;
  • is more than 5 lbs away from fitting properly.

I get this “working purge pile” started around the end of the year. The reason is that I tend to have a hard time letting go of clothes. Rather than agonize about the whole process – and risk keeping everything – I give myself one extra chance to reconsider. I put the working purge pile out of sight and easy access for a few months. Then, I take another look at the clothes and ask myself: did I miss them in the intervening time? And, more specifically, did I miss the particular iteration of an item, or its general functionality? In other words, is it this particular black cardigan that I absolutely need, or just a black cardigan (that doesn’t have holes in it) generally? If it’s the former, I might put the item back in my closet for another year (on the “endangered list”, so to speak). If it’s the latter, I toss the item and put it on my “to be replaced” list. The possibility of last moment clemency makes the initial toss decision easier.

Spring Closet Purge
My closet, post-purge … believe it or not, it was worse before

Once you have a final purge pile, it’s time to do some triage. In order to get the most bang (and bucks) out of your old clothes and accessories, you need to maximize your return and minimize your time commitment. Duh #2! This means sorting your purge pile into 4 categories:

  1. items to be sold
  2. items to be consigned
  3. items to be swapped
  4. items to be donated

From a purely monetary perspective, the first category will give you the biggest return, whilst requiring the most work. It’s important to assess whether the return is worth your effort. The last category will require the least amount of work, but provide no return (other than the intangible satisfaction from supporting local charitable organizations). Assigning clothes to particular categories is, therefore, intrinsically important to this process.

Step 2: Sell

By “sell” I’m referring to platforms like Kijiji and Craigslist (local sales) and eBay (national or international sales) to unload your unwanted clothes and accessories. Potential selling costs aside, selling your stuff this way can take a fair bit of effort and time, and that’s if you avoid the misfortune of running into an annoying or scammy buyer. At a minimum, you have to make sure your clothes are in sellable condition (i.e. clean), and you have to market them properly (clear and thorough description, good pictures, etc.). Since I have a demanding job and too many other responsibilities to juggle, it’s not worth my time to sell everything I purge in a given year. Instead, I only sell high-value items. Shoes, bags and jewelry – provided that they are in excellent or very good condition, and preferably a brand name or designer label – are good choices. From personal experience, I’ve found that clothes are harder to sell on local, free platforms like Kijiji, so I rarely bother.

My rule of thumb is to try to sell any item I think has a fair chance of fetching $40 or more. If the item doesn’t sell within the first month that it’s listed, I take it down and consign it. That is, unless it’s a very expensive item. I keep those rare gems to sell at a later time when the market has come to its senses.

Step 3: Consign

If the potential price isn’t worth the hassle of selling it myself, then it goes straight to consignment. The main drawback of consignment is that you only get a portion of the price your item sells for (40% being standard practice in my city). The main advantage is that someone else does all the work for you (rather than meeting people from Kijiji in a mall parking lot); importantly, you also get access to the consignment store’s existing customer base. Clothes that might not look outstanding in a photo (and don’t have some fancy label attached) might easily capture the right buyer’s interest IRL, thus selling more readily than if listed online.

If you’re looking into consignment, you have to keep in mind some general rules. Consignment stores accept items on a seasonal basis – that is, spring clothes starting in January, summer clothes starting in March, and fall/winter clothes starting in August. Sort your items, and plan your consignment trips accordingly. Stores only accept items in “good” condition, which is admittedly subjective — and some judge this more stringently than others. At a minimum, they will reject anything that is stained, ripped, frayed, or worn-looking. Some stores will also reject certain brands like George (Walmart) or Joe Fresh (Superstore), because (let’s ignore quality arguments and designer brand-related snootiness) the low retail pricing doesn’t leave much room for a secondary market. Consignment stores also require clothes to be clean (including dry-cleaned if necessary). Keep in mind the impact of additional cleaning costs on your potential return.

Generally, clothes are accepted on consignment for a period of around 6 weeks. Rather than donate unsold items, I ask for them back to take one last kick at the can…

Step 4: Swap

Every March, I host a clothing swap party. If you’ve never heard of one before, the concept is pretty straight-forward: a gaggle of women brings their unwanted clothes/accessories to, well, swap among themselves. What may not be one person’s cup of tea (or correct size) can easily be another person’s favourite new-to-her dress. Because I tend to keep my parties on the Libertarian side of formalized rules, everyone has a ton of fun trying on clothes and judging impromptu fashion shows. I don’t keep track of who brought what, and who got what, so it can definitely be a bit of a crapshoot. Most years, I tend to give away more clothes than I pick up. My philosophy is simple: I’d rather end up with one single amazing new piece than a dozen so-so ones that will just end up clogging my closet (that I’ll end up donating anyway). Remember: the goal of the entire process is to de-clutter while receiving tangible returns for effort expended.

If you’re not sure about hosting your own clothing swap, you can always look for a public one. Note that a public swap will likely involve restrictive rules about what you can bring and how you can participate. Often, you will have to drop off your contributions early to allow organizers to sort your stuff (e.g. by quality/brand name/price level) ahead of time. You will then get a number of tokens, corresponding to your contributions, which you can use to pick up similar items on the day of the swap. I prefer hosting my own party, but the main advantage of a public swap is that it will (likely) offer much wider selections of items, styles, and sizes. In a world that runs on money, it can be fun to use the double-coincidence of wants to de-clutter and rejuvenate a closet.

Step 5: Donate

Whatever I’m left with at the end of this whole process — and, clearly, it is a process, but one that I enjoy – gets donated. Talk about a feel-good ending!

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5 Comments… Share your views

  1. In our home it’s the kids that have all the clothes. We follow a similar pattern to yours. Anything that’s really good gets handed down or around to younger relatives and friends. Anything that’s pretty good but won’t suit the hand around bunch is donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill both of whom get all the profit on the re-sale. Anything that’s only sort of good gets given to Value Village who give a small part of the profit to charity. Anything that’s only rag quality gets given to a “charity” clothes box which is really a for profit business. They make industrial rags from the non-saleable goods, so it ends up recycled. It sounds like a bit of work, but the three donation versions are all within walking distance of home.

    The one time I tried consignment with very good quality brand name children’s wear the amount offered was so low I never bothered considering it again. I’d rather give that profit margin to a charity than a retail shop.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard that consignment on kids’ stuff isn’t worth much. I can attest to that from the other end, seeing that I buy a lot of my son’s clothing there. The prices are so low, I can’t imagine that the consignors make much money at all.

      When the time comes to unload all this old (decent) stuff, it’s going to Goodwill.

  2. Balancing the investment of time with the return is essential when dealing with high-margin, small-value used goods like clothing. My partner sold off a good chunk of her insanely massive shoe collection on Kijiji so she could get top dollar. We also became grateful recipients of bags of baby clothes but we invited it, explaining to people that we’d sort the clothes, take what we needed for Cat, store a bin of clothes in case we have a boy some day, sell what we could, then donate what couldn’t be sold. They were glad to get rid of everything in one fell swoop, and we were happy to make a couple runs to a consignment store that netted a decent chunk of money. Plus charity had some wins. But the key is that the return relative to the work was huge — we have all the clothes we need for Cat for a long time, everything essential for a new baby (even if it’s a boy), and enough cash to cover our time (at minimum wage but still we’re grateful) and the gas.

  3. I go through a similar process. I weed out designer stuff for consignment mostly because I’ve gotten lazy over the years and I don’t want to deal with buyers on eBay who are generally not as trusting anyway (they think everything designer is fake, and want authentication for everything even if it doesn’t come with it like clothes).

    Anyhoo I’m going through that now.

    • Tbh, I am terrified of eBay (from a seller’s perspective) so I stick to local platforms. But consignment is very convenient, especially for mid-range labels. My favourite part is the clothing swap though, hands down.

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