Clothing in Baler \ Craig Huffman (Goodwill Industries) Clothing in Baler \ Craig Huffman (Goodwill Industries)

I cram a new dress into my already overstuffed closet, dislodging a sweater that coils to the floor in a heap. I realize there is just no more space and recall the day my husband and I first viewed this home. “It’s a huge house,” the sales agent had beamed, “but the closets are too small.” She went on to explain her wardrobe habits. “I need space for the wardrobe I wear now,” she said, “space for the clothes I would love to wear if I lost 10 pounds, and space for the clothes I wear when I’m really out of shape.”

Her dilemma is now common. In a recent UK study, participants estimated that 60 percent of their wardrobe is “inactive” – the clothes are just stored, not worn. Yet we continue to buy new clothes, in part because they are so inexpensive – American consumers spend an average of $14.60 per item.

Of course, increased consumption leads to increased waste. In the UK and US, a single consumer produces 30 to 40 kilograms of textile waste per year. In the US, 85 percent of textiles are thrown away without being reused or recycled, accounting for 5.7 percent of the solid waste in landfills. Although precise figures for Canadians are not reported, it’s unlikely we’re doing much better. The average time consumers keep a garment is just three and a half years. Even then, it’s only worn frequently in the first year and then slowly phased into that stockpile of unworn clothes in our overstuffed closets.

Everyone has their own way of cleaning out a closet. I sort my clothes according to condition: I give the best to friends and the rest gets donated or repurposed for cleaning or gardening wear. For instance, a bright pink swinger coat I bought years ago is now too worn for friends but still too good for mowing the lawn. I’ll donate it to a local charity shop, but where will it really go?

Sabine Weber is a master’s student in Environment and Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. 

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