The day that I realized everything in my closet was made of plastic was the day that I decided to change my life.
Before going Zero Waste, my closet was full of fast fashion which is predominately made of oil/petroleum based fabrics like polyester which is now what makes up the predominance of the fast fashion industry (by 2025 it is estimated that annual production numbers of polyester will be close to 100 million tons).
Why is this plastic/polyester clothing bad?
First, it’s made from oil (think oil spills, think toxic chemicals for extraction) but even more close to home, it’s highly flammable and often treated with flame retardant which is toxic. Plastic products are also known to be carcinogenic, so I definitely don’t want them anywhere near my body.
Why do I buy secondhand and not new?
The clothing industry utilizes child labor, dangerous working conditions, planned obsolescence, and TONS OF WASTE (think 25 billion pounds of clothing waste in the US alone every year).
As opposed to creating a demand for more clothing production, I opt to utilize items that are already in the waste stream.
When I say that everything in my closet is more than six years old or secondhand, I mean it. But when people look at my outfits and my clothing, they often ask “but how do you find those things while secondhand shopping?” (those meaning items that don’t look quintessentially secondhand or off trend)… I’ll get into this in my next post…
… But for this one I’m about to let you in on the secrets to my zero waste wardrobe by showing you how I edit my current wardrobe to contain exactly what I need and love. Here is my guide to making the most of your wardrobe by assessing, editing, and selling parts of your current closet.
Step 1: Invite an honest friend over to help you.
I roll with a tell it like it is crowd, so when I want tough critics when it comes to my wardrobe, I recruit them. They are always honest with me about how something fits, whether or not I should keep an item, if something is timeless or not, and if my basics look well kept. They also do things like take a photo of me in the clothes from different angles that I can’t necessarily see in the mirror when deciding, so I have a better idea of not just how I feel in them, but how I look from all angles. It really helps me make my final decision.
Step 2: Assess what you don’t want, don’t wear or truly don’t need.
When looking at a piece of clothing that you’re trying to figure if you want to keep or not, here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out if it’s worth keeping:
When’s the last time I wore this?
If you can’t remember, or if it was over a year ago, chances are it won’t get much wear in the future.
Do I have something in my closet super similar that I wear more often?
As creatures of habit, we tend to buy a lot of items that are like each other. If you have two very similar items in your closet, you’re most likely always going to wear one of them over the other probably because it fits or feels better. Get rid of the second place item so your wardrobe is only filled with winners.
Am I holding onto this because I want to be the kind of person who would wear this?
Sometimes we buy items we want to be “brave enough” to wear or because we want to shift our personal styles. I’m all for stepping outside of your comfort zone when it comes to what you wear, but sometimes we can be a little too ambitious and splurge on something we just never find a reason to wear.
Does it fit correctly?
You might have some things in your closet that you aren’t wearing because they don’t actually fit. If it’s something worth getting altered at a tailor, make a separate pile of items to take to the tailor (and actually do it!).
Is this easy to wash?
Because I can’t be the only one with a silk piece that I don’t wear because I don’t want to deal with washing it after.
Can I wear this with more than five outfits?
I always opt to keep pieces that fit with the rest of my wardrobe. If I have an obvious outlier (yes, I’ve made an impulsive secondhand trend purchase before) and nowhere to wear it, it’s ripe for the selling.
Can I wear this three days in a row without someone knowing?
Will someone else love this item more than me?
I find it hard sometimes to let go of clothing items because they hold sentimental value to me – a dress I wore on my birthday or a sweater I bought with a friend. But one of the best ways I’ve found to finally let go of items is thinking about the person out there who might find a piece of my clothing and love it forever. Have you ever found something while thrifting and wondered how you got so lucky to find the perfect thing that fits you like it was made for you specifically? Someone had to give up that item in order for you to find it (or it to find you, really), so take comfort in knowing you could be doing that for someone else!
Step 3: Make a list of items you could use in your wardrobe.
Mindless and unnecessary purchases can often happen when you go out shopping with no real plan or idea of what you already have in your wardrobe, which is why making a shopping list is crucial.
After clearing out your closet of items you’re going to donate or sell, it’s time to figure out the items you could add. Here are a few helpful questions to ask to get you started.
Where is my wardrobe unbalanced?
Have you found yourself wishing you had pieces over and over? Do you have a great collection of denim, but not many tops to wear with them? Add “tops that could be worn with jeans” to your list.
Do I have items I want to wear, but nothing to wear with them?
Whether it’s the perfect turtleneck to pair with your overalls, or a shirt that is begging for high wasted jeans, what outfits are just waiting for their missing piece?
What have I been coveting from my friends / style icons?
Have you saved tons of images on Instagram of pink coats? Are you jealous of your best friend’s new pair of suede boots? Draw inspiration from people’s looks you want to try!
Step 4: Make a list of what you don’t need any more of.
On the flipside of making a list of items to a look out for, be aware of what you have a tendency to buy a lot of and write those items down. That way you won’t get trapped into mindlessly buying something you don’t need any more of – even if it is super cute on you.
Step 5: Keep it zero waste!
Now that you’ve found out what you don’t need, here are the easiest ways to keep the rest of the process zero waste.
- Give away, sell or donate all of your items.
- Sell or donate items to somewhere local so you don’t have to deal with shipping and unnecessary packaging.
- When taking items to sell or donate, bring them in reusable bags, and bring some extras with you if you plan to do some secondhand shopping too.
If you don’t have secondhand shops near you, some awesome online options are Poshmark and Ebay but be sure to ask your seller to ship in paper envelopes without plastic (USPS has 100% post consumer envelopes!)
The average american tosses 82 pounds of textiles each year and by selling or donating my clothing, I help the environment by not sending textiles to landfill. Plus shopping secondhand saves me money by not buying expensive new pieces, and I stay healthier by avoiding toxins used in the textile manufacturing industry.
Next up, some secondhand shopping outfit inspiration. Stay tuned!