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“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Fred Rogers

Ever have an old piece of clothing that you still really love but which has just gotten too worm out to wear in its current state? Pieces with holes in them that you don’t really want to just chuck out or take the time to repair but that you wouldn’t feel right donating? Maybe you’re aware that in the United States alone the average citizen throws away 70lbs of textile based waste per year, where textiles make up about 5% of landfill mass, and you want to be part of making a change. [1] Whatever your reasons, I have good news for you. Repurposing your old clothes doesn’t have to be complicated, and it can even be fun! Maybe you’re lucky enough to be a sewing aficionado, but for the average Joe taking on a DIY sewing project can seem like a bit too big a challenge to be worth the effort. That’s why we’ve kept this list as accessible as possible (while still throwing in some ideas for those of you who are a bit more handy in the crafts department!).

10.2 The Classic: Cut It Up And Use it For Cleaning

This is the number one easiest solution to dealing with old ratty clothes that are made of just about any moderately absorbent material. Even the tougher stuff like old jeans can be used for things like cleaning tools or machinery. People have been using old clothing as cleaning rags since time immemorial, and it’s still a great way to get rid of your first dozen no longer wearable items. At a certain point you will need to try out some other ideas however, as the rag bag grows to overflowing. Although depending on how well you take care of and repair your clothing, this might not be the case for you (on a side note,prioritizing repairing old things before purchasing new stuff is good habit to cultivate if you want to live a long term minimalist lifestyle. This is because it’s part of shifting the underlying consumerist mentality that drives us to constantly acquire new stuff.

10.3 Make Patches

If you have clothing with specific symbols, colours or patterns you really like you might want to think about making patches! Patches can be used for more than just the obvious purpose of patching or decorating other clothing. They make great gifts for people (if you’re giving it to someone you may want to do something to make the edges a little more attractive…if you don’t know how to sew, try and make the cut as clean as possible or pin back the edges with safety pins). You can also cut things into patches to be used in other creative projects, such as quilting.

10.4 Getting Crafty With Patchwork

Cutting old clothes into patchwork sized squares (or hexagons, circles, or whatever floats your boat…squares just happen to be easier to fit together coherently) is great way to reuse them if you know the rudiments of sewing. Even if you don’t, now could be a great time to learn! What’s great about patchwork is that it’s pretty straightforward. You’re making something larger out of a series of smaller pieces of fabric. Simple as that. You can therefore apply the idea to just about anything…You can make a scarf out of a bunch of cut up clothes, or a pillowcase, or a dishtowel. Or you can take on the slightly larger project or creating a quilt of bed cover of some sorts. Be creative! Try things out! Worst case you can always undo to seems and start again!

10.5 Some Ideas For Simple Restyling

“There is no such thing as “away.” Everything must go somewhere.” Annie Leonard

Yet another super easy way to make old clothes look and feel new is to restyle them. This could mean using parts of an existing piece to make something completely different. For example, if you’re into leg warmers, take any long-sleeved shirt (especially if it’s wool or some other particularly warm and cozy fabric) you no longer wear for whatever reason and cut the arms off and tada! Leg warmers. Some other incredibly simple solutions include;making shorts out of worn jean or pants by cutting the legs down to size; making a tank top or vest by cutting the arms off of a T-shirt or button-up shirt; making a skirt out of a shirt by cutting off the bottom around chest-height. You get the idea. Before chucking something out, see if you can come up with a simple cutting job that would make at least part of it useful! If you’re into slightly funkier styles you definitely want to take some time to look up the different awesome cutting techniques you can use to totally revamp your old wardrobe items. There are loads of ideas out there!

Restyling can also mean using something as is in a creative way to transform its purpose. Some long sleeved shirts can actually be made into wrap around skirts just by using the neck as the waist and the sleeves as the ties that you wrap around from back to front (or vice versa). It’s also incredibly easy to dye things, if ever you just have a bunch of things with stains that won’t come out.Using needle and thread or even just a glue-gun you can add elements like pockets, buttons, bows, the above-mentioned patches and other ornaments to your heart’s content. Old woolen socks can be very easily made into mittens by using part of the extra fabric to sew on a thumb. So many possibilities! Get creative! There are no shortage of websites and pinterest accounts dedicated to restyling ideas if you’re not sure what to do with something you don’t want to get rid of.

10.6 Never Use Wrapping Paper Again!

“We can’t achieve zero waste without reuse.” MaryEllen Etienne

Anything you have that has a nice pattern or texture can very easily be turned into custom gift wrapping. This is especially easy with scarves and other pieces that are already hemmed and shaped similarly to wrapping paper. To make other types of clothes work, just make sure you have a decent pair of scissors on hand so that the edges don’t look to haggard and cut it to fit whatever you’re wrapping. You can even have a little box of “wrapping” materials that you set aside as you wear through certain pieces of clothing. This not only allows you to reuse your old clothes but also avoids the extra waste of actual wrapping paper. It can also serve as an additional gift if you’re giving it to someone who does crafts and appreciates cool fabrics or if you’re and old item that’s still intact such as a scarf or kerchief etc.

10.7 Old Clothes As Home Decorations

Depending on your style you can use old clothes for a number of household decoration projects. Thin enough fabrics can easily be used as lamp coverings or even as lampshades for ceilings lights if you simply pin the four corners up (far enough from the actual light bulb for there to be no danger of overheating!). The more motivated amongst you might want to try making a rag rug. There are detailed instructions on WikiHow that take you through the process step by step. This is really an excellent way to use up a bunch of old stuff all at once and can make for a great gift even if you don’t necessarily need another rug in your house. You can also use strips or patches of old clothes to make curtains or valances for the tops of your windows depending on how much material you have. The same goes for tablecloths which you can also easily make out of strips or patches of clothes. Again, ideas abound online for home decor repurposing ideas.

10.8 If You Live In An Old House, Make Draft Stoppers

Old pants can be very easily used as draft stoppers, either by simple laying them at the base of a door or window (wherever the draft is!) as you would an blanket, or even by filling them with other old clothing and sewing the ends shut if you need something a bit thicker. Old socks are also a fun thing to use as you can simply sew them together in a row and either use them as is or fill them with other hole-ridden socks or scraps of other old clothes in need of repurposing.

10.9 When in Doubt: Donate, Resell, Recycle!

So maybe you’ve gone through all your potential repurposing options and something still doesn’t cut it, or you have too much old stuff accumulating and you can’t possibly manage to repurpose it all…or you have too much stuff end of story and you feel the need to seriously cut down on your possessions (cause hey! You’re a minimalist after all!). In that case, no matter your sense of urgency and frustration, before tossing anything in the trash consider these three options: donate, resell, recycle. Is the item in good enough repair that you could either donate or resell it?

Most towns and cities have charity shops with very easy and accessible drop off boxes and lots of people resell clothing online nowadays on sites like ebay, kijiji, craigslist, etc etc etc. A lot of charity shops will actually accept clothing that’s no longer useable and send it to textile recycling plants. Check with your local ones and see if they do! If not, is there another organization in your area that recycles old material? More and more cities are creating groups that deal with textile recycling. According to Waste Free Toronto, some major retailers such as H&M and American Eagle now accept clothes for reuse and recycling. [2] There are lots of options out there! Once you know where to go in your local area, getting rid of your old clothing without having it end up in a landfill can become a simple and easy part of your life.

10.10 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!

Repurposing is a fun and easy way to give new life to old clothes. It can be a great way to make gifts, decorate your home, spice up your style and on top of it all it can radically reduce household waste. Even for those of you with less arts and crafts skills there are tonnes of easy ideas out there to try out. Here’s all you need to do to get started!

  1. Assemble and size up the stuff you’d like to repurpose. Assess the potential of each piece and figure out your repurposing options.
  2. Make yourself a repurposing box/drawer/basket so you can find items you want to work on easily when you have time to do so.
  3. Set aside/acquire materials and time for your first project! If you have a busy schedule you may need to put some “crafting time” in your agenda. Or you may want to make a date with another friend who also has some stuff they want to repurpose! It’s always more motivating to make these types of projects into a mini social event.
  4. Donate, resell or recycle anything you can’t or don’t want to repurpose. Do a little research if necessary and figure out the closest place to donate or recycle old clothing and-or textiles. If you want, put your good-quality pieces up for sale on your online platform of preference.
  1. “How To Recycle Old Clothing (Even Ratty Ass Old Underwear,” Lauren Singer, trashisfortossers.com
  2. “Recycling Your Old Clothes,” Emily Alfred, Waste Free Toronto, watsefreeto.ca, 2014

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