Written by Kristen Seymour

What do running a marathon and cleaning out your closet have in common?  Plenty, if you ask me. They’re both challenging, time-consuming tasks, for one thing — but they’re activities that make you feel amazing once they’re done. (That Marie Kondo was really onto something.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but my collection of running and workout gear seems to multiply when I’m not looking. Last spring, I was absolutely ruthless — if I hadn’t worn it recently, it was outta there. And throughout the pandemic, I haven’t exactly been shopping. But still, when I went to put my clean laundry away, I had to use two hands and a crowbar to squeeze my last couple of tank tops into the drawer, so I guess it’s time to do a little
spring cleaning.

The question for the environmentally and socially-minded among us is, what should we do with those clothes, shoes, and other items?

The answer depends on what the gear is, what kind of shape it’s in, and how much effort you’re willing to put into placing it. Take a look at the suggestions below, and, if you have your own recommendations or represent an organization that would gladly accept donations, let us know!

Clothes and Shoes in Rough Condition

Sometimes, those workout clothes make it clear that it’s time to go — they stretch out, maybe have some stains, or, you know, that smell that blooms about a mile into a humid run no matter what detergent you use. You don’t want to wear them anymore, and really, nobody should be wearing them at this point. Those items can just be trashed, right?

Well, they can, but whether they should is another matter. Textile waste is a major problem, with the volume of clothing thrown away by Americans doubling in the last 20 years. Textiles can take over 200 years to decompose in landfills, and Americans are throwing away 14 million tons yearly.  

So, what can you do? Recycle, my friend! Some brands, like H&M and The North Face, offer in-store programs where you can drop off unwanted clothes and shoes to be recycled or reused by those in need. A quick search on Earth911’s recycling location finder shows that The Puma Store in the Ellenton Factory Shops accepts clothing to be recycled, and also offers a long list of mail-in recycling options for clothes, shoes, and other items.

Another option may be your local animal shelter; they go through an unbelievable number of towels and blankets, and may also accept things like cotton t-shirts to provide extra comfort in puppy kennels. Ask before dropping off clothing items, though, to make sure.

Newish or Gently Worn Clothes and Shoes 

So you splurged on those fancy
compression tights, wore them once, and realized the work required to take them on and off wasn’t worth the benefit. Or maybe it’s a tank top that hits your middle funny, or shorts that ride up, or just a pair of yoga pants or sneakers you realize you never reach for, even though you don’t know why. Bottom line is, you’ve got some workout gear that’s in good condition that you no longer need.

In this case, you’ve got a few great options. 

Got some spare time and want a little return on your investment? Look into consignment, either locally or a trusted online source like Poshmark or threadUP. Keep in mind, though, you’re highly unlikely to get anywhere near what you paid for the item.

Feeling more altruistic? Donate away! Just keep in mind that currently, some organizations may have certain precautions or restrictions in place due to COVID, so check with the specific organization you want to help before showing up with a car full of clothes.

There are lots of worthy causes that could use your donations, and, while donating to, say,
Goodwill is never wrong, a lot of people prefer to donate to an organization that will pass items along to those in need for free. So if you’re looking for another option, consider the following:

Salvation Army: The Salvation Army of Sarasota County serves people throughout Sarasota, Venice and North Port.  It is so much more than a shelter, with a variety of programs based on need. From homeless services, to addiction treatment and recovery, to families seeking stability and a pathway toward economic independence, The Salvation Army is “Doing the Most Good.” With your donations of new or gently used shoes & athletic gear, clients in these programs can outfit themselves for lifestyle changes that contribute to their success.

Schools and children’s organizations: Principals, guidance counselors, and leaders at organizations that provide after-school activities often know of kids and families who are in need. They may have specific requests, especially if they have a running program in the works. Locally, I’ve donated to Girls Inc., and a few years ago, a friend was instituting a running program at a high school and I was able to make a direct donation to her program. 

Churches: Like schools, churches often know of individuals and families who could make excellent use of the items you no longer need — and can facilitate the delivery.

Shelters: Homeless shelters and women’s shelters are great options. Some, like SPARCC (sparcc.net), also have a thrift shop that raises funds for their cause, so your donations can help in more ways than one.

Thrift shops: From hospice to the Humane Society, there are mission-driven thrift shops all over, so a small amount of searching should make it easy to find one that supports a cause near and dear to your heart.

Soles4Souls: (Soles4Souls.org) Many of us are likely familiar with this organization, which focuses on making a measurable impact on people and the planet by helping people in developing countries launch small businesses and diverting shoes and clothing from ending up in the landfill. They let you to ship off your old shoes for free or drop off at specified locations; DSW accepts shoe drop-offs for them, and you can find other options on their website.

PickUpPlease: (pickupplease.org) Schedule a free pick up for clothing, shoes, household items, and more, and it’ll be picked up within a day or two. Even better, those donations help American veterans and their families. 

We Finish Together: (wefinishtogether.org) Clear out your race medals and make someone’s day by donating your medals to this organization, which then gives them, along with a handwritten message, to someone who needs to know they have the support, care, and love they need to get through the challenges they’re facing. 

RecycleHealth: (RecycleHealth.com) You know that old fitness tracker that still works but is gathering dust in your drawer? Send it in to this charity, which is based out of Tufts University School of Medicine and refurbishes fitness trackers to provide underserved populations with a way to maintain health and fitness. 

Shopping (and Swapping) Smarter

Alright, you’ve cleaned out your closet, you’ve donated or recycled the items you no longer need, you feel unbelievably smug. (Just me?) 

Congratulations! Now what?

First up, enjoy the fact that you can actually fit everything in your drawers and closets! But then, give some thought to how you want to approach bringing in new items in the future. Some things, like running shoes, are non-negotiable. You need the shoes that work for you, and you have to replace them regularly. Not much you can do about that. 

But, if you’re serious about cutting back on your consumerism, consider getting involved in something like the Buy Nothing Project by joining a local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook, which facilitates the sharing, lending, and giving of items among neighbors. There’s no selling, no bartering — it’s just about sharing the bounty, and there are over 2000 groups worldwide! Of course, places like Facebook Marketplace can make it easy to buy and sell… well, just about anything — and there’s always the option to hold a swap amongst friends. 

The only question left is where you’ll choose to donate your items the next time you hold a big closet clean out!