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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 11, 2017

The Closet From Hell

By Jane Thibodeau Martin


I know from talking to family and friends that many of us do a clean up/clean out/downsizing at this time of year " maybe as part of a New Year's resolution, or some of us to make room for possessions acquired during Christmas gift exchanges. I got an early start on this project when I retired this fall, and my first target was my nicely-sized clothing closet and dresser.

Now, I am not a fashion maven. I gravitate to jeans, topped with sweatshirts in winter and t-shirts in warm weather. Living in Oklahoma, the land of furnace-like summers, I have a lot of shorts and sleeveless shirts. And that's about it for what I actually wear, with the exception of a weekly dress-up or two for church or an evening out. At least that is what I thought, so it seemed like the clothing clean-out would be a relatively simple task.

But a closer survey of my completely-full closet revealed a much broader accumulation of clothing. There are specialty holiday shirts for Christmas, Halloween and the like; workout clothing; sports-logo clothing (including a generous supply of Packer, Brewer and Badger attire, of course,) semi-dress up and formal wear, lightweight outerwear and other seasonal choices, and on and on. I was actually wearing less than 10% of what was in there in a normal month, so I was able to reduce the accumulation by more than 40% without feeling any pain at all. (I wore uniforms at work, and have sympathy for those who have to have dedicated personal clothing for work. When I retired, my uniforms were the first to go.)

As a side note you can "age" some of my clothing collection by Packer player name " I have NFL jerseys for Barnette and Butler, among others!

It was a revelation to be able to easily find things in my closet with all the newly-liberated space, and I realized that if I REALLY had to, I could probably manage with only the closet space available to me in our camper (the "Tin Hilton,") measuring in at 18 inches wide and about 3.5 feet tall. That tells me just how excessive my clothing accumulation still is, even after the downsizing.

The bags of unwanted garments were donated, which got me thinking about the enormous amounts of discarded clothing in our well-to-do country.

"Fashionista" ran an article last year regarding this situation. Their data says we are buying and discarding clothing at five times the rate we were in 1980. About seven percent of that goes directly to landfills " where some of it belongs, if it is worn out. But a very large quantity of what we discard is donated to various organizations, where about 20% of what is donated is eventually resold. A very small percentage of donated clothing is cherry-picked by professional resale shoppers and sold in high-end specialty used clothing stores " designer labels, and other luxury type clothing. Lots goes to charitable resale stores such as Goodwill, where a bag of items may cost you $10 or less.

But way more is donated than can be sold in such settings, so the U.S. ships about a billion pounds of baled used clothing to third world markets in China, South American and sub-Saharan Africa every year. There it is marketed in what is called "bend over" markets " where it is displayed on the ground or low tables for shoppers to sort through. Think for a moment of this "supply chain" " clothes made in China, sold in the U.S., discarded, and then sent to market in Africa.

And some amount of donated clothing is recycled in the U.S., turned into insulation or cleaning rags. Non-donated clothing is sometimes resold privately at rummage sales, or given to family members and friends (especially children's clothing, the classic "hand-me-downs.")

The conclusion I came to is that most of us have WAY more clothing than we need. We can buy much less " and to feel good about donating to charities, buy the charities the clothing they need the most but usually don't get through donations " new underwear, t-shirts and socks, always very welcomed at homeless and domestic violence shelters and Veteran's homes. (It's good to call first and verify what sizes are most needed.)

Very little used clothing has much value. Our daughter loves to wear her father's "Class of 1976" t-shirt; and has a pair of his ridiculous bell-bottom jeans. But you may want to double-check Grandpa's closet before giving away his old Levi's " pairs from the 1950's sell as high as $5000 on e-bay (naturally only the best-condition old jeans hold that kind of value,) with the record being $46,532 for a pair of Levi's from the 1880's, purchased by the Levi company for their museum. Now that's a pair of jeans I'd like to find in the depths of my closet.



You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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