Smiling woman just cleaned out her closet

Earth911 is honoring Earth Day’s 52 years of inspiring action with 52 Actions for the Earth. Each week from Earth Day 2022 to Earth Day 2023, we will share one action you can take to invest in the Earth and make your own life more sustainable.

The fashion industry is renowned for its wastefulness and steep environmental impact. Businesses, governments, and consumers all have a part to play to realign the fashion industry towards sustainability. Consumers have more influence on the fashion industry than many others because even people who have no interest in fashion still purchase and wear clothing. This week, you can make a fashionable investment in the Earth by cleaning out your closet.

Action: Clean Out Your Closet

Seasonal Switch

Lots of people use the seasonal closet switch from winter to summer clothes as a chance to clean out their closets. When you apply a sustainability filter to the choices you make, the closet clean-out process stays the same. Empty your closet of winter clothes and decide what to store and what to discard; then pull summer clothes from storage and decide what to wear and what to discard. What changes is how you make your decisions and what you do with the clothes you aren’t going to keep.


Before you discard an article of clothing, think about whether repairs or alterations could give questionable items a new place in your wardrobe. Wearing your clothes longer is key to avoiding fast fashion. Properly store and care for the clothes you decide to keep so they don’t wear out as fast.

Inevitably, some clothes will no longer fit your size or your sense of style. There are a lot of better alternatives than throwing them away. Look for the highest use of each article of clothing you no longer want. If the quality is good and the item is relatively current – or old enough to qualify as vintage – you can resell it through consignment. Many brands and retailers also offer takeback programs that will resell or recycle clothes for you – some of them offer store credit. Alternatively, you could donate wearable clothes to second-hand shops or to charities like Dress for Success or Becca’s Closet. Unwearable clothes can still get a second life as cleaning rags and hair curlers or be upcycled into rugs and dolls.

As you discard clothes, take note of whether you actually got any wear from them. Do you own a lot of poorly made clothes from fast fashion brands? Are the clothes made from materials that contribute to plastic pollution? Do you routinely purchase certain styles or fabrics that you never wear? Use what you learn to create goals for more mindful purchasing over the coming year.

During a clean-out, most people discover they are storing a lot more than just clothes in their closets. You don’t have to choose between stuffing those things back in or throwing them out. You can reuse or recycle a lot of things you find in your closet.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.