We’ve all heard the phrase Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Over the years, I’ve gotten progressively more engaged with these ideas, and now I feel guilty anytime I don’t… reduce, reuse, or recycle. I’ve eliminated our trash can at home, replacing with a large recycle bin and composting, and now find there are really only tiny amounts of “garbage.” It’s been an interesting process to realize how much we threw out before that could have gone to better use! I’m of the mind now that unless it’s hazardous waste, there is probably some way to put it back into the stream.
Today, I thought I’d describe my personal upcycle/recycle process when it comes to clothing, which is one of the easiest (and most fun ;) ways to begin incorporating a more eco-friendly approach in household consumption. Minimizing my wardrobe is a continual work in progress, so as I do, I want to make sure that I make the most of what I’ve got and have already soaked up in terms of resources. A lot of this can apply to other items throughout the house, too.
Step 1: Wear
That would be obvious. ;) There’s room, though, even from the start, for mindfulness – not just refraining from purchasing unnecessary things, though thinking about what and how you purchase those things you need. As much as possible, I try to buy clothes second-hand at thrift shops, or if it’s something we need new, I look first at discount/overstock stores before going to a first-line retailer.
Another angle is to purchase handmade and fair trade goods, which benefits actual humans more directly than huge manufacturers or high-profit corporations – and one of the inspirations behind my vintage/upcycle boutique SKíNA.
These are all nice ways to be conservation-oriented right off the bat – not just with natural resources, but also with money and human capital. Shop small, y’all!
Step 2: Repair
If an item gets torn, stained, or damaged, and there’s a way I can fix it or make it passable to continue in its current use, this is the go-to. A quick stitch, patch, or even just embracing a cool hole in once-pristine jeans can extend the lifespan of a garment exponentially. It does take a little effort – so I create a pile, and maybe once every month or two, just sit for an hour and fix everything. This takes the burden off having to deal with each repair one by one (draaag…), and saves time, since you can get out everything you need at once and crank it out.
BAM! Just like Grandma used to do.
Step 3: Downgrade
If the item just isn’t in the condition to serve as needed or can’t be repaired, I downgrade it. Rather than immediately letting it go or having to make any efforts with it, I put it downstream. For example, my t-shirts seem to get tiny holes from the laundry after a while, so I just use them as PJ tops then. They’re totally fine and who’s noticing that pinhole while I’m asleep, anyway? If a pair of pants gets a hole or stain that just isn’t working to appear in public, it goes into my labor box, to wear while painting, cleaning, gardening, etc.
Step 4: Re-Make
After a while, even the best repairs or downgraded use of an item runs its course. This is when the fun begins! Even something stained, holey, or paint-splattered still probably has plenty of material that can be converted or used to make something new, and you may even be able to use the basic structure of the garment to add on to, to make it easy. If it’s in good enough shape, I consider how it can be cut, shortened, or re-sewn into a new piece.
There are so many fun tutorials now on Pinterest and other sites for getting crafty with your clothes – to make them into other clothes! Once again – a good opportunity for a pile… errr… a basket, I mean. ;) Put everything that’s a candidate for re-making together, and see how materials complement each other. A little of this, a little of that, and a couple holey sweaters could be a brand new cardigan, shawl, blanket, or even a pair of sweater pants. (LOVE sweater pants. I know, they’re not for everyone.)
Let your imagination run wild! And don’t rush it… sometimes it takes a while for the ideas to come to you or the right fabrics to reach your stash. This gal Brenda Abdullah on etsy does an incredible job of this – check out her shop for inspiration.
Step 5: Craft
Sometimes there’s just not enough material to turn one item into a morphed-something new, with any integrity left of what it used to be. I cut out the usable pieces of material, and add to my fabric basket. Use for quilting, scrapbooking, doll-making, ornaments, decorating containers, bunting, lampshades, children’s crafts, and so much more. Ideas galore on Pinterest and Instagram, etc.
Step 6: Rag
OK, so not pretty enough for all that? Make it a rag. Cut it, use it, done. You know what to do.
Step 7: Donate
Last but not least, donation is always a great alternative for anything that’s still in good usable condition that you don’t want or can’t figure out how to use, or just don’t have time to deal with right now. The ever-popular option, especially when moving or doing a big downsize. Choose a good cause, take the tax write-off (be sure to inventory!), and schedule a pick-up or drop off your items. I’m a big fan of Goodwill, organizations benefiting cancer research such as LLS, and veterans’ causes.
And the cycle continues!
I’m sure there are so many more creative ways to upcycle old clothes. What are some of your favorites? Please share your own tips & tricks!
Love and light,