We have a clothes problem. We are clothesaholics. We buy and buy and stuff and cram. We even rent storage units. We are drowning in clothes.
And then a tragedy happens, a natural disaster, a fire, a tornado. We want to help, and we mean well. So, we drag out all the bags and boxes of unwanted clothing and race to the nearest donation site. Soon the donation site is drowning. They don’t know how to “just say no” so the clothes continue to pile up.
Finally, someone contacts a wholesale used clothing vendor. This for-profit company will pay the donation site by the pound for used clothes and paired shoes. They believe they are helping keep these clothes out of our landfills. Maybe so.
Later, bales of these used clothes are shipped to Africa where they may exchange hands many times before they are bought by a new shopper. This shopper may pay pennies compared to the original cost, but it is enough to keep the wholesaler in business. Or the bales may go across our Southern border where middlemen resell them to people who have stands at flea markets. The U.S. exports over a billion pounds of used clothing every year in this way. A billion pounds of discarded clothing! That’s 50,000 tons. We do have a clothes problem.
We who receive donations for our different ministries are afraid to say NO to clothes donations for FOMO. We fear we will miss out on the next donation that just might have some good stuff in it. But the time and energy spent sorting, folding, packing, repacking, and later offloading the unwanted clothes does not seem to be a good use of time.
For my ministry in Juarez, Mexico, I can only take what will fit in my car without causing a second look at the border-crossing. I want to always keep my main mission the main thing, books for kids. Clothes can’t overtake the books and activities. Blankets and heaters in winter and fans in summer are important too. Clothes are fairly cheap there, so it makes more sense to take the more expensive items. But if I refuse clothes, will people not think to offer me household goods or donate for books? FOMO is real in charity work.
Today I went to Carbon, Texas, where wildfires burned most of the town. A Baptist church was organizing clothes and asked for hangers and tables. When I arrived, they were already drowning. They had enough donations to clothe the whole town for several days. Most of the people they would serve don’t even have a place to stay yet, much less a closet or dresser to keep things in. I told them they needed to put out the word to stop the donations. But, you know, FOMO.
So, driving home I was thinking about the problem. What if next time your kid outgrows his clothes, you pick out the three best outfits. Put them in a bag with a set of new underwear and socks, label the bag clearly Boys Size 8 Summer. Then the rest of your pile may have to go into your fireplace during our next freeze. Or let’s get someone to figure out how to use these clothes to make insulation. I know that T-shirt your precious child got at the Ranger’s game is darlin’ and he was so cute when he had chocolate ice cream all over him, but no other mom is going to want it for her kid. Throw it in the fire, and don’t look back. There is no FOMO. And you have saved your volunteers a world of misery.
Maybe one day your kid will invent clothes that disintegrate after five washings or falling out of style, whichever comes first. In the meantime, thank you for your desire to help. Just please don’t drown your local donation sites.