Spring-clean your closet and make money

We have all been there: standing in front of our closet or dresser drawers, looking at the contents, and waiting for something to emerge. That surprising dress or just-so shirt. That pair of pants that fits like it was tailored. That pair of shoes that is the sort of pair of shoes people refer to when they advise their friends to judge others on their shoes.

Once in a while, a surprising, just-so, tailored-seeming, universally impressive article of clothing appears, though rarely of its own volition. The rest of the time we just stare.

Maybe it's time to go shopping.

Or maybe it's time to clean out your closet.

Last week, I spoke to Tracy DiNunzo, serial entrepreneur and savvy founder of Tradesy.com. She delivered one of those stunning statistics about halfway through our call: most women (her business focuses exclusively on women's clothing) use only about 20 percent of their wardrobe each year. (One source has it at 30 percent, but still.)

What this means is that, not only are we spending a lot of money on clothes — in the U.K. that number is said to be about $1,000 a year — and in the U.S. figures of $125,000 over a lifetime have been bandied about — but we are also tying up a huge amount of value in our closets. IKEA says it's over $1,500, although I'll bet many could assess the retail value of their wardrobe at lots more than that. According to Tradesy, their clients have a whopping $12,000 in closet retail value. (Mine is probably more like $20k or $30k, but I do still have lots of my work clothes from my life as an investment banker.)

So we have what could be 70-80 percent of a quite high number sitting there, unused. That, said DiNunzo, is what inspired her to start her business. “If this is true, why aren't women selling and monetizing the other 80 percent? It's too hard,” she said.

Can I turn my closet into a profit center?

Ok, it's probably never going to be a profit center. (Unless you're super savvy at yard sale and thrift shopping or have a ton of hand-me-downs.) But your closet could pay its own way, especially if you haven't done a purge in a while.

We've covered closet cleanouts before, so I'll be brief on the how-to:

1. Divvy. Mark out some time in your calendar, preferably a weekend or an evening. If you can, says DiNunzio, “grab a friend and some champagne and some music — cleaning your closet is a miserable thing, and you may as well make it fun.” She recommends (and I do, as well) having someone with you to help you make decisions; “we're not as objective about our own closet,” she says. Go through everything and make four piles of clothes/shoes/accessories:

  • 1st pile: Hopelessly torn or worn out or stained clothes. Make them into rags, or if they are synthetics, throw them away.
  • 2nd pile: Clothes that are not in sellable condition, but still wearable. Donate these (I love the non-profits which provide clothes to low-income job-seekers, single parents and the like) or save for your next clothing swap.
  • 3rd pile: Things are in great condition, but not for you. Maybe you wore it a few times and found it uncomfortable or unattractive on your body, or maybe you never even wore it at all. Sell these.
  • 4th pile: Clothes in good condition you love and wear. Keep them!

According to DiNunzio and other closet organizing types, you should have a goal of “purging at least 50 percent of what you've got; your keep pile shouldn't be more than half of what's in your closet.”

2. Sell. The thing about selling clothes is that, while I would never suggest spending a lot of time shopping and a lot of budget on designer clothes, the better quality (and more recognizable brand name) your clothes are, the higher percentage of retail you'll be able to get when you sell them. But there are also ways of getting back your value (or better) if you shop at thrift stores or yard sales (or, yep, even free boxes). Here's how I'd do it:

  • Designer clothes, especially those purchased recently, should be sold on a site like Tradesy or eBay (if they're men's clothes). DiNunzio makes it sound really easy and I'm eager to try it out: “hang them one by one on a hanger, shoot a photo, add a few words; we make a pricing recommendation, we clean the background off the image,” she says. Then once the item sells, Tradesy.com will send you an already-addressed package to mail it off in. (This is my favorite part of her business!)
  • Thrift store finds or older clothes in good condition could be sold on Etsy. I have a friend whose career is finding great pieces and reselling them on Etsy; she gets very high value compared to what you could at a yard sale.
  • Low-value brands and casual clothes should go in a yard sale or rummage sale. Often, $1 or $2 is the most you could get for a pair of kids' sweat pants or a cute Target t-shirt you don't wear anymore. But they may have only cost you $4 or $5; not really that bad of a resale value.

3. Systemize. I've heard this advice before (never used it, but I admire it greatly!): separate and restock the closet with the clothes you're keeping, putting them all the same direction on the hanger and shoved to one side; theoretically, you'll have plenty of space! When you wear something and put it back, move it to the back and turn your hanger around. At the end of the year, the things you've never worn can go up for sale, too. Do it all over again!

How much do you spend on clothes each year?

DiNunzo surprised me when she said her surveys show their customers actually spend more each year on clothes while using Tradesy actively, by about 20 percent. My own spending depends a lot on how much I'm taking in; in years when I'm making upwards of $40k, I'll spend $1,200 or so on clothes; other years I spend as little as $200, mostly in socks and running shoes. (I'm a sucker for pretty wool socks.) When I don't have a lot to spend, I get most of my wardrobe from clothing exchanges, free boxes and thrift shops.

So I'd love to know from our Get Rich Slowly audience, who probably spends far less than the typical shopper: how much do you spend each year in clothes?

More about...Clothing

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William @ Bite the Bullet
William @ Bite the Bullet
7 years ago

Good idea, but I’m not sure it’s something I could do. This may sound silly, but about five years ago I heard someone talk about a very simple, related, rule: never allow yourself to buy a stick of clothing until you throw out, donate or sell one piece from your existing wardrobe. Simple? I was surprised how much of a clothes pack rat I was (am). It’s just hard for me to get rid of any piece of clothing. Men (fortunately) don’t face the same “dressing pressure” as women, but it seems I didn’t let that slow me down. I… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

I couldn’t do this either. I was raised with the one in, one out rule — unless there was a gap to be filled, of course. (Like when I got my first office job and I needed more business casual clothes.)

I tend to be pretty ruthless getting rid of things I don’t where, so I have to wonder if the “won’t wear it but won’t get rid of it” mentality borders on hoarding.

lucas
lucas
7 years ago

$80 a month for 5 people or $960 a year. So we average $200 a person a year. The kids get mostly used clothes (they are going to grow out of them in 6 months anyway ;-)), and my wife and I get a mix of used and on sale items. We just keep our needs pretty low.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago
Reply to  lucas

I’d bet that I spend about $150/year on me, and $300/year on Mr. PoP. But that excludes running shoes, which can cost about $500 or so / year for both of us… okay, mostly me. (I run a lot!)
Staying the same size and taking care of the clothes we have goes a long way to keeping clothes spending down. As does not worrying about all the latest fashions.

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
7 years ago

I used to work at a clothing store, and used to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on clothes (and that was with a good discount). Now I hardly spend anything. My closet is still super packed though. I need to go through it all and sell a lot of it.

Corey
Corey
7 years ago

My wife and I probably spend about $1,000 a year, counting shoes, etc. We usually need to buy clothes once a year (and that’s usually buying an item of clothing that we haven’t purchased in years), whether it’s shoes, dress pants, sweaters, etc. Wife has had foot problems so we can’t skimp on shoes, meaning average shoe costs $100.

I like the idea of making cleaning out your closet fun. That’s what I try to do. It doesn’t always work on my wife. 🙂

My Financial Independence Journey
My Financial Independence Journey
7 years ago

I usually just donate my old clothes. I don’t have that many and none of them are expensive designer types that could be resellable. I have made some money selling off collections and other things that basically just lived in my closet.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

I’m wary of the 20% and 30% stats — where is this research coming from and who were the survey participants? I know very few people who could live like that, but I don’t run in particularly fashionable circles 😉 I do think it’s a good thing that people go through their closets and donate or sell the things they aren’t using. Get those items back in circulation while they’re still useful. Unfortunately, I’ve had the experience of cleaning out closets of family members who have passed away. I cringe when I think of all the stuff that could have… Read more »

Beth
Beth
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I am curious about those stats, too! I looked through my closet just now, and I can see quite a few items I haven’t worn in years. I should really get rid of them, but I’m caught up in that “Maybe I’ll lose weight” mentality.

mary w
mary w
7 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Yea, I would bet that a fair chunk of the unused 70-80% clothing is not the right size. The owner is hanging on in hopes that she will suddenly lose weight.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  mary w

I’ve known so many people now who have lost weight due to an illness or tragedy that it seems like a silly thing to hope for. I really feel people should aim to be healthy and look great no matter what shape or size they are.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to let go of the guilt and self-critique as well as the clothing 🙂

Kaz
Kaz
7 years ago
Reply to  mary w

I need to clean out my closet as I have loads of clothes that are the “wrong size” – but it’s because they’re too big for me not too small. I think I’ve hung on to them (for the past couple of years) as I wasn’t confident that the weight loss would stick.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago
Reply to  mary w

@Kaz – I’ve done the same thing: hung on to clothes that were too big (too large or impractical to have tailored) due to lack of self confidence. I’ve also held on to large clothes that I paid good money for in the past that I didn’t want to give up “because I paid $$$ for it”.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Those vintage clothes from deceased relatives are NOT trash. They sell well if they are in good shape,and are priceless for theatrical groups.

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

$150 per person per year in our house. Everything is secondhand or major clearance, save shoes and underwear, which are bought on sale. We give away or donate when we’re done with them. I manage to find great brands like Gymboree, GAP, Ann Taylor, Express for pennies on the dollar. I have foot problems so most of my budget goes to a pair or two of shoes each year. My kids do get some clothes from relatives at birthday and Christmas times.

Sam
Sam
7 years ago

I did a huge closet purge a couple of years ago. Took everything out of the closet, including the shelving. I spent two days trying things on and sorting things out. Mr. Sam spent a day redoing my closet and then I put my keep stuff back in. I donated the business wear stuff to a charity that helps women get back into the work force and the casual stuff to Goodwill.

My closet was great for a while, but I can tell you its been pretty well filled back up since I did that purge.

Dina
Dina
7 years ago

I rarely spend more than $200 a year and I just shop end of season sales. Our thrift shops mostly offer bedazzled sweat shirts and size 2 or size 22 polyester pants, so I don’t bother with them. I have sold on Ebay for years, but unless you have a popular designer brand in very good condition it’s not really worth doing clothing. It’s very time consuming in general so you want to sell items that make some type of profit. The hardest thing about selling clothing on Ebay is even if you say the sale is final people still… Read more »

The Norwegian Girl
The Norwegian Girl
7 years ago

It`s a good idea, but I`ve tried selling clothes before, and it`s not that easy. But I have been successful with selling handbags. I think I spend about $700 a year on clothes.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

These days on average I spend about $50/month on clothing including work out gear, shoes, underwear, bras (which take chunk out of my budget – the larger your breasts, the more you’ll spend). Most of my nicer clothing is used or purchased on super, duper clearance somewhere. Like many folks here, I never pay full price. I do have a few things to sell and lately I’ve been doing pretty well trading at a local consignment store. I will put a few items on eBay in the next week or so too. Since I’ve been weight lifting/building, I’ve grown out… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
7 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Amen on the bras. They’re expensive but absolutely necessary. Finding one that fits is hard enough; finding it on sale is even more difficult. But nothing looks good if your bra doesn’t fit (and support).

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

I think the easiest way to sell your designer and vintage clothing is through a consignment shop, if you’ve got access to a good one. Yes, you’ll only get about 50% of the selling price, but you don’t have to take photographs, write a description, pay listing fees, deal with the buyer, handle returns, etc. Anything the consignment shop rejects can be sold at a garage sale or donated to a charity.

If you’re in a higher tax bracket and itemize your deductions, it might be more profitable to donate your clothes and take the tax deduction.

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
7 years ago

I actually did this over the weekend as I’m preparing to move from Florida to Massachusetts next weekend and didn’t want to take clothes that I never wore with me. I made the 4 different piles exactly how you listed them here and am planning on going to donate the #2 pile to Good Will and head to Plato’s closet to see if I can get any money from pile #3. I wish I had a bigger budget for clothes as being a woman in her early 20’s is pretty competitive in the fashion department, but I really don’t ever… Read more »

mary w
mary w
7 years ago

You might try shopping for heavy winter gear before you leave Florida. Sounds odd but people move from cold areas to warm ones and then figure out they don’t need a winter coat (doh). I see lots of great winter gear at thrift and consignment shops in Palm Springs.

Bethany
Bethany
7 years ago

$25/month for two adults and two young children. So we spend $300 a year for everything for our whole family, including shoes, underwear, coats, the works. The girls do get a couple nice outfits and dress-shoes from their grandmas at holiday times, but that would add another $50 at most if we were buying those too.

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

I donated a great suit(after I lost weight and it no longer fit) to a organization like Dress for Success, which helps low-income women with clothing for interviews, etc. They do great work! Most of my other clothes I actually just wear to death, including my athletic shoes. By the time I’m done with them, they’re ready to be trashed or used for rags. I wish I could find a way to get great clothes and sell them on ebay for a profit, but I haven’t been able to make that work. Overall, I spend about $200 a year for… Read more »

Nick @ ayoungpro.com
Nick @ ayoungpro.com
7 years ago

We do this every spring and usually make a couple hundred bucks! Not only that it makes our closest a lot less crowded!

Ann Taylor
Ann Taylor
7 years ago

I budget $200/mo for clothing for our family of 5, which includes shoes, coats, accessories, etc.

Money Saving Mom asked the same question not long ago, which might be an interesting comparison group: http://moneysavingmom.com/2013/01/ask-the-readers-what-is-an-average-clothing-budget-per-person.html

Nicole
Nicole
7 years ago

Instead of adding to our landfills, how about finding a textile recycling center in your area? Or donate scrapes to quilters. I’ve seen plenty of blankets and pillows made out of t-shirts and old sweaters.

olga
olga
7 years ago

I use 100% of my clothes, but then again, I can count the number of items on 2 hands and 2 feet. Plus the running clothes, totaling about same (tops and bottoms) – and all get used as well. So…I guess I am not normal. I knew that:) And if I do decide to buy something, it is exactly because something (or two) had been already thrown away/donated.

Kay
Kay
7 years ago

The clothing aspect of having a professional career is one of my least favorite. If I didn’t feel judged at work for what I wear, the task of keeping my closet to a manageable size would be a LOT easier.

Oh to be able to go back to the college days of jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes!

Michele
Michele
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

Absolutely agreed! I am amazed and envious of those who spend $200/year on clothing. I easily spend four times that because I work in a very corporate, professional environment where I am judged by my appearance. I would really like to get this amount down.

Marcella
Marcella
7 years ago

The other thing to do is exchange clothes with your friends – via a clothing swap. I would say at least 3-4 times a year, one of my friends organises a clothing swap. I purge my closet of unwanted clothing and take it along. Everything is sorted into piles (skirts together, shirts, shoes etc), then it’s a free for all. You try on stuff and take what you want. Best not to be shy about being in bra and knickers in front of others though! The best part is you take stuff you would never wear and return with items… Read more »

Jo@simplybeingmum
7 years ago

Pretty sure I couldn’t cull 50% of my wardrobe. Reckon I’d be pretty cold…it’s snowing here again in the UK. I own 2 pairs of jeans and very little else trouser/skirt wise for winter. My family and friends reckon I’m taking a gamble at 2 pairs, and they’ve almost been right a couple of times when an impromptu hole has appeared and I’ve been down to 1. But I know my wardrobe isn’t typical!
Wash and wear, and then wear out, go buy a new pair…is my motto.

Ali
Ali
7 years ago

I used to spend a lot on designer clothes (albeit at outlets), and since my son was born 3 years ago, I’ve been maximizing my wardrobe and buying very little. I bet I have a few items that would make $ on Tradesy.

SLCCOM
SLCCOM
7 years ago

Because of my depression, my weight is not stable. I have a hard time finding classically-styled clothes that fit my body well, and have learned to keep clothes for 4 sizes. Even when I stay one size for several years, I can’t rely on that being “permanent.”

I’m looking to use those vacuum bags to compress stuff, but I figured out that we can use heavy trash bags and a vacuum and tape.

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

Hanging onto stuff that we don’t use seems to be the norm for most people. I’ve seen people buy stuff use it once or twice then it goes on the shelf of the garage and never seen again. we did a grog closet cleanup made over $2000 in today’s not bad. Especially for stuff that we haven’t used in more than two years. Always find it funny when people tell me they have no money yet I know they have plenty of what we call junk they call stuff that they could sell to remedy the problem.

Omar Little
Omar Little
7 years ago

We budget $2,500 per year for clothing for two of us. That comes out to be 1.7% of our annual gross income.

My wife spends about 60% of that, and I do 40%. Fortunately she isn’t big into labels, and buys from Target, Old Navy, etc.

On the other hand, I’m bigger into labels. But I’ll only buy at big discounts. For example, I’m into premium denim, but will buy them on eBay to save over 50%. I also buy my suits at Overstock.com at large discounts. My other clothes come from TJ Maxx or Marshall’s.

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