5 Sustainable Things To Do With Those Clothes Your Kids Have Outgrown

by Kelly Glass
Kelly Glass is a writer whose work focuses on the intersections of parenting, health, and pop culture. She lives in an Illinois college town with her educator husband, wildly ambitious sons, dog, and several fish. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Romper,, HelloGiggles,, What to Expect, and more.

Kids grow so quickly that almost every season of every year calls for a new wardrobe. As new clothes come in, outgrown clothes end up sticking around in totes, closets, basements, or attics far longer than they should.

Even those children who are grown and have flown the nest leave behind items of clothing that haven’t seen the light of day in years.

Not only are those piles of clothing taking up space, but they’re not being used to their full potential. Yes, those jeans with the worn-out knees have some life and purpose left in them. Instead of letting old kids’ clothes take over your house or end up in a landfill, you can give them a second life.

Here are some ideas to recycle, repurpose, and reuse your kids’ old clothes to keep them out of the trash and out of your storage space.

1. Donate Them

1. Donate Them
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Giving old kids clothes to charity seems like a no-brainer. This one, however, is easier said than done. Donating clothes requires organization, planning, and laundry. First, take stock of your clothing pile. Sorting the items into three labeled totes or bags helps: donate, reuse, and sentimental.

Donate. Start with the donate pile. Place everything that is in good condition and wearable in this bag or box, and then close it. Don’t overthink it, and don’t look back.

Sentimental. As you’re sorting through those clothes to form the donate pile, you’ll find a piece or two that reminds you of the first day of school or another special event in your child’s life. Throw those pieces in the sentimental pile, but limit yourself to 10.

Reuse. What’s left is trash, right? Nope. That’s the reuse pile. We’ll get back to those clothes in a second.

Wash everything in the donate pile. As you’re folding, resist the urge to move those cute little ruffly dresses and tiny pants into the sentimental pile. The most important part of donating clothes is the follow-through. If your local charity has a pickup option, take advantage of that. Otherwise, confirm the donation drop-off times, and pencil your delivery on your calendar.

2. Make Unique Tote Bags

denim jeans tote bag
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Upcycling, or transforming otherwise unwanted materials into products of value, is good for the environment and for your wallet. Kids’ T-shirts are the perfect size for making tote bags — all you need is a pair of scissors.

Fold the shirt in half widthwise so the sleeves line up. Cut the sleeves off together. Next, cut out the neckline to form the wide opening of the bag while leaving enough material for the handles. Cut inch-wide slits along the bottom of the shirt and tie them all into knots, forming the bottom of the bag. Alternatively, you can skip cutting slits and instead sew the bottom of the shirt to form the bottom of the bag. Flip the shirt inside out to see your new tote bag.

Younger kids can add their creative touch with paints, and older kids can add some personality with iron-on appliques and pins. For the super crafty, worn-out denim jeans make a sturdy, unique bag for carrying heavier items.

3. Turn T-Shirts Into a Quilt Full of Memories

t-shirt fabric for quilt
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If sewing is your thing, another cool upcyling option is quilt-making. This is a great craft for those sentimental items of clothing. The older or more grown your child, the more T-shirts they have likely collected from participating in all their various activities. Cut each washed and dried shirt into a quilting square, keeping the graphics front and center. Apply a quilting interface to the back to stabilize the stretchy cotton material and follow any standard quilting tutorial, if you’re a first-timer. T-shirt quilts make great gifts to mark special milestones in your child’s life, such as the first day of college.

4. Ditch Paper Towels With These Reusable Rags

Cleaning with rags
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Remember that potential trash pile of clothing? Here’s where it comes in handy. Not everything has to be beautiful. Some things can just be useful and serve a purpose around the house.

One thing a house always needs is cleaning. If your household goes through roll after roll of paper towels, that trash-worthy clothing is about to save you some money and waste. Cotton pieces of clothing make the best rags for washing and wiping. Polyester kids’ clothing pieces are useful, too. Turn those items into dusting rags.

With a sharp pair of scissors, cut out the neck edging and the seams of the clothing. Cut the rest of the fabric into your desired rag size.

5. Convert Shirts Into Hair-Drying Wraps

woman with wet hair
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What’s even easier than cutting T-shirts into rags is leaving them whole and using them for drying your hair. The neck hole is the perfect size to pull around the crown of the head. Patting your hair to remove wetness and holding it in place to air-dry in a cotton T-shirt is much better for the condition of your hair than toweling it off. These T-shirt wraps are also easier to wrap around your head than a bath towel.