Adulting: Giving Your Prom Dresses New Life

One of the logistical hassles I didn’t anticipate from adulting was having belongings in two different cities. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I lost something back in DC only to find that I’d just left it at home in Atlanta.

But one of the odd parts of periodically coming home to Atlanta is seeing things that have brought me great joy that I have hung on to because I thought I’d use them again, or just because of the sentimental value, or just because I wasn’t really sure what else to do with them.

I have a really hard time parting with things, even really mundane, cheap things, for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. I hate the idea of things rotting in landfills,
  2. I have good memories of that item and want to hold on to it,
  3. I imagine I’ll want it sometime in the future,
  4. I worry that there isn’t a way to donate those items.

So you can imagine that going through my closet in Atlanta is a psychological battle of “look at this t-shirt from middle school!! It doesn’t fit and it sure is ugly but maybe I’ll need it someday?”

I’ll be wearing this one to the Senior Ball (!) in a couple months!

In any case, the items I was focusing on when I opened my closet over this spring break were a few formal dresses from high school. I have two formal dresses that I wore to my junior and senior proms that I do plan on wearing again, but I had a few short dresses that simply were not going to get to be worn again.

One of the lessons my mom has been teaching me lately about giving stuff away is that (corny as it sounds) it is perfectly appropriate to take pictures of the item and “thank” it for the joy that it gave you. It doesn’t matter that I only got to wear these dresses a couple times; the idea is that I got great joy out of shopping for them with my friends, out of trying them on weeks before the event, out of finally getting to put them on and have my picture taken in them. And actually, instead of making me want to hang on to the dresses, thanking them for the joy they gave me made it easier to think about donating them to girls who can’t afford new dresses.

So I began doing my research about how to donate formalwear, with ample results. Each of these organizations do approximately the same thing; some are regional, some small-scale, etc. But the idea remains the same: a lot of girls have proms coming up and can’t afford to drop $100+ on a dress they’ll wear only a couple of times. So why not donate your dress that you only wore once so that they can have a fabulous night? I also loved the idea that a lot of these organizations partner with cosmetics companies that donate makeup for the girls, and some of them give each girl a personal “stylist” to help them pick out their dress.

There are probably more organizations than this, but these are the ones that I explored:

I didn’t really care which one got my dresses; I was more worried about how to get it to them. A lot of them have donation sites nationwide (or at least region-wide), but the closest one to my house in Atlanta was at least an hour’s drive.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that I would much rather spend eight dollars to mail the dresses than to drive them up to wherever. Once I found the closest donation site (which I figured would be the cheapest to mail the box to), I wanted to check to make sure that I was actually allowed to mail them. I called the contact number for the closest donation site, which was the number of a mom at a high school who was running the dress drive. She welcomed me to mail the dresses and assured me they’d send me a tax deduction receipt.

I don’t know what I did before USPS Click-n-Ship where you can pay for and print out the shipping label and be done. It cost me $7.35 for shipping, and I used an old Amazon box to wrap up the dresses. The other good thing about shipping through USPS is that you can usually schedule your mailman to pick up the package with regular mail, either by leaving it in your mailbox or at the front door. I just had to pack them, tape the label on, and feel good.

The most fun part was definitely folding and packing each of the dresses in tissue and putting them in the box. It was exciting for me to think about each dress being displayed so that girls could “shop” for them.

Three dresses to donate...good god, I was little.
Three dresses to donate…good god, I was little.

I know it sounds like a lot of sugar for a nickel to go to this much trouble (and expense, to an extent) to donate things. But it really did feel nice–cleaning out my closet, for one…saying thanks to the dresses, and knowing that someone else will get to enjoy them. I hope that as I Adult and (unfortunately) accumulate Too Much Stuff, I’m able to continue to donate items in a meaningful way.

Do you have tips on how to donate difficult items? Let me know in the comments!

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