Q. Dear Umbra,

I have more than 2M wire hangers (slight exaggeration) that most cleaners don’t seem to want back. I suspect those that say they take them back probably trash them. If there is a purposeful use for them, I would like to pursue it.


A. Dearest DB,

Funny how those hangers pile up, isn’t it? One day your closet is nice and orderly, the next mounds of misshapen metal are spilling out onto your bedroom floor. I (and Garfield) can relate, even if I haven’t quite hit the thousand mark. Sounds like it’s beyond time for you to clean out that closet — and yes, your excess hangers deserve better than the landfill. So here’s your summer spruce-up strategy, a multi-pronged attack that will leave you with exactly as many hangers as you need, and no more.

First off, I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble finding a dry cleaner to take back your hangers. Many cleaners are happy to accept them, and it wouldn’t make much sense to pitch them the second your back is turned: You’re offering them a free source of an essential business item, after all. It would be like a sushi joint pouring gratis soy sauce down the drain. But if you can’t literally take them to the cleaners, why not try donating your hanger surplus? Might there be a local shelter, hospital, thrift store, or school that could use them?

Or perhaps you’re the crafty type, and you’d prefer to upcycle the hangers into something fun and functional. The sky’s the limit with this sort of thing. Turn wire hangers into fairy or butterfly wings, shoe racks, wreaths, the base for floral arrangements, recipe holders, toilet paper holders, paper towel holders, coat-and-hat holders … I could go on, but I think you’ll find that a little Pinterest-browsing will inspire all sorts of your own projects. If you happen to have some extra wooden hangers along with all those wires, I’m particularly fond of this chic idea for hanging artwork.

Hangers are also handy for doing odd jobs around the home, from unclogging drains to skimming your pool. Of course, that doesn’t require more than one or two from your collection. But I didn’t want to miss a chance to point out yet another purpose for these cluttery but oddly useful items.

Reuse always beats recycling, of course, and I’m betting at least one of the above suggestions will work for you. But in case you’re curious: You can also recycle wire hangers in some places, as they’re often made from still-valuable steel coated in paint or plastic. Curbside programs don’t typically collect ’em because the hooked parts tend to get caught on sorting equipment down at the plant, so you might need to drop them off for scrap metal recycling. As with any recycling-related conundrum, I highly recommend contacting your municipality or your friendly neighborhood recycling company to find out what’s best in your area. No matter where you are, you’ll need to separate out any plastic or paper parts the hanger might have and either throw them away or recycle them in their own right.

That takes care of your immediate problem, DB. But without proper precautions, you’ll likely find yourself in a similar fix soon enough. So here’s where the prevention part of our strategy comes in. The easiest — and planet-friendliest — step is to quit the dry cleaner altogether. Conventional cleaners traffic in all kinds of toxic chemicals, and your clothes probably don’t even need this service in the first place. Fringe benefits of kicking the dry-cleaning habit, aside from reducing the toxic yuckiness in your daily life, include saving time not shuttling back and forth from the cleaner’s, saving money, and saving yourself from the wretched fate of excess hangers.

If you absolutely must patronize a dry cleaner from time to time (me, I just don’t wear anything that needs that level of attention — but then again, the dress code is quite lax down here in the stacks), seek out a greener-minded one if you can. Many use less-toxic chemicals to get the job done. Some offer reusable garment bags that you return on every visit instead of giveaway hangers. And if all else fails, you can always simply refuse the hanger when you pick up your goods.

By now, your closet should be worthy of a Real Simple spread, and your mind cleared to match. I find there’s nothing like a nice KonMari session to make you feel like you’re really winning at life.