Lose your stuff, find yourself
You never know what you might discover.
By Tim Murray
When my family moved back to San Francisco a few months ago, we had to get used to living in tight quarters again. Having half the closet space and no attic, garage, or home office was like squeezing into clothes one size too small. Over the 8 years we’d been away, living in a split-level suburban Minneapolis house, our furniture, kitchenware, picture frames, and clothes seem to have expanded to fit the space we had. Now we had to go on a crash house diet, fast.
To stop tripping over moving boxes and barking our shins on furniture, we sold some big stuff on Craigslist and dropped some things off at the Goodwill lot on Van Ness & Mission. Once we had space to walk from room to room, the decisions got harder. We were going to have to shed some more pounds and keep the weight off. I had to wonder, why did I have all this stuff in the first place?
I was raised on a family farm where we hung onto anything we might need to use later. We weren’t hoarders exactly, but we did have a sense that a catastrophe loomed just over the horizon. (Being at the mercy of the weather will do that to farmers.) Luckily we had barns and sheds and attics to hold the tools, spare parts, and emergency supplies we’d need to survive the worst when it came.
As a result, a trail of stuff follows my every “What if.” What if I need to repair something broken? What if I get audited by the IRS? What if I want to re-read the novels I loved as a teenager? What if I have to serve dinner to a crowd? What if I take another job that requires me to wear a suit? The things crammed into our drawers, cabinets, closets, and tiny tool shed were a testament to my hope for and fear of the unknown. If we were going to fit into our house, I’d have to let go of more than my stuff. I’d have to commit to a pared-down future and take the consequences.
If we were going to fit into our house, I’d have to let go of more than my stuff. I’d have to commit to a future and take the consequences.
Working at one of our donation sites recently, I helped donors unload things from their vehicles. Out of the trunks of new BMWs came bags of clothes and barely worn shoes. From the backs of rusted pickups slid boxes of picture frames and sofa pillows. The donors’ faces bore expressions of relief as they took their tax form and got back behind the wheel. They’d rid themselves of unwanted pounds and done a good deed in the process. Since these donations would ultimately fund our job training programs and services, the warm feelings were mutual.
What I didn’t realize until I began working here is that Goodwill can only use what we can sell. More than half of the items we receive don’t make the grade because they’re broken, torn, or soiled. Although we responsibly salvage or recycle them and send the rest to Recology, sorting the good from the bad takes time and money that could be devoted to our mission.
So, donors… would you please take a few extra minutes as you’re putting aside items for Goodwill? If you would give it to a friend or relative, it’s perfect for Goodwill. If not, please consider leaving it on the
sidewalk for trash pickup instead of bringing it to us. (Computers and technology are the exception; we’ll take things in working condition or not.) Donors who sort their items prior to drop-off – clothes in one bag, breakables in another, hard goods with hard goods – get extra love from us.
This weekend, I’ll be purging my closet of unworn suits, ties, and dress shoes; sweeping hardback books off my shelves; and loading up platters and bowls from my kitchen cabinets.( I’m also going to shred those 10-year-old tax returns and put my rusty tools out on the sidewalk for someone else to use.)
I’ll tell my neighbors what I’m up to, and offer to bring their stuff to the Goodwill for them. They’ll be happy to have the extra space in their small city houses. And if a catastrophe comes one day, we’ll have each other to rely on.