On Thursdays I usually show off my latest thrift store scores, but seeing how this is the New Year and everyone wants to get organized, I wanted to talk about the other side of thrifting, which is giving stuff back.
It's simple math. If I'm bringing home a shopping bag of stuff (clothes, media, toys, etc) every week, that same volume of stuff needs to leave the house. My family lives a small house, which is already packed with our possessions. We are really efficient at using our available storage space, but at some point there is nowhere else to put things.
That's why I try to picture a revolving door. As stuff continually comes in, stuff continually goes out. Some people save up all their stuff for one big purge, and have an annual garage sale. I've found that not to work for me. For one thing, the amount of time setting up a garage sale rarely pays off in the money you make. Unless you truly enjoy sorting, cleaning, folding, pricing, and then sitting outside all weekend surrounded by your junk (and if you're doing it with friends, you can make it fun). The other thing is that you have to keep a year's worth of unused stuff sitting around in your house until it's time for the garage sale.
I sometimes try to resell things on Facebook garage sale pages, eBay, consignment stores, or stores like Once Upon a Child or Half-Priced Books. That can be successful with certain items, especially for a nice piece of furniture or name-brand clothing with the tags still attached. But depending on the level of wear an item has, it might not be worth the time and resources to resell it.
So that leaves one really great option: donation. Almost every town has a place you can donate used goods, or an organization that will come by and pick them up. You can look online to find out what kinds of items they'll take and what the organization does with the profits. And here's the best part: donating good-quality, usable stuff is paying it forward if you are someone who loves shopping at thrift stores. I love when I'm shopping and I find unbelievable like-new brand-name clothes. I sometimes wonder why someone didn't want it, and it's probably because it didn't fit, or it wasn't their style, or they never wore it and wanted to free up space. If other people are donating those kinds of things for me to find, I can do the same for others.
The problem is letting go of things, even things we don't use, is not easy. I love to shop for clothes, and I can look through my closet and tell you where I got everything, why I bought it, and where I wore it. I have memories tied up in my clothes. Even the clothes I never/barely wore, are surrounded by the promise of what I'd look like, or where I'd go when I wore them.
I've watched many episodes of Hoarders and, while I'm dubious that a true, diagnosed hoarder can be "cured" by a couple days of having a camera crew and a psychologist go through their belongings, I've picked up a lot of great advice for myself from the show. There's a part of every episode where the hoarder is sitting down and the psychologist is showing them things, one at a time, asking, "can we get rid of this?" The answer is often, "no, because..." and then there's a bizarre list of reasons that we, the viewers, know don't make sense, but are very real and emotional for the hoarder. I have my own reasons for not getting rid of things, and it helps me to name them and see how ridiculous they sound.
Lies I tell myself when I don't want to let go of my unused clothing:
I have so much to go through, it's too hard to start.
Someone I miss gave me this or liked this, so it dishonors the memory of that person if I get rid of it.
I spent so much money on it that it's valuable.
I got it at such a great deal that it's valuable.
If I get rid of it, it's admitting I made a mistake by buying it.
Someone whose fashion sense I admire told me it looked good on me.
I've already hung onto it for so many years, it's even more special now.
I might need it someday.
It will fit me again if my body magically goes back to pre-pregnancy size.
I'll keep it around for painting/yard work (even though I only paint something about once a year and don't have a yard).
I'll keep it around to sleep in (even though I have actual pajamas).
I'll keep it around to wear to the gym (even though I have actual gym clothes).
If I get rid of it, I'll regret it.
Truths I've learned about donating my unused clothing:
I don't have to get rid of everything at first. Just fill up one bag now and try again later.
It makes me happy to have more space.
It's more efficient to keep only things I currently wear in my closet.
Someone else will be thrilled to find this.
Someone else will wear this and love this more than I did.
I'm contributing to a worthy cause.
The true value of clothing is not what I initially paid, but the cost per wear.
I've made some shopping mistakes, and I don't need to be reminded of them every day.
I've learned not to buy that color/size/style/brand again.
It's easy to bag it up and drop it all off at one location.
If I magically returned to my pre-pregnancy size/shape, it would be more fun to shop for new clothes than to re-wear all my old stuff from 7 years ago.
Everyone changes size/shape as they age, have babies, change lifestyles. Having a piece of clothing no longer fit isn't a personal failure. Move on.
My old clothes aren't my memories. I still have my memories.
My old clothes aren't my identity. I still have my identity.
I've NEVER regretted giving away something I didn't need.
I gave myself 30 minutes to do a quick closet purge, and found enough stuff to fill a garbage bag. I probably left a few things behind that I wasn't quite sure about, but that's OK. Now that I've identified them, I can give myself a time limit on wearing them. I had a storage bin on the floor of my closet full of clothes that currently don't fit me, and that's where I found the most things to give away.
A retro-looking dress that I bought when I thought I might go swing dancing with the Mister. This was before we had kids. If we didn't find time to go swing dancing then, I'm sure we won't find time to do it now. Plus, it's a juniors size. Let's be realistic.
A mini-skirt. Yeah.
A blouse from Target that was just "OK" for me until I saw Ellie Kemper wearing it on The Office. Suddenly it seemed more important that it really was, and I've probably been keeping it for that reason. I needed to admit that, and put it in writing to realize how dumb that sounds. So, it's gone.
Colorful jeans from the Old Navy clearance rack. They were fun while they lasted, but I'm moving on.
A Target dress with buttons I really liked. I never wore it, though. It's cute, but way too va-va-voom for me.
An Alice Temperly dress that is really elegant. I wore it only once, to The Mister's office party when I was in my first trimester with Boo and so, so sick. I remember feeling like the room was spinning all night long. Not a good memory. The dress can go.
A cute spring Gap dress I wore to my Grandma's funeral. I think that's the reason I was hanging on to it, even when it was too snug after having Punky. I have some nice pictures of me wearing it, and that's enough. It will be a cute on someone else.
A perfectly ordinary H&M turtleneck, that I didn't want to part with because I bought it in London when all my other clothes were damp from the rain and wouldn't dry in our stuffy hotel room. I was freezing and needed a sweater, so I ran out and bought this. It's pretty useful as far as souvenirs go, but it's a little too tight now and I haven't worn it in years.
I also unearthed a few things I'm not quite ready to let go of because I'm only human:
A Radiohead concert t-shirt from the one and only time I got to see them.
A pile of Gap jeans from between my two pregnancies. When I found the exact fit that worked for me, I bought a pair in every wash available. They're too tight now, but I'll hang on to them a little longer with a time limit. If I don't wear them by the end of this year, they have to go!
And this little fashion trend I forgot happened...stirrup jeggings! Don't laugh. How else do you tuck your jeans into your boots without them bunching at the knee? They stay!
One more thing. I had a wool J. Crew snowflake sweater I got for Christmas (about 20 years ago). It was beautiful and cozy and I loved it so much. Then I lost some weight (about 12 years ago) and was swimming in it, and decided not to keep it. I'm not saying I regretted donating it. I definitely wasn't wearing it and if someone else bought it and loved it, then that's great. But I often thought about that sweater over the years, and I'd look through the J. Crew catalog to see if they were still selling anything similar. Finally, last winter, it occurred to me to look for it on eBay in case someone had an old one. Sure enough, I found it, in a different color, for around $25. It's just as warm and soft as I remembered, and I'm wearing it frequently. Obviously it was a very well-made sweater because it's 20 years old and looks great!
My point is that I'm learning not to overthink donating stuff because there will always be more stuff. Almost nothing is one-of-a-kind or irreplaceable these days. We live in a world where we can track down what we want and have it delivered to our doorsteps, so why hang on to what we don't use and care about? And what's the point of stockpiling our possessions if they get in the way of living healthy, happy lives?
So, yes, I love to shop, and I'm always bringing home new "treasures", but I have to make sure they don't add to the accumulation in our house. I've had Elsa singing "Let It Go, Let It Go" in my head the entire time I've been writing this, which could be my anthem for 2015, no matter how cliche that sounds. I'm going to take that earworm and tackle some more storage bins today. I've got things packed away in the basement I haven't set eyes on in a year, and I'm betting I can get rid of some of them, too.
I'm wishing you all a very Happy New Year. Thank you for reading!