It’s not yours to keep

Throughout this year of buying no clothes, I experienced a palette of emotions concerning what I own. There was the initial freak out and covetousness, the painstaking early period during which I tried to figure out ironing (short-lived, I promise), the time of careful, attentive alterations, followed by the wild and carefree era of refashioning.

At the height of summer, I began to feel the weight of everything I owned, and started culling unworn items to exchange with friends. Again at mid-fall, I felt the itch to reduce again, handing off almost all of my refashioning projects off to friends (who may or may not wear them, but who were inspired by them.)

I also donated a good number of storebought items that were still in wearable condition. Only one did I have second thoughts about and end up keeping, cutting it into large pieces that could be used for a project (the fabric was just that cute.)

The many facets of discarding

We are talking about decluttering this week, and this discussion of discarding items is particularly sensitive for many, many reasons. The word discarding can mean so many different things, but for our purposes, I want it to mean getting it out of our house.

This topic is fraught, and I am poorly equipped to discuss it in intelligent detail.

However, I would like to believe that most of us do not want to be responsible for personally filling up landfills with stuff that we just don’t want anymore. We also don’t like what the fashion industry is doing, filling up the landfills with the stuff that they can’t sell (please, do yourself a favor and check out the Clotheshorse Podcast.)

Likewise, through the media we are becoming more and more aware of the impact of the items that we are donating has on people around the world.

The problem is that neither the fact that what we buy might soon end up in a landfill, nor the fact that it could turn another country into a toxic dump is enough to stop us from buying things we don’t need.

And don’t think that because you don’t have a clothes-buying problem that you are off the hook, here. Furniture, home furnishings, craft supplies, holiday decor, dishes. anything that we have too much of and that we eventually will want to declutter is a culprit.

So Marie Kondo’s rather vague prescription to discard items that don’t spark joy creates a conundrum: there’s a lot of stuff in our homes that don’t spark joy, and we don’t want to set the world on fire by throwing it out. So what do we do with all this stuff?

Get informed

I have been doing this for a while now, so I have my local resources for discarding. I would love to be able to help you figure out your possibilities, too, but for now, let’s settle with broad categories:

Family/Friends: always the first place to turn. Would anyone you know want, or know someone who would want what you are discarding?

Local buy-nothing/exchange groups: many areas have social media “buy nothing” groups, where you can post an item, an interested person can express interest and then come pick it up. My only caveat to this is that you do this in a hyper-local way, with a well-regulated online community, and don’t get involved in negotiations.

Churches/Shelters/Hospitals: organizations that might have urgent needs for furniture, bedding or clothes. This includes animal shelters and veterinary offices.

Guilds/Special interest groups: sewing groups, quilting guilds. I would add to this sewing machine repair shops, fabric or yarn stores, who may also have contacts to craft guilds.

Pre-schools/Daycare Centers/Libraries: craft supplies, in my experience have been met with gigantic expressions of “Merci! Vous êtes adorables” (Thank you, you are wonderful!) from thankful teachers and administrators.

Vintage/Costume shops/Community theaters: a step above the thrift store, this is a great place to rehome items you value but no longer want in your house.

Donation centers: Salvation Army, Goodwill, any other thrift store where you can go and drop things off.

Donation bins: A last resort in my book, since the destination of many of these things is shrouded in mystery. However, if all other options have been rejected, this is one way to get usable items out of your space.

The dump: the last last resort.

Plan Ahead

Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, it is a lot of work to undo the mess that our over-consumption has caused.

Did you notice what was not at all on my list? Have a garage sale. Sell on eBay or PoshMark. Because, well, talk about a lot of work for very, very little return.

If you are serious about getting your clutter problem under control, then there will be work involved. Getting informed about your options is a first step, so that when you are ready to act, you will have a plan.

Last thoughts…

In my daily Bible reading, I came across this passage in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. It’s a couple of verses hidden away in a chapter about whether or not people should get married, which is rather fascinating in and of itself. But this is the text that caught my eye:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on…those who mourn [should live] as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.

The prescription here is that when we buy something, we should buy it as if it was not ours to keep. To me, with a mindset on reducing our reckless spending, this means, when we do buy something, we should already have a plan for what we will do with it when it outlives its usefulness or “no longer sparks joy.” First and foremost, our plan should be to keep it out of the dump. If we can’t think of another way to discard it, then maybe we shouldn’t be buying it in the first place.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

5 thoughts on “It’s not yours to keep

    1. A humble little suggestion, from somebody who totally gets this paralysis? Start by making a little inventory list (either on paper or in a spreadsheet) of everything in your closet, starting with what you are wearing right now. As much as possible, I tried to remember when I got it, how much it cost (if anything), and I wrote down what I liked about it or what I didn’t like about it. Each day, add to that list. It took me a little more than a year to get through my whole closet, but eventually, I started seeing that there were things I *never* touched…and I could start asking myself why. Seeing what I wore many many times was eye-opening, just as much as seeing what I never wore!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I taught myself not to have garage sales at least 2 decades ago, thank God!! They are horrendous. More power to the people who can handle it! I don’t remember even ever reading that verse. I read Romans 1 this morning.


    1. High-five on the garage sales! I swear, this verse tucked in there in the part about “People shouldn’t get married, but then they should if they can’t…blah blah blah.” That whole chapter usually just makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but today I read it and was like, “Oh, wow. This is amazing.” What a little nugget of wisdom! Ah, Romans…now there’s something dense for you!!!

      Liked by 1 person

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