A Lesson in Charity
So today, we talked a little bit about Haiti and how there are many children there who have lost their homes and toys. We’ve been systematically de-cluttering and downsizing the number possessions we own, and so this seemed like an opportune time to discuss why we keep things and how we can help those less fortunate by donating some of our things that we don’t use or need anymore to them.
You would have thought I was trying to persuade them to let go of an arm or something! After much discussion and many tears, our rule is (now) that you don’t have to let anything go, however, if you choose to hang onto everything you have, then you don’t get new stuff. Meaning, when you buy something new, you must let go of something old.
Why this lesson? To explain a bit, I could say that pack-ratting comes naturally to me. My mom is verging on becoming a full-on hoarder, exhibiting some of the classic symptoms such as having a room knee (waist?) deep in bags full of new-with-tags items that she’s never used because she’s “going to use it someday” or “has a project that she’ll get to eventually”. I’m not saying that she doesn’t intend to actually use it or do it, but that she has an unrealistic expectation of her time and commitment level to such pursuits. Having said that, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Though I do endeavor to remove tags from new purchases and put things where they belong when I bring something new into the house, that doesn’t always happen and even when it does, finding a place for each and every one of those new things sometimes turns into a challenge. My two major areas of weakness are crafting supplies and school supplies. I have a severe addiction to crafting – not that I have a lot of time to devote to doing them! The main issue is that when I find a craft I like, I will go buy everything I need to completely do that craft. I have hundreds of dollars in scrapbooking supplies, sewing materials, notions, fabric, patterns, screen-printing, drawing, pains and brushes, to name a few. I went through a hand-milled soap-making phase and have spent a couple hundred dollars on supplies for that. I really enjoy making earrings and so I have a box full of beads and ear-bobs and wire and tools suited for the task. Not to mention the specialized containers for most of my crafting supplies! There’s the turny-tray, paper trays and accessory bag for scrapbooking, the bead container and take-along bag for jewelery-making, and the molds and cases for herbs and oils for the soaps.
Then, you have school supplies. I have always wanted to homeschool, so anytime I saw books or materials that we might be able to use in places like Goodwill or on Freecycle – things that wouldn’t cost much money right then, but may cost a LOT of money later on when we needed them, I would grab them. That led to storing many textbooks and other school-related items that we’ll possibly use someday. Then, the boys were in school-school, and it looked like I was holding on to them needlessly. I was on the verge of donating them several times and then thought better of it because we might homeschool. Now, obviously, keeping them was a good call! But that still leads to the problem of storage. That is also exactly the kind of thing that reinforces the desire to keep thing that might be better passed on.
In the same vein, books are another weakness of mine ; probably the biggest weakness! I love them – all of them, pretty much. The smell, the feel, the weight of them. They just make me happy for no other reason than being. That also means that when I find books that seem interesting and are cheap, I tend to get them. All. And, of course, there are series books that I follow and so have amassed a large library on the subjects I enjoy most. Even now, I still don’t see books as a waste of space, though to be honest, there are books in my collection that don’t fit my criteria for keeping. And, just as an aside, unlike some people, I do read books over and over, so the argument against keeping a large personal library that I see occasionally is not realistic for me. I have read almost every book I own multiple times, some so many that the book has had to be replaced. That said, I can say that there are many books I have never gotten around to reading, started and lost interest in or that I still have without the benefit of a clear idea of why I am keeping them. And so, my library is getting the same axe that other possessions in my house are getting.
Back to the kids…
The deep emotional attachment that they seem to have to their things is stunning to me. During the upheaval of creating the school-room, much of the stuff in the closets and other spaces that are now functional had to be cleaned out – which means we lost a lot of storage space. And I think that’s a contributing factor to why we have so much still – with the closets regulated to storage instead of clothing, we had space to store a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Many of the things that have been stored in the boys’ closet are baby toys – things they haven’t even seen in over a year – and yet they still have this profound emotional connection to it. Realistically, I could have gone in there while they were away and thrown it all out and they wouldn’t have even known or remembered what was in there, but seeing it and asking them to let it go was apparently more than I should have expected of them.
We’ve been watching “Hoarders” on A&E for the past few weeks. My husband is enthralled by it, and given my tendency to pack-rat, some of the connections that the therapists on the show make inspire me to be more pro-active in throwing out things I don’t need to keep. It’s helped me let go of things and really examine why I choose to keep something. It does however bug the ever-loving daylights out of me when the person they’re working with wants to keep something that the therapist is adamant that they throw away. Sometimes, they’ll work to get to a point where the person can see the value in letting go, but just as many times, I have seen the therapist make ugly faces or show irritated behavior with the person when they won’t comply. But through it all is a thread of empowerment – making sure that the staff knows that nothing is to be taken away without the person’s permission. The owner of the item is in charge.
That’s something that I can respect. I would hate for anyone to come into my house and make me get rid of my things. I don’t want to do that to my kids, either. There is a part of me that wants to make them go through and pick some things to donate to children in Haiti. If I am completely honest, the part of me that wants that also wants the recognition (even if it’s only in my own head) of being the mom with children who are willing to donate their things to the less fortunate.
But there’s a rational part of me that knows such action would be counter-productive. In forcing them, I would not be teaching them a lesson in charity – I would be teaching them that they are powerless to hang on to things that they love, and that their opinions, thoughts and voice do not matter. Worse, there’s the possibility that taking such action would force my pack-rat tendencied child into a full-blown hoarding disorder. I also wouldn’t be helping them discover the joy in giving to others; I would be teaching them that you only have a giving heart when your hand is forced.
I know that there is a better lesson in allowing my children to keep their things, even if that means that today, we’re not bringing toys to a donation center. I know that eventually, their heart will be motivated by the conversations we have had, are having and will have about the children in Haiti and in other areas who are less fortunate that they are to find something that they want to share with another child. Moreover, there is the possibility that the items they choose to part with may be something that they truly love rather than things that they can easily part with, making their gesture much more meaningful. I know that that lesson will make a deeper, more lasting impression on my children and will help shape them into the kid of people that I want my future populated with. And that is the kind of mom I want to be.