Getting to Know Mr. Jones: An Antidote to Consumerism

I’m one week away from my official retirement day as Stuff Manager, and my home is over 40 bags lighter, but I’m not done.  As I sit down to write this seventh post in what I planned to be a short series about a one-time project, I realize that this is no longer either of those things.  This process has shifted my beliefs and actions in unexpected ways, and if I’m still working through those things in my head, chances are, I’ll keep writing about them here. After all, this blog is cheaper than therapy.

Everything I’ve written so far has dealt with the process of letting go of possessions and distractions in order to cultivate a life that is focused on our own unique purposes and goals.  While I’ve talked about our excuses for hanging onto clutter, I’ve carefully skirted the issue of how we got all the stuff in the first place.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even question it when I started.  I accepted the amount of belongings in my home as easily as I accepted that the sky is blue.  I was tired of cleaning and organizing the stuff, but not all that curious about where it came from.  But you can’t get rid of more than 40 bags of your belongings without asking yourself some hard questions.  It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but I think it’s time we talked about where all this stuff comes from.

The heart of this issue is consumption.  It’s consumerism.  It’s the fact that we live in a culture deeply influenced by a 100 billion dollar advertising industry.  We live in a country where we are more often referred to as consumers than citizens. We are constantly subjected to news stories that rejoice in the growth and provoke fear at the fall of consumer spending.  We will declare the entire month of December an economic disaster if we do not buy enough stuff.  This country used to ask its citizens to make sacrifices, ration food, grow gardens.  Now, we’re called on to go shopping as an act of patriotism. 

We buy too much stuff.  There’s really no way to sugar coat this statement.   We can rationalize it by looking at people who buy more stuff then we do, but the truth is, even those of us living paycheck to paycheck buy too much stuff.  American consumer debt is at an all time high, credit card debt is rising and a Google search on this topic is just depressing.  But I don’t think I need to share all of the research here.  I think if we are honest, we know this deep down.  We know it every time we go to Target for cat litter and come home with a new welcome mat, some beach towels, a water gun and a cute mug.  Not that I’ve ever done that.

Image Credit: Becoming Minimalist

There are all kinds of reasons that we buy more than we need.  We shop for the temporary happiness of a new thing, we believe our material possessions define us as humans, we are more influenced by advertising than we are willing to admit, the list goes on and on.  But I want to talk about another reason, one that doesn’t get a lot air time. 

One of the prevailing narratives is that our consumption habit is all about keeping up with the Joneses.  As in, you see your neighbor (the proverbial Mr. Jones) outside with his new riding lawnmower and suddenly you have to have a riding lawnmower too.  The thing is, I’m just not so sure about this anymore.  I’m not so sure we even step outside our own little bubbles enough to be aware of the brand of our neighbor’s lawnmower, let alone covet it.  Some of us might not even know our neighbor Mr. Jones’s actual name. 

What if the problem is not that we are trying to keep up with the Joneses, but that we don’t know the Joneses? 

I think a large part of our consumption habit comes from living from a place of scarcity.  We don’t feel like we can count on anyone but ourselves anymore, so we plan for all possible futures and accumulate all the things we might need for those futures.  

What if we started to believe we were not alone?

What if the antidote to consumerism is not self-deprivation, but community?

There is probably an example of this already happening somewhere in your life.  Maybe you and your friends pass along your kids’ outgrown clothing instead of selling it.  Maybe you and a neighbor share a snowblower.  But what if we lived in the kinds of communities where sharing became the norm rather than the exception? 

I can already hear the objections.

But you don’t know my neighbor!  I can’t share with her, she’s bat-shit crazy!

What if someone breaks the shared stuff?  Who’s going to pay for that?

What are you even talking about, living in a commune?  I’m not a communist!

Okay, okay, points taken.  But your neighbor does not have to mean your literal neighbor, and a community does not have to be your street (though that certainly helps in the case of the snowblower).  And yes, someone might break the stuff.  That might happen.  We’ll all have to stop being so precious about our stuff for this to work.  People before stuff.  That’s our mantra here.  And no, I’m not talking about a commune.  (Well, okay, I might be interested in a commune.)  But I’m not talking about everyone living in communes.  You don’t have to live in a commune to engage in communal living.

What I am talking about is investing in community and putting the people in your life before the things in your life. 

If any part of what I’ve just said rings true for you, I want to suggest a challenge.  Consider the people in your life, your family, your close friends, your neighbors.  Choose just one area of stuff and approach just one person in your life about sharing the load in that area.  The easiest one I can think of is children’s clothing.  If you currently purchase all of your children’s clothing brand new, I want you to calculate what you spend on average each year.  If you found just one family to share this burden with, you could easily halve that number.  Don’t have children?  There are so many other options.  Share a DVD collection with a friend (there’s little chance you are always going to want to watch the same movie on the same night), host a clothing exchange with your adult friends where you “shop” one another’s unused clothing, share a grill with your neighbor or a magazine subscription with a friend, split the cost of camping equiptment with your brother.

I want to hear your stories.  Do you think lack of community contributes to over-consumption?  Do you currently share within your community?  And if you don’t, what stops you? 

In the meantime, I’ll be planning that commune.  

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding?

I’ve been buried in my basement for over a week now as part of the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge, and I still can’t see the end in sight.  I’ve reached the point of any good cleaning project where the room actually looks worse than when I started, yet that is somehow a sign of progress.  Have you ever been there?  I like to call it the storm before the calm.  That’s where I am right now, right in the eye of the storm.

As I hauled my 35th bag up the basement steps this week, I started to think about where all of this stuff had come from.  The outdated electronics, the plastic bins full of books (the worst fate for a book aside from an actual book burning), the endless crafting supplies I’ve never looked at twice… there is just so much stuff.  I started thinking about the hours I’ve spent organizing this basement, moving these same, sealed bins from one shelf to another, all under the guise that I’d use it someday.  Well, it’s someday, it’s not being used, and it’s gone.

But there is this nagging fear, this persistent whisper that keeps taunting me.

You know you’re just going to fill this space back up.

You’ll be doing this all over again in a year.

I can’t let that fear become a reality.   I cannot.  But something has shifted in this process that makes me believe it won’t.

Since I started this series of blog posts, many of you recommended that I read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  A sweet friend lent me the book  and I eagerly dived in, thinking it would be right up my alley. 

A few chapters in, I was unconvinced.  When the author suggested that my socks are in emotional distress from being kept in balls, I raised an eyebrow.  When she said, “Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type, and therefore organizing them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure,” I started to wonder if our perspectives on the emotional life of our stuff were just too different.   But then I remembered that I usually learn more from people with different perspectives than I do from people who think just like me, so I recommitted and finished the book. 

Clearly these socks are in agony.  It’s a wonder they can sleep at night. 

Once I got past some of our initial differences (my socks are still in balls and I’m seeking a reputable therapist for them so they can work out their feelings on this) I started to internalize some of Kondo’s messages and noticed a dramatic shift in the way I discarded items. 

“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.  By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order.  In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.” – Marie Kondo

I opened the first of a few memory boxes in my basement a couple of days ago.  Jason and I jokingly refer to these boxes as black holes because once you get sucked in it is very difficult to come back out.  At first, I felt my old tendencies leading the way, and I honestly considered doing things like separating the awards from the art from the stack of report cards.  Maybe I could file them in one of those upright filing systems and label them by year.  I considered that.  And then, I remembered Kondo’s words and looked at the objects with fresh eyes.  That candle from my senior prom?  I don’t need it to remember my prom because I sleep next to my prom date every night.  Those elementary school report cards?  No one has asked for my elementary credentials in the last three decades so I think it is safe to let them go.  Every token that I kept to remember a significant event in my life has sat dormant in boxes for decades, and when I held each one in my hand I realized that while the events are still fresh in my mind, the mementos have not played even a small role in preserving my memories.  

The search is over.  You were with me all the while.  In a box.  In my basement.

With the exception of photographs and a handful of items I’m now one black hole lighter.  And it feels kind of amazing.  It feels kind of like fully embracing the present. 

I’m finding that this mentality extends beyond the memory boxes.  It allows me to pick up an item and ask, “Does this spark joy?  Am I using this for the life I am currently leading (not the life I used to lead or the life I might someday lead)? ”  (I had to add that second question because Kondo’s “Does this spark joy?” would not allow me to keep things like my toilet plunger.  It does not spark any joy, but unfortunately, I need it.)  It allows me be grateful for the purpose these items once held without feeling guilty that they no longer hold meaning for me.

So, this time around doesn’t just feel different.  It is different. I’m not organizing, I’m purging.  I’m not purchasing bins and label makers, I’m emptying bins and donating the very bins themselves so they do not find themselves full again on my shelves.  I might even donate the shelves. 

I half-jokingly labeled a Pinterest board with this quote back in 2010 – “organization is really just well-managed hoarding” – and The Minimalists make a case for these words here.   I wish I had listened to these words back then.  I’m listening now.

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Ten Books for Ten-Year-Olds (Recommended by a Ten-Year-Old)

I love talking about children’s books almost as much as I love reading them, and the conversations that these reviews have sparked have been such a joy to take part in.  It is so much fun to hear your opinions of the books I review, and even more, learning what your kids are reading and recommending.  I recently sat down with my own boys to ask them what books they would recommend to kids their age, and their lists were long, fun and even a little surprising.  I asked my ten-year-old son Ronan to contribute to today’s post and he was happy to offer his “Ten Books for Ten-Year-Olds.”

Before I get to his list, I want to tell you a little about this reader.  Ronan was born with a book in his hand.  I know, it sounds crazy and the nurses said they have only seen it happen a handful of other times, but there he was, clutching his copy of The Bus Stop and demanding hourly readings (and feedings, he demanded hourly feedings too).  He moved onto Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes and then we blinked and he was finished with The Magic Tree House series. Then Harry Potter.   He is never without a book.  Ever.  He’d rather be reading than almost any other activity in the world.  I’m sure his first tattoo will be of the literary sort and he’ll probably get married in a library. I’ll let him take it from here.

Hi, my name is Ronan.  It was hard to come up with this list because in the literary world I have read nearly one percent of all books written (that’s my estimate but it’s on the Internet now so it must be true).  The following list are not necessarily my favorites (though some are),  but they are books I hope your ten-year-old will enjoy just as much as I did.

Because of Mr. Terupt (Rob Buyea) – A heartwarming book about a group of fifth grade kids who are not all alike.  Throughout the year, they learn more about themselves and how to solve conflict because of their great teacher, Mr. Terupt.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Chris Grabenstein) – A funny, interesting and quick story about a group of kids who are trapped in a tech-heavy library and must escape in order to win a grand prize.  It boils down to the conclusion before you know it and leaves you wanting to read it again.

The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook (Joanne Rocklin) – When a family’s cat gets sick, Oona tries to keep her little brother Fred in good spirits by telling tales of the fives lives the cat has already spent, while simultaneously trying to hide the identity of the cat’s true owner.

Flora & Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo) – A silly book about a girl that saves a squirrel that is sucked up by a super vacuum while the owners were vacuuming their lawn.  They proceed to have lots of adventures about a cat, a family that hates squirrels and SPRINKLES!!!!!

Harry Potter (J.K.Rowling) –  If you haven’t read this series, you are missing out on life.

Jake and Lily (Jerry Spinelli) – Jake and Lily are twins that share a connection that begins to fade as Jake meets new friends and Lily feels left behind.  I liked the way the book alternated chapters between the twins. 

Liar and Spy (Rebecca Stead) – A depressed boy that has moved into an apartment from his house with a bed made out of a fire escape must work through problems and figure out the history of the mysterious boy in his building,  Rammed Safer.  

Merits of Mischief  (T.R. Burns) – This is a great book for people who want a funny, quick read and also love trouble-making.  After an unfortunate incident involving a substitute teacher and an apple, Seamus Hinkle is sent to a reform school that teaches kids how to be professional trouble-makers.  

Rain Reign (Ann M. Martin) –  This book is about an autistic girl living with her father who doesn’t know how to raise a girl like Rose Howard.  When a hurricane comes, she loses her dog Rain and goes on a search to find her but ends up finding something more.

Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt) – When Winnie finds a pebble-covered spring in the woods, a boy tells her not to drink from it.  They become friends and she discovers his amazing secret.


Let’s Stop Telling People 5 Things They Should Never Say

Do me a favor before you read this post.  Google the phrase “five things you should never say” and scroll through the results. 

5 Things You Should Never Say at Work

5 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Over 30

5 Things You Should Never Say to Your Pastor

5 Things You Should Never Say to a Stay-At-Home Mom

5 Things You Should Never Say to a Working Mom

The list goes on and on and on.  Click on any of the links and you’ll find articles ranging from sarcastic to well-intentioned to bitter, but at the heart of them lies this unspoken message that our words are more likely to divide than open doors to communication and frankly, I find that message to be a deeply troubling prospect for our future.

Everytime someone I love shares one of these articles, I read it.  Every time.  I want to understand my friends and I don’t want to cause pain with my own words, so I click and read it.  Usually, the articles contain a couple of truly inflammatory statements, but sometimes, the “things we should never say” are just well-intentioned but maybe not perfectly-worded attempts at explaining a different choice or even expressing curiosity about the life of the person in question.  Yes, some people spout off thoughtless remarks because they are inconsiderate, or passive aggressive, or they want to create conflict, but I feel fairly confident that these internet articles are not going to give them pause.  The only people who might be impacted by these lists are people who are already, albeit imperfectly, trying to speak with care.  The result is that the well-intentioned among us slowly close the doors to communication while the not-so-considerate voices fill the void.

Let me give you an example that relates to me personally.  I recently read a couple of articles about things you should never say to a homeschool mom.  According to the articles, a couple of the things that you should never say to me are “what do you do all day?” or “what about socialization?”  Friends. These are not offensive questions.  They reflect curiosity from people who are unfamiliar with homeschooling.  I’m thrilled to answer these questions, even if they are questions about things that I’m not so sure about myself.  Actually, those are my favorite questions, because they prompt dialogue and include varied opinions and experiences which can lead to solutions and new ideas.  In a nutshell, they become a conversation.

This trend at shutting down conversation before it begins is disturbing because it is through dialogue that we come to know and understand the choices people make that are different from our own.  Yes, conversation can be tricky.   People will not always choose their words with care.  Our feelings may get hurt.  We may feel judged.  We may actually be judged.  But the alternative, in which we all stop saying all the things we should apparently never say, will ultimately result in more hurt because we will cease to understand one another.  We will stop engaging in conversation with people who lead lives different than our own for fear of saying the wrong thing, thus shutting the door to the possibility of new relationships and broader understanding.

Yes, we should choose our words wisely.  Words have incredible power.  But, ultimately, we are the ones who give that power to words.  We are the ones responsible for the way we react to the words of others.  We live in a world full of examples of actual, hateful speech (and accompanying actions) yet we give power to innocuous statements like, “He looks just like his dad!” (seriously, that was actually listed in an article about things you should never say to a new mom).

The next time you are faced with a statement that someone should never say to you, consider responding with a little bit of grace at the not-quite-perfect commentary.  Resist the impulse to be offended, and instead consider it an opportunity to open dialogue about the topic in question.  You just might learn something, or have the opportunity to share something important to you.  Perhaps most importantly, you’ll be reminded that we’re all imperfect humans together. 

Holding Onto Magic

My youngest son Liam is currently obsessed with Harry Potter.  This is not surprising, given that my husband, my oldest son Ronan and myself are also in love with the wizarding world that J.K. Rowling created, and encourage the frequent reading and re-reading of the novels in our home.  Liam just finished the seventh and final book last week, and spends his free time casting spells in our backyard with anyone who will play along.

About a month ago, Liam had a friend sleepover and we were watching one of the Harry Potter movies before bed.  His friend asked, “We’re all half-bloods, right?” to which I responded, “No, unfortunately, we are all muggles.”  Liam interjected, “Well, actually, I’m not sure yet.  I might be a wizard.” 

Today is Liam’s eighth birthday.  I know that he was referring to the fact that he’s not yet eleven years old, which is the year that you find out for sure if you are a wizard in the world of Harry Potter.  But I also know that my sweet boy is eight years old and he still believes in the possibility of that which we cannot see or know.  He still believes in magic.

Most of us start to lose our sense of wonder sometime between the ages of eight and eighty.  We start to define the world by the things we can be absolutely sure of, the things we can weigh or measure, see and touch, test and peer review.  We forget that much of what we now know was only recently unknown, and that the future still holds discoveries about the universe that are beyond our capacity to conceive in our wildest dreams.  

If I could give my son anything for his eighth birthday, it would be the ability to hold onto wonder.  I’d tuck it away in the recesses of his heart, and cast a protective charm over it so he could retrieve it in the depths of his adulthood, when wonder is slipping through his fingers in the face of adult burdens and world weariness.  I’d encase it in a golden snitch so he could open it at the close, or anytime in between, when he needed to be reminded that this world is so vast and we know but a tiny fraction of its magic.

I can’t do that though.  I can offer a whisper of “lumos” to light his path, but ultimately, he’ll have to find a way to hold onto magic on his own.  And I have reason to believe that he just might.

“Mom, no adult should ever really say that magic doesn’t exist.”

“Why is that Liam?”

“Because love is magic.  We help other people when we love them like wizards help other people with magic.  So as long as there is love left in this world, there is magic.”

Liam, we don’t need to wait for your eleventh birthday or an owl delivering a letter from Hogwarts.  That you know this precious truth is all the proof we need.

You are a wizard Liam. 

7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter

I feel like this blog post should come with a warning.  I’m about to delve into an area in which I have little expertise – technology.  I’m heading into the arena before I’m ready because Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready.  They do things before they know they can do it.”  And I pretty much  do what Amy Poehler says.  But I’m also jumping in feet first in the hopes that if I drown when I drown, you all will rescue me with your brilliant ideas and vastly superior skills and knowledge.

 Public domain image via Pixabay

Today, I’m talking about digital clutter.  Somewhere, my computer-programming father and brother are ducking their heads in shame and whispering fervent prayers for me to keep this brief for the honor of our family name.  I’ll do my best.

Many of you know that I’ve taken on a 40 day challenge to eliminate clutter from my home.  So far, I’ve focused this series on actual, physical clutter, the kind you put in a bag and drive to your local Goodwill.  However, if we are going to be serious about eliminating the things that distract us from the things that bring us joy and meaning, there are a few things we have to talk about that can’t be carried out in a trash bag.  Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter, if not more so.  I’m going to share what’s working for me, and then I’m going to BEG you to share what you’re doing to minimize the clutter that occurs on your own desktops and phones and online world.

If you know me in real life, you know that I can contradict myself on the topic of technology in a mere sixty seconds.  On one hand, I love the tools available to us thanks to the Internet.  I don’t know where I’d be without my cell, and I once crowd-sourced my Facebook page to add even MORE app clutter to my phone.  On the other hand, I’d kind of love to find out where I’d be without my cell phone.  I have secret fantasies of throwing it in a lake and not replacing it.  I’ll rant about the dangers of losing our right to privacy in one breath and then hand my personal shopping list to Target in the next for a five percent discount on Cartwheel.  (Side note – once, when I pointed out one of my own self-contradictions to a wise friend, she graciously quoted Walt Whitman at me.  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well then I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain multitudes.”  YES!  That’s it!  I’m not a walking contradiction, I simply contain multitudes.  I’m a piece of poetry!  And you are too!  I’m so thankful for that little piece of self-rationalization.  Go ahead and feel free to use it anytime.) 

While I sort out my own contradictory feelings about technology, I’m constantly trying to minimize its distractions while enhancing its benefits.  If you’re not ready to pull the plug on your technology either, then pull up a chair instead and let’s chat about our other options.

1.  Your Computer’s Desktop – Let’s start with our desktop.  It’s the first thing we see when we turn on the computer and the visual assault of so many items can be overwhelming.  The desktop is just a copy of things stored elsewhere on our computers.  Try creating a file system that works for you and diligently save things to files instead of all over the home screen of your computer.  The same principle can apply to your phone.  Whether you love folders, or prefer to have your apps out in the open, keep the most important tools up front and center and hide (or better, delete) the apps you don’t use or need.  If you share a family account on your cell phone, consider changing your settings so you don’t automatically receive every version of Minecraft your kids upload.  (If you kids are teenagers, disregard that advice, you might want to see every app they are downloading to their phones!)

2.  Email – Check out Unroll Me.  This is the best thing that ever happened to my email.  This service will scan your email for every single subscription you have (I had 278!?!) and then allow you to select Unsubscribe or Rollup to any subscription you do not want in your inbox.  Rather then clicking at the bottom of each individual email that comes to your inbox in order to unsubscribe (and sometimes having to remember a password) it takes care of all of that for you by acting as an interception point for those emails. Any subscription you put in your Rollup will come in one, consolidated email.  I cannot begin to tell you what a difference this has made for my inbox.  Everything is still searchable too, so you don’t have to worry about something important being lost in your Rollup.  Additionally, your Rollup will continue to scan for new subscriptions and ask you what to do with them on a daily basis.

3.  Password Help – I cannot remember my passwords.  How can anyone?  We’re supposed to come up with these highly unique passwords like UniCorn146&RaInBoW9sprinkles and manage to remember it later? There’s not a chance.  Thankfully, you have choices.  You can write your passwords in one little book and keep it with you, but if you are someone who loses things regularly, this probably is not the best plan.  There are several online password services like LastPass that remember and encrypt your passwords so you only have to remember one password and it will log you into everything else.  If that’s still a little too insecure for you, the same service can be done on your local computer with software like 1Password.

4.  Music – This one speaks to both your digital clutter and your actual clutter.  Consider a subscription to a service like Spotify to store and catalog music for you.  You’ll have access to a huge variety of artists, the ability to download songs to your phone for offline use, and the ability to take them off your phone when you need your space back.  We’ve been using it for a couple of years now and it has actually increased the amount of time I spend listening to music (which for me is a win) and the variety of music, all without increasing digital or actual clutter in my home.

5. Pictures – This is where I fail you.  I have too many pictures.  I have so many pictures that I have to use separate external hard drives to store them.  I’ve developed some recent habits that have helped, such as turning off my Photo Stream so that I can manually delete pictures from my phone before moving them over to my computer (thus slowing the flow of screen shots ending up in my iPhoto library) but I could still use a lot of support in this area.  Any ideas?  What do you do to keep your favorite memories but not allow them to overtake your computer?  What’s your favorite software for photo storage?

6. Screen Time – The key to not allowing my digital clutter to overtake my life is to set screen limits for myself, just like I do with my kids.  At some point, they’ll be old enough to make their own choices about how they spend their time online and I want to model behavior I’d like to see them emulate.  Total disclosure — this is a huge struggle for me.  I recently downloaded this app called Moment that tracks my time online. I ran it in the background of my phone for a couple of weeks to see how much time I was spending online before setting goals and was not happy with what I found out about myself.  I’m still using the app, but allowing it to send me reminders every twenty minutes I’m on my phone.  The app allows you to set limits and even has options for powering down your phone for you when you’ve reached your daily limit.  

7.  Information Overload – Part of the reason that I struggle with screen time is that I love to absorb information.  I recently took a StrengthsFinder assessment for an organization I’m involved with, and was not too surprised to learn that my top strength is something they call Input.  Basically it means I like to absorb huge amounts of information on a daily basis.  The Internet provides that for me in spades, but it’s also a little like offering someone with a coffee addiction (also me) a lifetime membership to a local coffee shop with unlimited free refills.  There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  I’ve had to learn am still learning to set limits and one tool that has really helped me is an app called Pocket.  Pocket saves your content so that it is accessible offline, and eliminates the clutter of a dozen open Safari tabs. If I see an article that looks interesting, or that someone shares online, I’ll save it to Pocket for reading at a later time. That’s key for me, the later time part.  Then, at the designated reading time, I open up Pocket and decide if I really want to spend my precious reading moments on this content, or if I’d rather dig into a novel or seek out information on my own on another topic.  It puts the agency back in my hands in a less impulsive setting.  If this is a problem for you too, give it a try.

I’m sure this will be a constantly evolving process for me, figuring out how to use technology without abusing it.  Do any of you struggle with this too?   I’d love to hear what you do to minimize digital clutter in your life and how you navigate this brave new world.  Feel free to comment here, or find me any of the social media platforms on which I currently spend too much time. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values

Donating Outside the Box


I’m 21 bags into the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge and all I’ve actually accomplished is the putting of the items in the bags and the moving of the items into my garage. 

Okay, I’ve also found new homes for a number of items via a photo album on Facebook, which is functioning like one large, free, virtual garage sale.

The fact remains that only a handful of non-trash items have actually left my property.  They just now live in my garage (and my car has been evicted to the driveway).

My stuff holding place.  A little public humiliation can be motivating, right?

My plan for this week is to deliver every single item I’ve discarded to its new home.  I shared about my control issues around where my discarded items wind up, and while I’m working to let go of that to a certain extent (meaning, I will be loading up a fair number of these bags and bringing them straight to Goodwill because it is the closest place to donate and it has a drive through), I want to share with you some other great places to donate your belongings.  Some of these will be specific to the St. Louis area, but if you are  not a local reader, there might be similar programs where you live as well.

But before I talk specifics, may I make a personal request?  When we are in the process of getting rid of unwanted possessions, we have a few options for what to do with the items.  We can sell our items, we can donate our items, or we can throw away/recycle/upcycle our items.  I’m focusing on donations here on the blog because that is where the majority of my items will end up.  If that is the case for you too, this is my request:  please do not donate your crap.  Do not donate any clothing that is not in good enough condition to wear yourself or put on your own child.  Do not donate housewares that are in disrepair.  Do not offload the task of actually going through your items and determining their worth to someone else.  One of the tasks I’ve done as a volunteer at The Crisis Nursery is going through clothing donations to decide which clothing they can use and which must be discarded.  The Crisis Nursery makes sure that every child that comes through their doors leaves with a new to them outfit, and we want that outfit to be just as cute and clean as the clothing on any other child.  Children (and adults for that matter) living in poverty have the same concerns about appearance and dignity as those above the poverty line.  Please respect that when passing along the items that no longer fit the members of your family or support your family values.  Style is subjective, but we can be objective about clothing and items that are torn, tattered or beyond repair.  We should aim to donate items that can be of worth and value to someone, and if that means that we have to throw away some of the things that aren’t and deal with the guilt of adding to our landfills, we should do that ourselves and not ask someone else to do it for us.  Okay, climbing off my soapbox now.

 My husband demonstrating that taste truly is subjective. 

Once you do have your worthwhile items ready to go, there are myriad options for places to bring them. 

1.  Baby/Child Clothing & Goods:  There are so many options for donating your no longer needed baby items.  In addition to the above mentioned Crisis Nursery, your town might have a maternity home like Sparrow’s Nest or Our Lady’s Inn that seeks donations.  Shelters for victims of domestic violence are another great option as they often bring their young children with them.  Your community might have a foster care alliance to support families providing foster care.  Our church is currently partnering with Safe Families for Children and creating a resource closet of infant and child clothing as well as baby and toddler supplies for children that are in care.  Before you bring your clothing to any of the above places, please call to verify their current needs.  Last, but certainly not least, consider sharing with another family that you already know.  We have been on both the recieving and sharing end of this deal, and it is pretty exciting to get a free winter coat for your child, and unbearably sweet to see your ten year old’s baby clothes on a newborn you love.

2.  Adult Clothing:  When we started working through the book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess with our friends, this was the first area that we tackled.  After we gathered up an inordinate amount of clothing from our closets we all did some research on where to take it.  We landed on The International Institute in St. Louis, because a large portion of our clothing was business or business casual, and the International Institute helps outfit immigrants and refugees for job interviews and employment.  During our research, we found some other great places to bring adult clothing, including domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and some great social entrepreneurial partnerships, like REFRESH, a resale shop whose profits go to support kids in the foster care system.  If you have unwanted shoes that are still in great working condition, consider donating them to Solea Water (formerly The Shoeman), a local non-profit that sells shoes on the used shoe market and uses the profits to dig wells for fresh water in a number of participating countries.  If you have clothing that is unique to a specific time period, consider donating it to a local theater company.  Many theater companies keep an inventory of potential costumes on hand and would love to have your purple suede prom tuxedo.

3.  Books:  The first place I go with books I want to donate is my public library.  Our local Friends of the Library organization holds book sales to sell donated books it does not need for circulation as well as other books they’ve moved off the shelves, and last summer’s sale raised over $80,000 to fund programs like the summer reading program.  The book sale  is also a fantastic place to score great reads for as little as a quarter but I guess I’m not supposed to be giving you ideas for where to accumulate more belongings (pssst….the spring sale is April 17th).  Some of the places listed under baby clothing are also great options for donating children’s books, as well as local schools, Head Start Programs, or programs like Ready Readers, which keeps a list of books they’d love to receive on their website.  One of the most creative ideas I’ve seen for books you are ready to part with are these adorable Free Little Libraries.  If any of you decide to make one, send me a picture and I’ll feature it here (and help keep it stocked) because I think these things are the coolest.

4.  Household Goods:  One easy way to find a new home for household goods is a website called Donation Town.  Donation Town keeps track of hundreds of local charities, and will match you with a charity that will pick up your donation at your house.  If you have new household goods (perhaps you’ve moved into a new home and are replacing the stock lighting with your own lighting), consider donating to the Habitat ReStore, which sells house and building supplies to fund its home-building mission.  You could also consider contacting local homeless shelters to see if your household goods could help someone transitioning out of homelessness into a home.  Another great social entrepreneurial partnership west of St. Louis is Agape’s Hometown Thrift Shop.  The shop is run primarily by volunteers, and proceeds benefit the Agape food pantry.  Freecyle is a great option for sharing items within your community, as it connects you with local people giving away or in search of items you might have to share.  I like to think of it as a free Craigslist.  Or, you can always just put everything at the end of your driveway after a neighborhood-wide or city-wide garage sale and it is sure to disappear by the next morning. 

5.  Electronics:  This category intimidates me a little, which might explain why I have a 13-yea-old iMac in my basement.  Before you donate any electronics, it is imperative that you completely wipe clean your hard drive, and since I don’t know how to do that, my old computer is now my kids’ “spy communication device.”  I’m hoping one of you can help this task seem less daunting.  In the meantime, I do have some suggestions for where those of you who are a bit more tech savvy can take your old electronics.  This is one category where Goodwill really shines.  They’ve partnered with Dell to refurbish or recyle electronics for use in your local community.  Do you have video games or handheld gaming devices to share? Get Well Gamers is a non-profit that donates used video games to children’s hospitals.  Have a cell phone that is still in great condition?  Cell Phones for Soldiers connects your phone to an active service member.  Keep in mind that if your electronic devices are not in good enough working order for you, you probably should not donate them to someone else.  If your electronics are beyond repair or use, please recycle them.

I hope some of these ideas help any of you who might be hanging onto belongings because you haven’t found the right place to take them.  However,  keep in mind that at the end of the day (or in my case, 40 days), if we are serious about reducing the number of possessions that we are storing and caring for, at some point we do have to prioritize them actually leaving our houses.  That may mean that we don’t get to drop each item off at the absolute perfect place.  It may mean that we put our bags on the porch for the next agency that calls to schedule a pick-up, no matter who it is.  That’s okay.  So go ahead, brainstorm for ideas or share with your friends, but above all, set a date on your calendar after which your donated belongings are going to the place of least resistance.  Don’t let your garage be your new basement.

Now excuse my while I go load up my minivan. 

This post is part of a series on quitting your job as a Stuff Manager.  Drop back in to read more about my journey over the next forty days, or subscribe by email if you don’t want to miss a post!  I look forward to hearing about your own resignation. 

1.  Letter of Resignation – On quitting my job as Stuff Manager
2.  I’m Never Going to Make That Beer Bottle Cap Table – On letting go of things that aren’t for us
3.  But I’ll Need That in the Zombie Apocalypse (and Other Excuses) – On excuses for our clutter  
4.  Donating Outside the Box –  On finding a great place for your donations
5.  7 Ideas for Managing Digital Clutter – On minimizing distractions and clutter on your devices 
6.  Is Organizing Just Well-Managed Hoarding? – On the difference between organizing and purging 
7.  Getting to Know Mr. Jones:  An Antidote to ConsumerismOn exploring where we got all of this stuff in the first place and a communal antidote to over-consumption
8.  Taking Back Your Square Footage –  On creating space in your home that reflects your intentions and values