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

Absolute Mayhem

Absolute Mayhem
Written and Illustrated by Kelly Suellentrop
Publisher: Striped Socks Publishing
IPN: 9780692311011
Category: Picture Book

Our culture is awash with declarations of love for weekends.  From the old TGIF catchphrase to the 80’s classic “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” there is little doubt that those 48 hours hold a very special place in our collective hearts.  They represent a respite from work and school, a chance to engage in the things we want to do with the people we love most, or even just an opportunity to sleep in.  And for Lulu and Milo, they mean absolute mayhem.

In Absolute Mayhem, we meet Lulu and Milo, two siblings who work hard all week to follow the rules, complete their schoolwork and eat their vegetables all in an effort to arrive at Friday where the rules go out the window and absolute mayhem ensues.  If you can imagine what your home would look like if weekends were a free-for-all, that gives you some idea of what you will find in the pages of this book.  What starts as innocent, imaginative fun quickly gets out of control and much like many a family feels at the end of summer vacation, everyone seems a little ready for routine again come Monday.  The illustrations range from black and white during the weekdays to increasingly colorful as the mayhem starts to spin out of control and are a great complement to the story.  My kids spent quite a while going back through the book after our initial reading to “explore the drawings” in more detail.  They were delighted when they did because they discovered new things as well as a hidden friend on all of the pages we missed the first time around.  

I’m particularly excited to share this book because it is self-published by a  first-time local author Kelly Suellentrop.  She shared more about the process behind the writing of this book in the Idea Chasers series.  One of the things she shared was that the idea for Absolute Mayhem came from her own children, and that to this day, when the whole family is home on Friday, someone yells out “absolute mayhem” and the fun begins.  Not long after reading this book I heard an interview with Jamie Oliver on NPR about his new cookbook, Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook, in which he confesses to eating primarily comfort foods on the weekends after a week of clean eating and I immediately thought of Absolute Mayhem and wondered if both he and Kelly weren’t onto something that I am absolutely missing.  Now I’m counting the minutes to this weekend and dreaming up my own version of absolute mayhem.

Lessons Learned at City Museum

If you haven’t been to City Museum in St. Louis, make it a priority to get there very soon.  It is truly a marvel.  The nuts and bolts:  opened in 1997, situated in the former International Shoe Company warehouse, designed by artist Bob Cassilly and curated alongside his team of twenty artists, comprised of found building materials all from within the city boundary lines including two abandoned airplanes.  The heart and soul: a playground of wonder, ten story slides, underground caves and tunnels, outdoor climbing structures that look like the edging of your spiral notebook, mosaics and paintings and art in every nook and cranny, circus performers, a beatnik café, imagination run wild.

I spent this past Saturday morning at City Museum with my husband, our boys, and some friends and family visiting from out of town.  It’s always a blast to play hometown tourist in St. Louis, but I was particularly excited about this outing because my boys had never been to City Museum before.  We spent hours exploring the place, only leaving when hunger got the best of us (okay, in my case, hunger and exhaustion and sore knees and large crowds).  But I know we’ll return because there is always more to see and discover, and I wanted to share a few of the life lessons that City Museum taught (or in some cases re-taught) me today:
1. Don’t look down.
Seriously, just don’t.  Some of the tunnels in this place are very tall, and offer a lovely view to the ground below.  I’m not a fan of open heights.  Enclosed heights, sure.  Put me in an airplane or the top of the Arch or even a very tall roller-coaster that completely straps your body to a car and I’m fine, but the minute I feel out in the open, it’s a completely different story.  I’m vulnerable and  become aware of the fact that I could just fall at any moment.  Climbing through these wired tubes I learned to keep my eyes straight ahead, cast in a slightly upward direction.  Sure, that does not change the precariousness of the situation at all but it shifts my focus to the finish line and to all the successful steps it will take me to get there and takes my mind off the many ways I could stumble and fall.  This is a lesson I need to apply in many areas of my life.  I’ll never be able to ignore the (many) ways to fall, it’s simply not the way I’m wired.  And that’s okay.  It’s more than okay really, because recognizing and developing a plan to overcome obstacles is a necessary step towards achieving any goal.  The problem, for me at least, is dwelling on the potential pitfalls even after they’ve been assessed and planned for.  The ability to think strategically is useless if it leaves us in a state of inaction. I am learning that I can choose to focus on the ways to keep climbing which are just as visible as the possible falls if I keep my focus forward.  
Not thrilled about this clear plexiglass tunnel.
He makes it look so easy.

2. Sometimes it is okay to look back and even turn around.

There are places in City Museum that really merit some kind of height/weight/claustrophobia warning sign.   One minute, you are walking through a cave, occasionally ducking your head and the next, you find yourself on your belly, pulling your body through a tunnel with your not so impressive arm strength, wondering why you don’t work out more often.  You have to remind yourself to breathe and that you’ve never heard a single news story of someone actually getting lost in the fathoms of the underground caves.  Sometimes, it is too late to turn around.  The path is too narrow or the way is crowded with people, and you have to just keep on keeping on.  However, sometimes, it is possible and advisable to turn around and go back to where you started and choose another path.  Sometimes, we get so stubborn about the path we are on that turning around feels like defeat.  Even if the path is clearly no longer for us (even literally, as in, my 36 year old body could not fit through the path) we feel like we have to finish because, well, we started.  But sometimes, we find out that if we just turn around, go back and begin again, we find an even more amazing path than we ever expected.  
See those little black holes?  You are supposed to go in those.  For fun.
Look what I found when I reversed course?  I think that’s legitimate treasure.

3. Boldly try new things because failure is always an option. 

I recently read a quote that said, “The beautiful thing about writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, brain surgery.”  (Robert Cormier)  Our culture constantly tells us that failure is not an option, but actually, it is almost always an option.  In fact, it’s kind of a wonderful option because it means you don’t have to shut out any possibility just because you might fail.  Kind of like how I did not shut out the possibility of becoming a parkour/circus arts professional at City Museum.  There is a magical room in City Museum and in it, you can swing on ropes like Tarzan or run up what looks like a giant skateboard ramp.  After you successfully run up this ramp you can grab the top of it and hoist yourself onto the ledge and look like a total rock star.  I know this because I saw my husband do it.  Not wanting to miss out, I also ran up this giant ramp but I looked more like a hamster in one of those clear wheels who keeps running and running and never getting to the top.  It was a total fail.  BUT, the point is, at least I know that I don’t have a future on the parkour Olympic team if that ever becomes a thing.  I also failed to make it across the kiddy half-pipe on the rope.  Okay, I failed to even get my feet on the rope.  But I tried.  BOLDLY.

4.  Facing your fears is not the same as conquering your fears.  But that’s okay because either way you get a marshmallow.

The last time I was at City Museum was in the summer of 2010.  I was with my husband a few of my cast-mates from a production of Guys & Dolls I was performing in that summer and so excited to be:
1. Meeting new people
2. Who loved musical theater
3. On a date with no kids
4. At a new place
5. Up past 9 p.m. I had already summoned up enough courage to audition for a show for the first time in a decade, so I was feeling a little extra brave.  One of the guys in the cast shared my aforementioned fear of heights and, totally sober, we decided we were going to conquer our fear.  Together.  We headed outside to the super terrifying fun web of tunnels where you can plummet to your death tower over the parking lot.  We started climbing and right away I realized it had been a terrible mistake to wear flip flops.  I tucked them into the back pocket of my jeans and kept going, barefoot.  We climbed higher and higher and one of us started sweating profusely and one of us was shaking so badly the entire tunnel cage structure was rattling (and yes, both of those were me).  Finally we made it to an exit and all I remember was a slide and sweet relief as my bare feet hit solid ground.  We did it.  
Can you see that tunnel?  No?  Oh, that’s because it is so high up in the sky that it is almost invisible to the naked eye.  That’s the one I thought I would not make it out of alive.

Flash forward to this weekend.  It was raining and the outside tunnels of death climbing structures were closed. Oh, too bad.  But, a couple of hours later, the clouds parted and yay!  The tunnels were open!  Did I want to go up to the top?  “Mom, come on!  Let’s do it!  You’ve done it before!”
And that is when I learned that facing a fear is NOT the same as conquering a fear.  Because no thank you very much.  I was not going back in those tunnels, even in my appropriate footwear.  I was staying on the ground where it is solid and not high up in the sky and also solid.  And to make matters worse, I was rewarded for my cowardice by a lovely City Museum employee manning a bonfire and handing out marshmallows to sit and roast.  Solid ground for the win.
5. If you homeschool your kids, they might end up juggling knives.
If you get tired of the terrifying heights and claustrophobic tunnels at City Museum (man, I’m really selling this place….they should consider hiring me for their PR team), you can take a breather and watch the performers from Circus Harmony.  We caught The Awesome Brothers in action and it was incredible.  There was tumbling and ring tossing and juggling and sandwich assembly.  Crowds were dazzled, popcorn was consumed, and at the end of the act, my seven-year old found his new life’s ambition.  When one of the performers announced that he and his brother were homeschooled, my also homeschooled child decided that he too wanted to juggle knives for a living, preferably on his older brother’s shoulders.  Older brother politely declined the offer and went back to mentally creating an app for that, but the younger one talked to the performers on the way out, grabbed a Circus Harmony brochure, and started practicing a variety of “acts” as soon as we got home.  And I might have also checked out the classes online, because, if I’m crazy enough to homeschool my kids, I’m also crazy enough to enroll them in circus classes.
The Awesome Brothers, aka, a glimpse into my future.

6.  Life is better with a soundtrack.
Have you ever watched  a really emotional scene from a movie without the music, maybe in a director’s cut or behind the scenes footage?   Doesn’t it feel so strange?  Music is straight up magic and it has a way of finding the heart-swelling emotion in you and magnifying it.  As we watched the Awesome Brothers warm up for their show, we were already a little captivated.  They were, in fact, awesome.  But, when they came on stage to perform and added music to the act, it became larger than life.  I thought about how true this is in everyday life.  You can make dinner, or you can make dinner to Ella Fitzgerald.  You can drive to work, or you can “Keep the Car Running.”   So, as I was trailing behind my ten year old in the sort of spooky caves, hesitant to enter the tiny mouse holes he referred to as tunnels, I pulled out my phone and opened Spotify and discovered you can climb through caves with your kid, but it is lot more exciting to offer “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”  When in doubt, add a soundtrack.
7.  Some people can hula hoop and some people cannot.
There’s really nothing more to add to that one.  Some things just are what they are.