Divesting Myself of Fifty Percent of My Belongings

So Betty, How is that plan to give away fifty percent of your belongings going?

Well, it’s going. I  have given away the equivalent of one kitchen garbage bag per week in items that are not actually garbage. This week so far I have a stack that includes seven issues of Poetry magazine, a children’s melody harp without strings, six or seven clothing items, and a bunch of my daughter’s shoes that no longer fit (including a pair of Real! Wooden! Shoes! from Holland). My husband would say that all of these items are actually garbage, which may be true, but it takes longer for me to see it that way.

I also have a piano in my entry way that is free to whomever comes to pick it up–but I’m not sure it counts, since, (this is embarrassing) I have another.

And the pièce de résistance…a full set of dishes. This one was hard for me, and I wouldn’t have done it if I weren’t giving it to someone whom I knew really wanted it. But the aftermath was very liberating.

I was reading this morning in the Magnificat about how giving alms is a way of restoring likeness to God, because it’s reckless, and “God gives to all and sundry without stint, without calculation.” (Father Simon Tugwell, O.P.)

I also realize I’m not actually giving alms per se, since most of this is stuff I don’t want anymore. But a major overhaul does involve getting rid of some things I do want, even if no one else is clamoring for them. It does feel reckless to move things out of the house regardless of the fact that they might come in handy someday. And it feels reckless to bestow them on unwitting someones who have no idea what they once meant to me, who will receive them as though they’ve never had any sentimental baggage attached to them.

And it feels reckless to lay waste to the dreams and sentiments that informed the original purchase of an item. I’m realizing how often these were dreams I’d thrust on other people. My daughter is never going to wear the clogs that look so Hannah Anderson-esque. The boys will not touch the hand-knit fisherman’s sweater. And the hiking boots…no child wants to lace those, especially since we’re not actually hiking.

One of the more pleasant side effects of getting rid of stuff is the feeling that we are living more in our present state of life, rather than skirting around the objects that represent what we might become in an ideal world. We become more fully ourselves rather than an amalgamation of our material goods.

The project is going well (even if it doesn’t look like much)–will continue.


Related: Buying Stuff For a Life I Don’t Live

“Go On”: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part III
Litany of Days
“Hunger”: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part IV
My New Favorite Folk Album: Interview with Jack Baumgartner, Part I
About Elizabeth Duffy
  • joannemcportland

    This is beautiful. I was especially struck by your insight into the recklessness of “laying waste to the dreams and sentiments that informed the original purchases.” Hoarders like me have a particular problem with this, because we have a distorted investment in those dreams and sentiments; the things become more real and present and in need of our devotion than the people they represent. What a powerful therapeutic suggestion this is, whether for people clearing clutter or hoarders seeking healing: to embrace the recklessness of detachment from objects as a form of radical almsgiving. Thank you! You are giving away grace along with trash bags!

  • Rachel Balducci

    Wow! I am so inspired. What a beautiful articulation of why we need to unload STUFF. I’m ready to ditch. Where do I being…

  • TSO

    Chuckled at “(this is embarrassing) I have another.” Your post reminds me of a line from a novel (“Flight Behavior”) I read a couple days ago:

    Dellarobia thought of the wooden ornaments her
    father made years ago, which must still exist somewhere. What a
    complicated life cycle those must have passed through: attic boxes,
    funeral upheavals, yard sales. Like an insect going through its stages,
    all aimed in the end toward flying away.

  • TSO

    And this: “I was reading this morning in the Magnificat about how giving alms is a way of restoring likeness to God, because it’s reckless…” is fabulous and reminds me much of yesterday’s Word Among Us meditation:

    “St. Catherine of Siena once ascribed these words to God: ‘I ask you to love me with the same love with which I love you. But for me you cannot do this, for I loved you without being loved. Whatever love you have for me you owe me, so you love me not gratuitously but out of duty, while I love you not out of duty but gratuitously. So you cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you. This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me — that is, love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them I will consider it done for me.”

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I’d come get the piano, but I doubt we are geographically close enough for that to be possible.