Spring cleaning in late December

Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near,” Richard Beck writes, noting that we bring all kinds of baggage to that word “repent.”

Beck wants us to liberate ourselves of that baggage — along with our other baggage, literal and figurative:

When people ask “What must I do to be saved?” Christians don’t, as a rule, say things like “If you have two shirts give one to the poor.” We don’t see that action — giving away excess possessions — as an example of responding to the gospel. But it is. It’s readjusting your life to the new rule of God.

A second and related reason for the eclipse of repentance is that repentance has become a morbid concept. Christians are ashamed of repentance because it doesn’t sell well with the public. And this is understandable. If you’ve grown up with toxic, guilt-driven fundamentalism the word repentance conjures up notions of shame, self-loathing, and a wrathful, judgmental God. When we hear “Repent!” many of us hear “You’re going to hell ya damned sinner!”

But this is where I think the ideas of preparation and allegiance come in handy. Repentance is preparing for the reign of God. It’s not about getting down on yourself. It’s about clearing out the rubbish and clutter of our lives. Sort of like spring cleaning. (Literally, at times, a spring cleaning. To the point of going through your stuff and giving it away.) More, repentance is about loyalty and allegiance. It’s about hearing the declaration of the gospel and switching sides. It has less to do with guilt than about joining up with a new team.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is often a time for literal spring cleaning — or, I guess, not-quite-literal spring cleaning, since it’s not literally spring. But many of us just got some new clothes for Christmas and it’s a good time to clear out the closet.

Sarah from “heard, half-heard” offers a helpful “brief and grumpy guide to donating clothes,” focusing particularly on donating to shelters — where sweaters, coats and other winter clothes are needed this time of year.

She describes an annual clothing drive at her alma mater, which was also where I went to college (during an earlier Bush administration). In my day there we had an annual post-Christmas-break “Tunic Drive.” That name came from the same passage that Beck cites above, in which John the Baptist told the crowds who came to him: “Whoever has two tunics must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

Signs promoting the Tunic Drive reflected organizers’ ambivalence about this kind of trickle-down charity. “Old Clothes Are For Poor People” one sign said. “Clear Some Closet-Space Before You Hit the Mall” said another. But for all that — all the ambiguity of “SWEDOW” and “Haiti Doesn’t Need Your Old T-Shirt” — it’s still true that:

A. Many of us have good, useful stuff that we do not need or use;

B. Other people do need such stuff, and could and would use it; and

C. There are plenty of responsible agencies, such as GoodWill, who can capably facilitate the transfer of stuff from those who don’t need it to those who do, while also creating jobs and job-training for people who need those things as well.

So if category A above describes you at all, then track down your local version of category C and bring them a load of the sorts of things that you might want or need if you found yourself in category B (meaning in part, as Sarah says, “not torn, not stained, not so shapeless that you can’t tell what it is”).

If you do find yourself doing some post-holiday closet-clearing, here are a few more random bits of advice I’ve received over the years. Please feel free to add to or correct this short list in comments below:

1. Don’t buy new hangers until the old ones break. Try to establish some kind of equilibrium of enough. Make room for that nice new shirt your aunt gave you by saying goodbye to that shirt in the back that you never wear, but that you’ve been keeping because you could almost imagine a scenario, hypothetically, in which one day, given the right circumstances, you might actually wear it.

2. Approach your closet as a prosecutor, not an advocate for the defense. The burden of proof lies with the stuff itself, which must defend its continued presence in the closet by demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that it is useful, beautiful or meaningful.

When in doubt, try the next-day rule. Set it aside and say, out loud, “I’m going to wear this tomorrow.” If hearing yourself say this doesn’t produce an immediate sense of enthusiasm over the prospect, then get rid of it.

3. Somewhere in your closet there may be one or more items of clothing that you’ve been holding on to because they would be just perfect should the occasion arise. That Hawaiian shirt would be just the thing if you’re ever invited to another luau-themed party like that one back in ’06. And if there’s ever another ’80s costume party, then you’ve got an amazing outfit all set in the back of your closet.

Stop waiting and get rid of that stuff. The imagined occasions for which you’re keeping these clothes will never arrive. Well, actually, due to a corollary of the Law of Umbrellas, those occasions will never arrive until you finally give away those outfits.

So pack them up neatly and give them to the Costume Person at your local community theater. The odds are that she or he will have a need for just exactly those outfits long before you will. And if, months or years from now, you do get invited to that luau or ’80s costume party, then you can always borrow them back for the occasion. The Costume Person is usually pretty cool about that. (And if you’re not already acquainted with your local community theater then it’s time to correct that, too.)

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve been on vacation this past week, so my ability to read and comment and post online has been somewhat hampered.  But speaking of repentance, and the other part of that action — forgiveness, I just finished a good book by Abp. Desmond Tutu called No Future without Forgiveness.  It was a good story about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of South Africa as they worked to come out from the horrors of apartheid.  Well worth the read.

  • twig

    I’ve tried to institute a ‘Reverse Thunderdome’ policy with my frankly ridiculous ‘to read’ list (having the Harvard Book Store’s remainder list between me and the bus home every day does not foster responsible spending)

    One book enters, two books leave.

    I did pretty well with this until they restocked their bargain book bin with Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’ AND the complete works of Salinger AND two Palahniuk novels I hadn’t read yet.  Bastards.

    Good luck with your resolutions, all.

  • Anonymous

    For me, it’s not the closet but the books, music, movies and games that have slowly accumulated. The same principles generally apply: if I don’t pick it up on a regular basis, into the donate box it goes.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    This year, I’m trying the “Lifehackers” strategy to organizing my closet for year-end clearing. All my clothes hangers (with clothes on them) are being turned backwards on January 1st. As I wear things, I’ll have to take the hanger off the rod, and once I’ve hung it back up, just out of habit the hanger will be facing ‘forwards’ as it were. So by this time next year, it will be very easy to see what clothing I haven’t worn in a year.

  • cjmr

    Does anyone have any suggestions for what to do with clothing that *is* torn, stained, too faded to be of interest to anyone, out of style but not iconic (so, not useful for costuming), or otherwise not really donation worthy?  I hate throwing things away just to stuff a landfill, and our town’s pay-per-bag trash collection system can make it expensive to do so as well.


    How exactly is the “I’m going to wear this tomorrow” clothing-triage system supposed to work when you have to store all four seasons of clothes in your closet at all times?

  • Anonymous

    How exactly is the “I’m going to wear this tomorrow” clothing-triage system supposed to work when you have to store all four seasons of clothes in your closet at all times?

    Do it four times a year with the clothing appropriate for the season.  Because it is difficult to get excited about even your favorite pair of shorts and tank top when the snow is falling and you’re bundled up in sweaters.

  • mud man

    difficult to get excited about even your favorite pair of shorts and tank top when the snow is falling and you’re bundled up in sweaters

    O, contrare! … that’s when

  • Polymerchain

    At least in Australia a lot of the charity bins / donation-acceptors will accept stained and torn clothing and sell them on to companies that use or produce rags. So if it can’t be fixed we still donate things, on the premise that it keeps a sorter employed, and try to donate some cash directly to the charity to assauge my guilt at donating less-than-useable items.

  • mud man

    Take it to recycling. In quantity it might even be worth a little money for somebody. While you are at Goodwill ask them if you can add your rags to the bale they undoubtedly have in progress.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I feel as if there’s something that someone could do with the fabric that the clothes are made of, but I’m drawing a blank.

  • http://opaqueplanet.dreamwidth.org/ Cassandra

    Try to find a quilting bee in your area.  They might appreciate the larger pieces for teaching beginners.  Do not give them anything that’s threadbare, but tears and stains can be worked around.

    Or, if you sew yourself…

  • http://www.quirkyknitgirl.com/ Ivy

    Depends on what you have and how crafty you are. The simplest thing is rags — dust rags, cloths for cleaning. Bonus there: if you’re using cloth rags to clean, you aren’t using paper towels, so better for the environment.

    If you’re crafty, you can also poke around online; old clothes can be repurposed into altered items, bags, quilts, etc. Which reminds me that I have a collection of old pajamas I mean to turn into a baby quilt…not that I have a baby but I’m fairly sure at some point somebody I know will.

  • Anonymous

    I’m actually all in favor of this approach; I scotched* a bunch of shirts at my fall transition from cool to warm clothes. Now I’m at +3 on shirts, and I know just which ones will go. Sorry, Italian microfiber: you were very fashionable 10 years ago, but your time has come.

    That said, can I complain a bit about the SWEDOW guy? How cheap does he think bikes are? Our daughter didn’t have a tricycle until she was really too old because we couldn’t afford one, until we got one from off the curb. Same deal with her first and second bicycles, which came from the local donated bike place (where kids’ bikes are generally free, or a nominal $10).

    I realize that Biketown Africa isn’t exactly what s/he’s railing about, but the line “Is there a country in the world that is running out of bicycles?” suggests that, more than anything, third worlders are suffering from an overflow of bikes, which I don’t actually think is the case.* good grief, is that an ethnic slur, like gypped? I can’t even see how, but now that I know about brouhaha…

  • FangsFirst

    noting that we bring all kinds of baggage to that word “repent.”

    Is it terrible that the baggage I bring is automatically responding, “…Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”?

  • friendly reader

    The end of one year and the beginning of the next is often a time for
    literal spring cleaning — or, I guess, not-quite-literal spring
    cleaning, since it’s not literally spring.

    End-of-the-year cleaning in Japan is called oosouji, or “big/great cleaning.” You do it at New Year’s and it’s supposed to be a spiritual thing as well physical. As you get rid of dirt and stains and old goods, you’re also supposedly getting rid of everything bad that happened that year and preparing to start over. Until reading your blog here, I guess it hadn’t hit me how awesome a metaphor that could be for repentance.

    I’m doing oosouji on my apartment right now, though since I’ve only been here 5 months, most of what I’ve accumulated is papers. I did my REALLY big cleanings when I left America, going through papers, books, and clothes, and then when moved in and inherited a lot of stuff I did not need from the previous inhabitant.

    So, there’s a question: what is “cleaning out the garbage someone else left” a metaphor for?

  • Lori

    So, there’s a question: what is “cleaning out the garbage someone else left” a metaphor for? 

    Getting over/past your family of origin and/or a bad break-up?

  • KarenJo12

    We cleaned out my late MIL’s house last summer to prepare it for sale.  (If anyone needs a large house in Austin, Texas in an excellent school district, please contact me.)  She saved every scrap of fabric she ever touched in her life, neatly wrapped and stored in nice plastic boxes.  I didn’t want to through this stuff away, mainly because we’d have to pay for it.  I found a group of quilters from my church who were happy to take most of it, even the damaged and stained things, because some parts of the fabric could be cut into pieces for a quilt.  Also, I learned that most charities have a rag bag for the useless stuff. 

  • http://opaqueplanet.dreamwidth.org/ Cassandra

    I have to take issue with that one site’s outright dismissal of shoe donations.  I live in a city that gets to -40 in the winter, and the food bank and other charities will often ask for donations of shoes and boots specifically (as well as other winter wear) during the winter months.  I have seen shoes that could barely be called such on the feet of homeless people, and in Saskatchewan winters that is how you lose toes. 

    I think it all depends on what is really needed where you’re donating.  No, Haiti doesn’t need your fleece jacket, but someone closer to home probably does.

  • http://www.quirkyknitgirl.com/ Stephanie Ivy

    I admit to being kind of a clothes horse. (And someone who has things like 80s prom dresses…though in my defense I regularly go to costume events so those things actually do get semi-regular use.) But one thing that can be helpful if you’re going through a closet is to think about defining your style — there are some great blogs out there that talk about this (my absolute favorite is Already Pretty, which is very body positive and all about being you not being trendy) and it can be really helpful if you’re struggling with where to start.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    PSA: If you donate any items please do the courtesy of laundering them first.

    Also, if you donate shoes, please spray them with an antifungal agent of some kind or at least put in an odor-absorbing sole. Getting used shoes is great, but what’s not so great is when you realize the last person to have them didn’t think to use enough Gold Bond.

  • Anonymous

    Mind if I get away from the spring-cleaning theme for a moment?  I’ve got a few thoughts about repentance.

    To me, repentance is about getting solid ground under one’s feet again – standing on rock rather than sand, as the parable goes.  If you are standing on that which is not true, then you are standing on sand rather than rock.  And if you do not repent of the falseness within you (and Lord knows we all have plenty of it), then you are standing on that which is not true.

    It is often difficult to repent, because we’re all too often attached to things that are wrong, are false.  But if we don’t do so, we are left standing on sand, and when we need to quickly turn and move, our feet go out from under us, because we don’t have good footing.

    Repentance is an internal house-cleaning: we’re discarding all the falsehoods, all the things that stand between us and the bedrock of our souls.  Once we’ve discarded them (and *definitely* don’t give these discards to charity!), we can stand firmly once again.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I realize that Biketown Africa
    isn’t exactly what s/he’s railing about, but the line “Is there a
    country in the world that is running out of bicycles?” suggests that,
    more than anything, third worlders are suffering from an overflow of
    bikes, which I don’t actually think is the case.

    Yeah, that was one that surprised me as well, because I know people in D.C. who could use new bikes or at least gently used ones that actually fit them.  I see them riding around on things that are either unsafe (rusted out) or could cause injury (completely the wrong size). Bikes, in cities in both the U.S. and elsewhere, are often the most affordable form of transportation possible.  Unfortunately, they can have a rather substantial up-front cost that is totally unrealistic (unlike clothing for the most part), especially for a young adult.  I know our local group, Bikes for the World, often provides bikes to kids who live far enough from school in developing countries that they wouldn’t be able to attend without a bike.  In addition, they provide bikes to kids in our community who do a certain amount of community service.  A lot of those local kids wouldn’t get bikes without the program.

    I agree with the idea that we need to ask people what they need and then provide it, but in many circumstances, the answer may be “a bike!”

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Likewise I don’t get the dismissal of celebrities donating fashionable shoes – it’s an unfortunate fact that business attire for women includes dressy shoes. I doubt the celebs are donating red carpet fashion monstrosities, but their everyday shoes could be just what the charities that provide interview outfits need.

  • renniejoy

    In my area, there are donation boxes for two different companies that take unwearable clothing and shoes and do “something” with them. USAgain and ReText (?). They are both for-profit companies, but they keep stuff out of the landfill.