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May 14

The Value of Giving Your Stuff Away

giving stuff away

Give your stuff away

After sorting through our physical possessions and identifying the clutter, there is now the challenge of what to do with it. There are many ways to get rid of physical clutter from simply throwing it away to recycling it to selling it. I have done all of these things and they all have their advantages, but giving the stuff away is often the most satisfying path.

 

As I travel further along on my journey towards freedom and happiness, I’ve noticed I am gravitating towards simplicity. I no longer really need or want much of the stuff around me. It doesn’t bring me joy. Letting go has actually made me feel richer. The less I have, the more I feel like I have. The more I let go, the more I find myself in control of my life.  It’s a bit strange and counterintuitive.

 

I still have a lot of material things; I’ve spent my whole life accumulating. But because of my new mindset, every time I turn around there is a new box or bag of things to be eliminated from my life. I’ve mentally let go, but physically the items are still here. It takes a surprising amount of work to get material things out of your life.

 

I used to sell my stuff. I’ve made a few dollars having garage sales and selling high value items on Craigslist, but after a while I realized it wasn’t worth it. Making $30 on Craigslist is not really worth a joyless half hour of my life. I would be much better served by just giving the stuff away and working a few more hours. Occasionally I will sell a high value item to a friend (for a below market price) but this is rare.

 

What follows are some of my random thoughts on charity and giving.

 

Values

One reason we are not happy is often we do not align our actions with our values. Two things that I value are efficiency and environmental responsibility. How does this relate to material items? It turns out in every way imaginable. I could just throw all of my things into a giant dumpster and the superfluous stuff would be gone tomorrow, but this would be both wasteful and not great for the environment. It would not align with my values.

 

If instead I give stuff away, I prevent some other unnecessary item from being produced, saving the resources and energy for something more useful. Since the item no longer brings me joy, I can only hope that by giving it away someone else will experience it. In this way I am aligning my actions with my values.

 

 

Giving is subversive

Many people feel that going on marches or protesting something or angrily sharing things on social media is the best way to change the world. Maybe these do change things to some degree, but our real power lies in how we allocate our limited resources.

 

I’m happy we have a government. I certainly am not an anarchist or hard core Libertarian* but I do pay more federal and state taxes than I would like to. I’m not angry about this, but it’s not something I completely ignore. Donating items to charity is one small way I can take action.  When I donate an item to a charity I avoid paying some small amount of income tax in the form of a tax deduction. The giving and sharing economy takes money out of the hands of government and places it in our pocket. Giving is power. Giving is subversive.

 

Feedback

Nature works by feedback loops. When I put my hand in a fire there is immediate feedback. I tend to stop doing it. Giving away thousands of dollars’ worth (the original purchase price) of stuff should feel painful. It should remind us of how wasteful we are. In a properly designed feedback loop it will act as a deterrent to bringing more crap into our lives. Perhaps it will give us a window into the opportunity cost of our consumerism.

 

High value

The last time I dropped off a box of things to a local charity I was curious, what were the high value items? What should I be looking to get rid of that will be really valuable to the most vulnerable among us? After all, that is the purpose of giving, to provide value, not just a mechanism to purge things.

 

After talking to a woman who has worked at this local charity for a while, some of the answers surprised me a little. It turns out quality men’s clothes are constantly in demand; jeans, socks, footwear, etc. In general, men don’t buy as many clothes as women, and they tend to wear stuff longer. It is a bit more fashion resistant. Kids outgrow clothes so rapidly; much of it ends up donated in good condition. As a result there is an abundance of women’s and kids clothes, but a shortage of men’s clothes.

 

This made sense to me. And this stuff really makes a difference. A good pair of jeans, some decent socks and a warm jacket can change the life a guy who is homeless.

 

Other items didn’t surprise me as much: towels, bedding, simple kitchen items, and toiletries.

 

Challenge

I issue a challenge to all the guys reading this article. When you have finished reading go to your closet and fill a box or bag with items to donate. We all have things that no longer fit or we just don’t wear. This stuff is meaningless to you, but will make a big change in someone else’s life.

Find a local charity in your community, preferably one that distributes directly to people in need. I know there are national charity organizations that are easy and convenient, but my choice is to start with the micro-charities first. If you can’t find one then go with one of the big boys.

 

This will take a little work, but it is our responsibility to find a good home for our stuff.

 

Seriously, go do this, then leave a comment below confirming you have. I know how many people read my articles, so I should see hundreds if not a couple thousand comments. I know I specifically called out the guys, but if you are a woman feel free to join in the fun as well 🙂

 


*Actually politically I am nothing, and you should consider doing the same. Politics is tribalism. Political labels will confine your thinking. Shed them immediately.

15 comments

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  1. Physician on FIRE

    I started filling boxes a couple years ago. We’ve got a corner in our master bedroom reserved for the full-time donation box(es). It’s great to unload the stuff and the tax deduction in my peak earning years is nice, too!

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Yes, definitely better to give more in the high income years.

  2. Ten Factorial Rocks

    We routinely give out about 2 boxes worth of stuff every other month because our family outgrows them and the utility value of that stuff is higher with some other people than with us. This includes clothes, toys, and other stuff. It is cathartic and liberating. It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate in our human lives, none of which give lasting happiness. I have a post on happiness coming in a few weeks that you might particularly like.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      excellent. Posts about happiness make me happy 🙂

  3. MrsWow

    We have a box that lives in our living room (front and center so we see it all the time). Whenever we bring something new into the house, we put something we don’t need in the box. Or whenever we come across something that we don’t use anymore, in the box it goes. Then when the box is full, we take it to donate right away. It helps keep our material items under control. I mean, who doesn’t like a large cardboard box decorative item in the middle of their home!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Making decorative donation boxes seems like a business opportunity 😉

  4. RocDoc

    I just filled three boxes of my stuff to take to my Church sale coming up in June. Husband contributed a bunch of his old polo shirts. This post was a motivation to get started early and not wait until the night before the Church sale like I usually do. Hopefully my husband and I can fill a few more boxes before June. We have been talking about getting rid of stuff. Retirement is looming close and we want to downsize and travel.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Excellent 🙂

  5. FullTimeFinance

    Once a quarter we tend to take a car load to charity. It’s weighted heavily to kids clothes as I wear clothes until they develop holes. We also donate a lot of toys. The write off on taxes is also always nice. Honestly even beyond the helping others aspect, is it really worth the Hassel to try to sell old clothes and toys? It’s a double benefit as it’s easier.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      After my last garage sale I was exhausted and a whole weekend wasted. I looked down at the few hundred dollars, did the tax math and vowed never again.

  6. aaahhrealmarcus

    I usually try to sell stuff on eBay or CL, just to get back some of what I put into it (and often get back a decent amount!) but I’ve started doing what I call “Free Stuff Friday.” That’s when I post pictures on Facebook of things I want to get rid of, and give them to whoever calls first dibs. I love getting to see friends enjoying my old things!

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      I love that idea. Great way to see people in real life that you otherwise may only interact with online.

  7. Melissa

    We keep a basket in the basement for Goodwill, and when it’s filled, we take it in.

    It never occurred to me that my husband’s clothing would be more sought-after than other items…but of course it is. He’s tall. And when he looks for clothes @ Goodwill, it’s nearly impossible for him to find anything that fits. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone looking to outfit a gangly, growing teenage boy.

    Something for us to keep in mind.

  8. Erik

    Box Made. More to follow.

    Your inspiration matters.

    After seeing the “challenge” at the bottom of the article and lack confirmation comments it seemed necessary.

    1. TheHappyPhilosopher

      Awesome!

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