This Man Hates It When You Spring Clean

box of clutter

Can someone cause more harm than good when donating used items to the poor? Guest contributor Brandon Smith offers his own experience of being on the receiving end of spring clean outs. This interesting article may have you rethink the way you give.

Alternate Title: Let’s Give the Poor Our Junk

Scenario One: You look around your child’s room and realize there is just no more space for anything else, which is a problem, because her birthday is coming up next week. You feel a little guilty at the excess. You’ll get your child to pick out some things to give to that little boy over in the next town, the one who lives with his grandmother and wears the same outfit every day.

Scenario Two: You finally finished reading a book about simplifying and decluttering your life. You think about the neighbors who have been out of work for a while and are obviously struggling with meeting basic needs. To help them out, you assemble some old bed sheets, extra kitchen utensils, and the microwave your college son left in the garage. You feel good about supporting them.

These scenarios seem like normal, even positive and worthwhile ideas. Why not give others the things that you don’t need—free stuff up to make a difference to someone else?

Now lets look at it from the other side.  If you are on the receiving end of either of these scenarios, you’re probably disheartened. It isn’t entitlement or jealousy. It is that your worth was defined with scraps. You are worth leftovers. That hurts. Trust me, I know from experience.

On my 12th birthday, I woke up early and sprinted downstairs, too. We got a few small presents in the morning and a box of our favorite junk cereal. We got the really special gifts after dinner. However, this morning, there were two huge boxes waiting for me. When you’re 12, bigger presents are always better!

I tore open the boxes only to find neatly stacked used clothes. They were from church members who had teenage boys who had grown out of them. Sure, this more than doubled my wardrobe, but I remember wondering why I wasn’t shown appreciation with something new. They could have given me these any other time of the year, but they decided this was what my birthday meant to them: spring cleaning.

When you are a child living in poverty, you are told something is better than nothing. I should feel blessed by your generous hand-me-downs, your leftovers. Very often I was, but it came with a price: self-esteem.

There are times when nothing is better than something. When you are vulnerable and others define you as nearly worthless, maybe they should just keep it for themselves. However, not everyone has the means to turn away even a used gift, such as when children need winter coats to stay healthy all winter. Sure, they will gladly accept your old, slightly frayed coat with that one tiny bleach spot on it. Do you think that just for a second they are ignorant of what they’re getting?

Donation recipients can feel appreciation for you without feeling love. If our limit of generosity is being defined by worn jeans and old shoes, there’s a bigger issue at stake. Contributing old stuff is considered a better alternative to hoarding or throwing them away. However, at most, it makes you eco-friendly, not a loving person. There are alternative ideas. Donate good usuable items to a thrift store, where people can choose to purchase items cheaply. This is their choice, and it usually helps out a charity at the same time. For many poor, they can’t even afford this “luxury.”

This may come as a surprise. Altruism doesn’t take form in directly donating clothes that don’t fit our sagging waistlines anymore, or giving away an old mattress before you buy a more comfortable one.

Another idea: Host a yard sale and use the money to buy someone something brand spanking new. Give your stuff away to a friend, and when they ask if they can give you anything for it, say yes—make a donation to the charity of your choice. Toss the stuff that you shouldn’t give away, let it go, and consider giving as a separate endeavor. It is easy.

Maybe you don’t know what to give. Charities are always seeking monetary donations that you can make online. Help fill bellies or clothe the cold without leaving your home. Showing kindness is no more difficult than maintaining a conscious effort.

It’s time to reevaluate our prerogatives on how we give. We are better than just using the poor as our garbage disposal. Ask yourself, “Would I give this to my best friend on their birthday?”

[Editor’s note: Thanks for reading. Below are some links to follow, if you would like to learn more about why Operation Warm chooses to empower our donors to support children with brand new winter coats.]

Our Brand New Winter Coats

Not a Coat Drive: What Makes Operation Warm Coats So Special

Frequently Asked Questions

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