Cleaning out your closet. It’s a monthly, seasonally, annual, or maybe even only when you have to move, necessity. Sifting through old books, toys that haven’t been used in years, clothes that don’t fit, Halloween decorations that were once on sale and now just ugly. Our houses overflow with “stuff,” flowing out of drawers, seeping out of closets, peeking out of beds. And so every once and a while, we load up a few boxes and trash bags and drive it over to Goodwill.
And then we pat ourselves on the back. How generous. How kind of us. How thoughtful. Some poor unfortunate soul now has a new 20 year old London Fog jacket with a broken sipper. Lucky sap.
Let’s go buy something to celebrate.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t donate your used items. By all means, please do. Get rid of stuff you’ve practically forgotten about and give it someone who could actually put it to some good use. But let’s not fool ourselves into calling this charity. Charity comes from within, it is giving of who we are, of ourselves and our resources, of our time and our money and our abilities. It is giving of ourselves, not of our excess and our refuse.
C.S. Lewis puts it well:
I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures exclude them. – Mere Christianity
Giving away what we have and don’t need, don’t use, don’t want is the minimum.
The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Luke 3:11
If you have two coats, one belongs to the poor. – Dorothy Day
Getting rid of what we don’t use isn’t donating to charity. Its giving our things back to those who they belonged to in the first place.
Having worked on the receiving end of donations for a couple years, I can promise you – half the time it’s nothing to pat yourself on the back about. Unwashed hunting clothes? Great. A dog sweater for a homeless shelter? Fantastic. A large bean bag toy with the pellets spilling out? Why wouldn’t we want that?
When we are giving our things back, let’s be intentional in thinking about where to send them. Maybe your child’s old dance recital costumes would do better in a preschool’s dress up box instead of Goodwill. That hideous (but warm) jacket that no one would buy from a thrift store might be appreciated at a homeless shelter. And that stuff that you are pretty sure no one wants? Try posting it for free on Freecycle or Craigslist. You’ll be amazed at the stuff people want that would have otherwise gone in the trash.
I’m writing this to remind myself of it. Our resources are limited and so charity comes second to getting by ourselves. And so I need to remember that doing things like cleaning out my closet is not charity. It’s the minimum. And sometimes doing the minimum is what we need to do to get by and get through. But I need to remember that God is asking us to give ourselves and of who we are. And not just of the junk in our closets.