The generous materialist's confession: I give stuff away so I can get more stuff

Take a treasure, leave a treasure
My son, investigating the Take A Treasure Leave A Treasure basket outside our neighbor's house

First confession: I am a materialist. I like stuff. I like acquiring it, I like having it, and I like organizing it. I hope this doesn't shock anyone: yes, I was raised by hippies. Yes, I'm all for intentional consumption and supporting indie businesses. I try to be intentional about it, but FUCK YEAH I love my stuff.

Second confession: I am a preener. I need to interact with my possessions — I need to use my things, touch my things, smell my things, and wear my things, to fully appreciate the things. This love of interacting with my stuff combined with sharing a one-bedroom home with my family of three means that I am a hoarding materialist. I need my possessions close at hand — if it's stored, I can't touch it and I might as well not have it. My friends with overstuffed, intimidating storage units packed tight with crap will tell you this quirk is a blessing. As much as I love something, if I'm not actively engaging with it, then it's time to get rid of it. And if I want to get something new to preen over, then I need to get rid of something old. One in, one out.

Third confession: I am lazy. I could list stuff on Craigslist or eBay, but the time spent to photograph, post, and deal with emails, and then shipping/coordinating pick-up doesn't feel worth it for, say, an old but lovely set of dog food/water dishes.

All these confessions combine to create this truth: I am obsessively generous, because it means I can acquire more stuff.

I shed my stuff constantly, off-loading bags of Etsy-purchased indie duds at clothing exchanges at least once a season. I leave a little FREE pile out on the corner by our house whenever there's a non-rainy weekend day. Lights, old kitchen supplies, flatware I've replaced, books I've read — it all goes out on the corner with a FREE sign, and is always gone within a couple hours.

I can't get Tavi's hand-me-downs out of the house fast enough, and have been known to offer friends toys and clothing that Andreas swears Tavi is still actively using. A neighbor has a "Take A Treasure, Leave A Treasure" basket on their front steps, and I'm a fan of dumping Tavi's toys there if he hasn't touched them in, oh, say, five days.

I cannot shed things fast enough. Do you like this hoody? IT'S YOURS. Do you need a cute lampshade? YOU CANNOT LEAVE UNLESS YOU TAKE THIS WITH YOU. Do you need some paperbacks? Walk past my stoop on a Saturday and get your browse on. The last time we moved, we had a barbecue where each guest was required to take at least one arm-load of our stuff away with them to keep. Take it! Take it all!

I like to see this desperate generosity as the silver lining of my somewhat unattractive materialistic streak. Yes, my love of stuff is probably not my best quality. Being an offbeat consumer is still being a consumer, which can quickly slide into poorly budgeted stupidness.

But it can also result in rampant generosity, which feels pretty good.

  1. Oh my gosh do I agree with this post 1000%. My girlfriends and I LOVE having clothing swaps – it used to be once a year, then it became once a semester, and now it's once every 3-4 months. Everybody brings clothes they no longer wear, we swap, and whatever is left behind the host takes care of donating. I tried to get a book swap started as well since we all have SO MANY but it was a little harder to coordinate because finding places to donate books in NYC was harder (surprising, I know).

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  2. This was me in college. My mother sent me weekly care packages with things like bouncy balls and wind-up planes. They were great fun, but quickly built up to obnoxious levels of clutter. My solution was to keep them in the toy bucket (which I still have). If you came to my dorm room you couldn't leave until you took something from the bucket. I think it was enjoyed all the way around. It did perplex some people at first. I heard a lot of "Are you sure?"

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    • This is my mother in law! We've tried politely asking her to stop, but she won't stop sending us silly, age innappropriate crap! Luckily I work at a school, so most of it goes in the "prize bin."

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      • My mother in law, too! I love her to death, but she has huge emotional attachments to things from her kids' childhoods, and she assumes we all have the same attachments. Case in point, she once sent us a box full of stuff from when my husband and his brother were in high school…including my brother-in-law's stinky, stained plaster cast from when he broke his arm playing football. EWWWWW!

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  3. It will be generous of me if I give away my things before I move. It will not be a loss of my possessions. It will be a gift to a friend, family member or complete stranger.

    Mantra. Must adopt. And quickly.

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  4. I wish I could give away my stuff as easily! Alas, I develop emotional attachments to things *way* too quickly.

    One thing I will note: you might want to be careful about giving away Tavi's things, particularly once he gets older. My boyfriend had the Endor playset from Star Wars when he was a kid, with the Ewok treehouse and all of the figures. He loved that thing, and it was in excellent condition. However, his mother decided one day that he didn't play with it any more, and threw it out on him.

    I'm pretty sure he hasn't entirely forgiven her for that, and it's twenty years later now. It was his posession, and he feels she didn't have the right to chuck it without consulting him. Not to mention, that toy is worth a pretty penny now.

    TL;DR – Be careful about getting rid of things that don't actually belong to you!

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    • Oh, absolutely: once Tavi is old enough to let me know which things are extra special, I'll be making a point to hold on to some of it. That said, see this comment up-thread for the other side of the story. ;)

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      • Oh, good! You had me worried there for half a second. I think it's awesome that you're teaching him the joys of donating things you don't need any more; I just feel that someone else making that decision for you is kind of a violation of trust to some extent.

        There's definitely such a thing as hanging on to too much crap, too. Any time I feel like I need to de-clutter, I watch a few episodes of Hoarders for inspiration.

        There must be balance in the "stuff" force!

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      • My son is a hoarder in the making, while I am a hoarder in recovery (I ask myself- Do I love it? Do I need it? Do I use it? I once kept 2 bars of soap for 23 years, I need to ask myself these questions)

        – when we have a clean out and my son wants to keep something (which is all the time, everything he owns) rather than override him I say thats cool- just choose something else the same size to get rid of. He doesn't like it but it makes him think about whether it really is a keeper.

        Any toy with a face we have to give to someone he knows- you know, because they are alive and have feelings.

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        • As someone who has worked on multiple shoots for the show, Hoarders, I cannot say "YES!" enough to that series of questions. For some people it's harder than others, and some need professional assistance to get to those answers, but jeebus.

          Ask the questions now, so you don't have strangers crawling through 20 years worth of your plastic plants, treasured 'keepsakes' and cat poop down the line. Good rule!

          (sidenote: working on the sets also made me an extreme adherent to the 'generous consumer' school of thought. I loves my stuff, but HELLS if I'm gonna edge into clutter territory now)

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          • Oh my gosh. Do the houses smell as bad as I imagine?

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    • This is exactly what I was going to say. My grandmother had the same attitude – if she hadn't SEEN my mum use something for a few days it went in the bin. That was decades ago and I don't think she was ever forgiven.

      On the other hand he might grow up to share your feelings or maybe he'll be a total rebel and become a minimalist. :D

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    • hear, hear. My partner's parents gave away his camping gear to the boyscouts when he (the youngest) graduated high school. A month later he went looking for it to go camping. It's been ten years and he's still mad about it. We're having to buy new stuff when he had perfectly serviceable things that would even still be good*, and they won't even buy him camping gear for bdays and giftmas because "we already bought you that stuff once when you were in boyscouts." No acknowledgement that they decided since they had purchased it, even given as gifts, they could give/throw it away, and if they hadn't then he wouldn't need it now.

      * We know they would still be good, because the boy scout troupe is still using them. I'm all for contributing and giving back to your community, but come on!

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  5. Once or twice I year, I go crazy and sift through all of my stuff (clothes, books, etc…but mainly clothes), and do a giant cleanse. I take out everything I haven't worn in the last year, or things I barely wore, and decide if I still need them/would wear them. If the answer's no, into a giant garbage bag they go off to Goodwill!
    Last year I donated 6 coats (along with other things). SIX!

    I have to do another one soon because I've stumbled across many things taking up space that I'm not using or wearing. Make room for new things!

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    • See, I have a huge pile in my closet of things to give to goodwill, but it just ends up taking up more space because I never actually *take it to goodwill*. Oh well.

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      • haha thats me!!! My boyfriend finally got frustrated and has me put the bags in the trunk of the car. He then takes it to goodwill for me after dropping me off at work, I feel a little bad that hes doing that but I never seem to get it done on my own.

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      • The Red Cross will do pick ups in certain areas, learned that one when I had more stuff to donate than would fit in my car.

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  6. I <3 my stuff too, so much so that I act as a match maker for it. I set it up with other folks, check on it, etc. I even do this with stuff I find for free … I take it with other people in mind! Spent the day today sorting and Free Tabling (spot in the building's wash room for unwanted items)

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  7. This is me! i donate what i have little attachment to and things i have serious attachment to but don't actively use i find much easier giving to friends – it's not getting rid of it, it's gifting it! Case in point, i am an obsessive Doc Marten collector, but i gave away 3 pairs of boots to friends i knew would appreciate them. I could never bring myself to just drop them off somewhere, but to friends it's just like sharing!
    I'm trying to SERIOUSLY declutter in the face of a potential overseas move next year and have instigated a one-in-three-out policy. It's tough, but i'm breaking even and honestly i don't even notice i've got that much less stuff!

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  8. This is sort-of how I am. Except with the annoying complication that I can and do attach sentimental value to ANYTHING, so for me to feel willing to get rid of it it's either got to be something I never liked in the first place or it's got to spend a while hidden away so I almost forget I even have it.

    The shoes that were under my bed so long I had to put them in the washing machine to get the dust off? Dropped in a donation box without a second thought. The cracked ceramic rabbit that used to be part of a set I broke as a kid? No way, that's staying.

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  9. So where do you live in NYC? Can I come over and acquire some of your STUFF?
    Wait, just kidding, I have enough stuff of my own. I too, have a STUFF issue! It's really not such a bad one to have, especially if someone is giving away just as much stuff.
    I bet you have made a lot of people happy with all your stuff – including yourself.
    Rock on.

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  10. I am a horrible hoarder. But I generally use my stuff to within an inch of its life too. BecAuse on the side I'm also concerned about the environment, I feel ridiculously guilty chucking stuff out but most of my excess things are too ratty to be given away – I don't know about the USA but here in the uK charity shops have pretty high standards for what they will take. What's the solution?

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    • Depending on the area you live in a lot of stuff can be recycled these days. Check with your local center for what they will and won't take and you might be suprised.

      Other than that wooden furniture can be broken down for fire wood, old clothes can be cut up and used for crafts, some people even collect broken electronics to salvage the useable parts to fix/build other stuff.

      Try your local freecycle group. As long as you're honest about the condition and that the item is no longer useable in it's current condition it shouldn't be a problem and someone might well have a use for it.

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    • I have this problem too. Old clothes can be cut up for rags – of course, now I have more rags than I'm ever going to need ^_^;

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  11. I love donating because money is kind of tight for us but I love giving to charity where possible. I donate things in good condition to places like my local Salvation Army store or my dad's Rotary Club swapmart stall (giving a bunch of stuff to that today) rather than selling them myself so that they can sell them to make money to support their services and causes.

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  12. goodness! i couldn't be more opposite. i'm an artist & very visual (TOTALLY identified with most of the scenes in temple grandin) & the more stuff in my place, the more frazzled i feel. having stuff really stresses me out. i've been meaning to write a post along the same line as this one but kinda different. maybe i'll work on that this week. ^_^

    my mom is certainly more like you. every little item has a deep meaning & story to it.

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  13. This reminds me of a story my friend, Rachel, once told me. I always think of it when I think of my addiction to stuff and how to break emotional bonds with physical objects.
    Once, when Rachel was in high school, she was going through all of her stuff to unload some serious junk for Big Trash Pick-Up Day. She had already taken a few things out, and was back out at the trash heap again. But she just stood there for a moment, for she was gazing into the remaining eye of an enormous, well-loved teddy bear that she had owned since she was a wee one. She was staring at it for a good minute, contemplating whether or not she should truly be throwing away such a long-loved friend, when her neighbor, having spied her from a few houses down, yelled, "LET IT GO!" She smiled and placed the old bear in the trash and walked away.
    Sometimes, no matter how much you once loved a material object, you have to get rid of it. I always think of Rachel's neighbor when I'm doing a yearly purge of our belongings: "LET IT GO!" :-)

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  14. This totally reminded me of the Native American practice of giving away valued possessions during a gathering. I don't know the specific tribes or anything but it really struck a chord with me when I read it as a youngster. The host gave away everything of value and then had to start over!

    I don't think it's a bad thing to like your things – when those "things" become your sense of worth and value, then you have a problem. But giving away things so you can get more things to then turn around and give them away again? Not a bad thing at all! You've got to "practice" generosity to become better at it – and it looks like you've got it down! Just like the tribal leaders of old.

    Very cool post!

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  15. I am constantly going through an evaluation of what i own. i am a minimalist while my roomie is a materialist. yes, she has a much more varied wardrobe than i do, and yes, i will need to get stuff for a big girl job soon, but nearly everything i own i wear, and things i dont get passed on to my family. almost every time i see my family i have a bag of tops, trinkets, etc. that i no longer want/need/use/ fit into. and since im a college student with a limited income, if i do go shopping, its for things that i really need or will actually use (like those skinny jeans i bought for work, or that extra tank i got to wear under cardigans for class)

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