And Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement said, “We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile.” She was a paragon of nonviolent civil disobedience and voluntary poverty.
But how does voluntary poverty work for most of us in America who are smothered with stuff? If you want to feel freer, have more time to change the world, and get closer to your spiritual self, dump your stuff. This is the time for spring cleaning. Here’s how:
1. Clothes. We all hang on to old clothes because they are either too good to give away or else they are too bad to wear in public, so we hoard them for the next time we get invited to the Embassy Ball or we paint the kitchen, neither of which will happen soon. Out!
There are many outfits we are sentimental about because they remind us of a lost love, a smaller size, or better times. Out!
There are a few truly useless outfits we’re hanging on to just in case the Halloween party this year has a theme. Out!
You can take business clothes to your local branch of Dress for Success for women or Career Gear for men to enable people to rejoin the workforce by having the right clothes.
Or donate them to your favorite thrift shops. My favorite in Chicago is the White Elephant that supports the Children’s Memorial Hospital. My favorite in San Francisco is Out of the Closet, “the world’s most fabulous thrift store,” which has (really) fabulous clothes and offers free HIV/AIDs testing, too, right in the store. In 22 years, nineteen Out of the Closet thrift shops have raised millions for the AIDS Healthcare Research Foundation, with the thrift store chain now averaging sales of approximately $10 million annually, funds which help AHF to care for almost 100,000 patients worldwide.
2. Books. This is really tough, but the rule is every time you bring one in, you take one out. Give them to your public library, a school, or your prison ministry. Almost everything is available on line or through interlibrary loan. Keep the five you would want on a desert island, move on the rest. Keeping your musty old books can tempt you to keep your musty old ideas, too.
3. Stuff. Move out 20% of your stuff every year for the next three years. Ask around for who knows a newcomer, a starving artist, or someone who survived a house fire. They need your surplus stuff, you don’t. Some libraries run lending services for everything from power tools to cake pans. Urge your local library to do the same.
4. Stale ideas. At the 2006 Rai$ing Change conference, one of my favorite writers Kim Klein quoted one of her favorite writers Ursula LeGuin. The great science fiction author LeGuin said “I never learned much from my teachers, but I learned a great deal from my un-teachers — people who said to me, ‘You shouldn’t have been taught that and you don’t need to think it any more’.”
Just like you can give away your quadraphonic eight-tracks from the 70s and your mood ring from the 80’s and your beanie babies from the 90s, you can let go of your old-fashioned ideas, phobias, and prejudices. Make room for the new in your home and in your head.Photo of the Hollywood Out of the Closet store courtesy of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation www.aidshealth.org Joan Flanagan is the Fundraiser for the Center for New Community. She learned the rule “Every time you bring something in, you take something out,” from her Godfather Clifford Swick, who has moved 13 times since he came home from service in New Guinea in World War II.