I declutter several times a year. There are things that we discard but there are also a fair amount of things that will be given away. We believe that if something good is left idle at home, it is still wasting a perfectly good thing that should have been better utilised. Therefore, if we have things we are not using anymore and will not be using in the near future, we will try to give them away.
A few months ago, because we needed to move out of our flat for the renovation, I decluttered even more ruthlessly. A lot of things were given away to friends. Some were destined for the Salvation Army. I happened to be acquainted with someone who made it her life calling to collect unwanted stuff from people to pass them on to people and places where these things would be needed and appreciated. People who benefitted from her work included charities and missionaries. So apart from asking around my friends whether they would want some of the stuff I was giving away, I contacted this lady to check whether she wanted any of the stuff.
She once shared with me the challenges she faced :
1. People treating her as a dumpster
There are people who treat her like a dumpster, dumping all sorts of things that are good only for a real dumpster on her just because they are too lazy to deal with their own trash. In turn, she has to sort through the items and get rid of the rubbish, which takes time, effort and resources. All of which she does not have much to spare.
2. People who treat charity recipients like beggars
Beggars should not be choosers. Beggars should be thankful and not complain. Therefore, even if the food is expired, even if the clothes have holes, missing buttons and zippers that do not work, the recipients should be thankful to even get them. Some of the condition of the things that are given are bad. E.g. clothes that have stains in them. Clothes and beddings that have not even been washed and smell bad. This lady has to clean up and mend. Again, she has no time and resources to do all these extra work. I know I have been guilty of the same, though it wasn’t intentional. I had this mistaken perception of charities being run by nice ladies who are happy to mend and sew to make something usable again. Blame it on stories like Annie or Pollyanna maybe. I do not know how to sew. So when I have pants that are perfectly fine except for loose elastic, for instance, I figured maybe someone at those charities would be able to mend and sew and the pants would be good as new again. Well, I was wrong. Some of these overseas charities are in impoverish places that they don’t have sewing machines or supplies of extra buttons, elastics and zippers. They face manpower shortage so extra work like sewing and mending is really not helpful. Now, I will ask my friends whether they want such items and they can decided if they can deal with the sewing and mending.
3. People who are too frugal
I know there are people who are genuine in their intention to give and because they themselves are really frugal, they see nothing wrong in giving away very, very worn items. E.g. as long as a shirt is still wearable, to them, it does not matter if it is utterly faded, out of shape and have small insignificant holes or have some stains on them. I remember receiving hand-me-downs from well-meaning friends who handed down their baby items with milk stains and so faded that you could not really tell what the original colour was except you know their kids’ gender so you could guess. The givers were not mean. I am sure if they had more kids, their new babies would get to use these stuff. But by average standard, the items are really not fit to be used anymore.
4. People who think only of themselves when they give
They are only interested in what they are giving away, not so much what the recipients really need. E.g. soft toys. I know there are plenty of people who are enthusiastic about giving away their children’s old toys and soft toys are usually the first on their list. However, furry, fluffy soft toys and orphanages in Third World countries do not quite go together because the places are usually sandy and dirty and these toys get dirty really fast, so they are high maintenance items. Another kind of toys that are not suitable for these places are battery operated toys. I will let you figure out why.
I know that most of us give out of good intention. However, I think most of us also need some education on the etiquette of giving. The next time you declutter and have things to give away, keep the following in mind :
1. Are the items still in reasonably good condition?
Raise your standard a bit. It is better to give something that is as close to good-as-new as possible than to give something that is closer to being condemned. If you think that those things have probably only one more cycle of life left, e.g. clothes that you think can at most survive one more kid before disintegrating, then perhaps you should reassign them to the recycle bin (if they can be recycled). If something should be mended first, do so if you can. If not, perhaps find someone else who can do it for you. Otherwise, recycle. I know we don’t all know how to mend and sew and we may not have the resources to do that. It is unfortunate but it does not make it ok to dump these things on people who also have problem dealing with the mending and sewing. Alternative, ask among friends. At least they know what they are getting, so if they are happy with the condition of the items, let them have the items.
Do not give food that are expired. Do not give things that are not in working condition. Do not treat the recipients like beggars. Giving out of compassion includes treating the other party with dignity and respect.
2. Are the items suitable for the charities you are giving to?
Sometimes you are not sure where the items would end up. That is ok. But there are general rules of thumb that are good to keep in mind. E.g. soft toys and battery operated toys are generally not suitable for Third World countries. Like the recent Typhoon Haiyan incident at the Philippines. People are enthusiastic to give their old clothes and stuff but what was really needed was cash, not things. First of all, the immediate needs were food and medical supplies, not old castaway clothes and household items. Secondly, things got really jammed up when they were already having problem getting the most urgent help to the inaccessible areas. If you know exactly where you are giving to, you can make a better judgement call. Otherwise, it is always good to ask first whether the items are things that they need.
3. You can always ask
When in doubt, ask. Ask if the items are needed. Ask if it is ok to give the recipient items of a certain condition. E.g. toys that can still work but have missing spare part.
4. Help the middlemen
Middlemen are people who collect the stuff to redistribute. The Salvation Army is an example. Help them by packing and organising your give-aways. If the items are breakables, wrap them in newspapers or bubble wrap. Do not just leave the things like bags of trash.
5. Be a gracious giver
Be a gracious giver. What you give reflects on you. If you give trash to people, it reflects badly on you too. What is worse, as believers, it also casts a bad light on God. Give generously and give well.