It’s that time again. We’ve just moved, and there’s a big pile of random stuff in our dining room, staged and ready for our next give-away party. Invites have already gone out.
What is a give-away party?
It’s a social occasion where anyone who is invited can look through the pile and take stuff home.
Why do we do it?
There’s a built-in deadline for us to finish sorting stuff and moving in. Also, we can give away things that we can’t donate. Stuff we don’t need circulates back to the Stuff Place. We continue to live with the expectation that we keep only what we actively use, so that we can keep our expenses and home maintenance as low as possible.
In my work with hoarding and chronic disorganization, almost everyone struggles with letting go of stuff. One of the few things that will break up this pattern of emotional attachment is to feel that something is going To the Right Person. I’m “saving it” for “someone who might need it.”
The paradox behind this is that 1. We believe there is someone who truly needs this thing, although obviously we do not need it ourselves, AND YET 2. We are keeping it in the only way that absolutely guarantees it WILL NOT go to anyone who needs it.
It’s like if I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich and I put it in my fridge, even though I’m a vegan, because “it shouldn’t go to waste,” but I didn’t tell anyone I had it. Who did I think was going to come knocking, asking if I happened to have an extra ham-and-cheese sandwich sitting around?
What we are doing is hosting a housewarming, but instead of bringing us a bunch of potted plants or candles, our guests can just bring snacks. Actually it’s a reverse housewarming, in the sense that we expect people to take things home rather than add to our inventory.
It’s surprising how many things can’t be donated, like garage shelving or glass furniture. A lot of thrift stores won’t take furniture of any kind.
We’ve always given away a lot of stuff over Craigslist or Freecycle. It can be complicated because it’s a toss-up whether someone will actually show up to take what they claimed to want. I can’t count how much time I’ve spent hanging around, waiting for a call that never came, then having to re-post something and go back and forth for eight emails. I gave away our moving boxes after this move and it took nearly an hour for the guy to get through traffic and find our address.
What most people will do when they realize they no longer need something is to leave it in place for a long time, and then maybe carry it off to the garage or a junk room. When asked, people will claim they’re “going to have a garage sale” or they’re “going to sell it on eBay.” That day never comes. The next time it comes up, they double down, and all that happens is that they feel more intensely annoyed, defensive, or anxious. The stuff is still there, radiating complications.
We quit having garage sales when we realized it took two of us an entire summer Saturday to make $150. We made less than minimum wage. We would have been better off financially if one of us got a part-time job at Taco Bell and the other literally beat all the yard sale stuff into smithereens with a big mallet.
Check my math: ($150/2 people)/(12 hours)=($75)/(12)=$6.25/hour
(Also no free tacos)
A give-away party takes the financial aspect out of consideration.
What we’re doing is showing magnanimity. When we give away something like our first blender to an intern, we’re giving that person a chance to make blender drinks and still pay down their student loan. Rather than spend all the time and mental bandwidth trying to sell a used blender that cost $25 new, we can maximize our mental efforts doing something else. We set an example of generosity that will be paid down the line over time.
“We were broke at your age, and now it’s our turn. When you’re our age you can pick up the check.”
We accept that The Blender Cost $25. That money is gone now. We are not buying into the sunk cost fallacy. We paid $25, we got (by definition) $25 worth of use out of it, and now it goes back to the Stuff Place.
We value our time at $X/hour, and evening time at $2X/hour, and weekend time at $10X/hour. It would be absurd at the deepest level to value our free time at pennies on the hour.
It’s entirely possible that nobody who comes to our party will take anything out of the give-away pile. We’re certainly not forcing anyone! We simply want to set the example that stuff comes, stuff goes, and what is truly important is friendship.
Maybe we’ll be left with a big box of empty canning jars and a set of plastic shelving and some random housewares. That’s cool. At that point we will do what we have always done and set about advertising this stuff to the community. Please, take it off our hands.
The result of a minimalist lifestyle that involves regular give-away parties is that we have minimized our rent and maximized our savings. We might have given away “hundreds of dollars’ worth” of stuff, but in the process we have saved TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars in rent. We’re maximizing our retirement portfolio, rather than maximizing a giant pile of junk in a garage full of black widow spiders and mice. Or, worse, a storage unit, doing nothing but eating money month after month and not even contributing to our home equity.
What we’ll remember about our give-away party is seeing our friends, eating snacks, laughing, talking, and playing games. If asked to make a list of all the stuff we gave away, we won’t be able to remember it all. That’s fine, because almost everything that exists can easily be found in the Stuff Place, and when we need anything, we can easily get it. There is plenty and there will always be plenty more.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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