The importance of charity

It’s a difficult thing, a solid thing, a hard thing: to let go. To release. But, decisions change the world.

I am learning to love giving.

It’s a difficult thing, a solid thing, a hard thing: to let go. To release. So much emotion tied up in the material. So many attachments to things in and around daily life.

Some people live in one town all their lives; some people even live in a single house. I have no hometown, no house that I “grew up in.” Semi-nomadic for as long as I can remember, my stuff has long been my home. Items that surround me hold in them the memories of where I’ve been and who was there and what we dreamed about.

The most recent times I’ve arranged my life into boxes and taken them to another building to rearrange my life inside new walls, I’ve realized: there is too much stuff. Too much for a single grown person (and a half-person) to justify.

Why hold on to notebooks from college? As if their weight demonstrates, somehow solidifies, all the knowledge contained in them that was once crammed into my skull. Now, the answer to any question is always right at the end of my fingertips. (But! some inner Junk Lady protests, these pages are in your own handwriting. Isn’t that better than Google, dearie?)

No matter where I’ve lived, the truth remains that we are all connected. When I make the decision to consume, someone, somewhere has produced it, and I can and am having an impact on the producer’s life. When I consume what I don’t need, or don’t consume what I do need because I don’t let go of what no longer fits my life, I also affect the producers. My consumption is active, fluid; decisions change the world.

Mindful consumption + charity

Mindfulness and self-reflection result in clarity. As I examine my life, my choices and their consequences, it becomes clearer which attachments bring me joy and which don’t contribute any value. Once it’s clear what doesn’t contribute, the possibility of letting go, of breaking those attachments, becomes reality.

Once I realize that I can let go of a particular thing, my perspective changes. When I can say, “I don’t need this thing,” I wonder why I keep what I don’t need, and what I need that I don’t have.

Donate, donate, donate ...

“They who give have all things; they who withhold have nothing.”

This last year, I’ve gathered a few lessons on how to make giving an effortless, fully-integrated aspect of my life.

I’ve learned:

  • You can (and should!) donate to Goodwill or Salvation Army or your local homeless shelter clothes and shoes that you and your children have outgrown or no longer wear.
  • Donate to your local animal shelter all the toys, bedding, and accessories that your pets rejected or outgrew.
  • Donate books to libraries or shelters; donate toys your kids have outgrown to a daycare center or church.

Personal favorite:

Got an old gaming system that you can’t resell? Donate it to kids who are stuck in the hospital with cancer and other chronic illnesses. Visit Charity Nerds and make a kid’s day. (Good-bye Leap Frog Leap Pad that my son stopped playing with years ago).

Consume responsibly ...

Thrift stores, consignment stores, used-furniture outlets, used-book stores*, pre-owned anything. There’s an entire world of apps, brick-and-mortar locations, and retail sites where you basically never have to pay full price and buy anything new, ever. This is especially useful when it comes to items like kids’ clothing.

Warning – I have found that buying shoes from thrift stores/pre-owned clothing stores (and websites) is a tricky process, often with disappointing results.

If and when you purchase new, purchase items from companies that represent your ethics (B-corps, certified fair trade, mission-focused businesses) and/or small business when possible. I love Etsy. With a passion. It’s a fantastic marketplace for unique, handmade items you can give as gifts for any occasion.

Personal Favorites:

I love Me to We, an amazing company that is making serious impacts on every continent. I do not remove the two rafikis I wear on my left wrist, as a reminder and reflection of the solidarity I feel with women around the world.

I also love 4Ocean, working to clean up ocean and shoreline pollution around the world. Each bracelet = cleanup of 1 lb. of trash. I wear one (the sea turtle design) on my right ankle.

I am addicted to Diet Coke. (No but like, it’s seriously a problem.) Coke offers the My Coke Rewards program (redeem the codes under the lids/on packaging for points you can trade for cheap merch), but I found that the “rewards” were about as exciting and long-lasting as the junk from the prize counter at Chuck E. Cheese. Well, I wasn’t going to stop drinking Diet Coke, and my points kept expiring. Sad. Then, I found that you can “cash in” your rewards points as a donation to a school of your choice. Easy solution.

* They still exist, I promise. My personal favorite, in the Orlando area, is Best Used Books.

Automate Your Giving

Use technology to do more, more easily. There are apps that make it easy for you to connect with those in need in your area, or around the world. Donate time, donate resources, donate personally or from your business.

Personal favorites:

Spend too much time on your phone? Ever use the Pomodoro technique to keep yourself focused? Forest is the app that lets you donate time off your phone toward planting a real tree somewhere on Earth. Because we will always need trees.

Run, walk, bike, hike, or swim with Charity Miles to have your mileage sponsored on your behalf. For every mile you clock, a corporate sponsor donates to the charity of your choice on your behalf. (I donate my miles to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, in honor of my brother’s fiance – a two-battle survivor of Leukemia.)

If you are in the food business – maybe you run a restaurant or catering service, maybe you manage a grocery or convenience store – you have dealt with spoilage, surplus, and other inventory issues. Donate extra food. (France made it a law that unspoiled food can’t be thrown out of grocery stores, it required to donate surplus food).

The solution that Philadelphia, Penn., has found is to connect food donors with local businesses, like homeless and domestic violence shelters, that need food. Use the Food Connect app to donate or receive – and leave the Food Connect team a message telling them you want Food Connect in YOUR city!

Charity Begins at Home

No matter how you choose to contribute to your larger community, remember to first and foremost contribute to those in your life who need it. Offer support, love, and compassion to the people you care about. This is an entire topic for conversation (for another blog), but, I firmly believe that if you take care of those you care for, there will literally be more love in the world.

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