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Seminary changed my life in a number of ways.

There are obvious things, like I got to take some amazing classes (for free!  Covenant Seminary offers spouses of students free tuition for credit or audit).

Also, my life changed when we graduated from seminary and my husband began full time vocational ministry instead of continuing his awesome job in the secular marketplace.

Our family grew by two while we were at seminary, and certainly that changed my life.

It also changed by running the Free Store on campus.  The Free Store was a basement room where people associated with the seminary could drop off their used items.  I would sort through the items and put them on display on shelves, tables, and racks by size, category, etc.  Seminary students could then come and “shop.”  Everything was free – hence the name.  🙂

The seminary actually paid me to do this job.  It was awesome.  I had the privilege of seeing so many people find, for free, the exact thing they needed to clothe their husband, dress their children, cook in their apartment, or find a special gift.

Donations came in every category.  Kitchen goods, clothing, shoes, home decor, books, toys… the list goes on.  Space was limited, so I couldn’t accept large items (sofas) but we did get cribs, mattresses, kitchen tables…

So how did this change my life?  I learned to recognize trash for what it is.  Yes, to a point, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but sometimes trash is just plain trash.  And when you start to declutter, it is important to know the difference.

So today, before we get into a few weeks of practical decluttering, I’d like to make a brief plug for recognizing rubbish, the rare beauty of the rubbish bin, the treasure of the trash can, and the glorious gain of leveraging litter.

In short:  trash should be trashed not donated.

Goodwill, Salvation Army, ect. don’t employ people to mend clothes, darn socks, fix broken electronics, repair broken toys, find missing parts to appliances, brace chairs with broken legs, etc.  If it can be fixed, either fix it before you donate or trash it.  If you don’t trash it, they will, but it wastes their time.  Trash is trash, not treasure.

Sometimes it in necessary to acknowledge an item has surpassed its useful life, it has been well loved, well used, and well worn.

Retire it.

Without guilt.


Hatian children don’t need jeans full of holes after a hurricane.  Chances are they have jeans with holes.

Girls protected (or rescued) from trafficking, don’t need low cut dresses, evening gowns from the late 80’s, or lace tops and revealing cami’s.  They need clothes which are appropriately modest and appropriate for the temperatures of their climate.  (See DressAGirlAroundTheWorld.com, if you scroll down on the home page you can read Flo’s request for clothing.  This site is about making dresses, but her request for modesty is transferable to anything you would donate – to Uganda or in the United States.)

Children in India don’t need t-shirts with sweat stains in the arm pits, shirts with tattered sleeves, or belts with holes that are worn through.

Women at the homeless shelter in your town don’t need worn bras, yoga pants with stretched elastic, or hose with runs at the toes.

Men seeking employment help and job training don’t need ties with stains or snags, even if they are silk ties.  They don’t need pants without buttons, or with a broken zipper, or with cuffs worn from dragging behind the shoes with holes in the soles.  They don’t need those shoes, either. Or the blazer/suit jacket with stitches pulled in the back seam…

A family rebuilding a life after a fire doesn’t need a mixer with a broken electrical cord, a vacuum cleaner with no suction, or towels with stains.  They have nothing, and will be grateful for help, but they are rebuilding their life, not outfitting a movie set portraying slum life.

Nobody needs used tooth brushes, partially used deodorant, hair brushes or combs with the teeth missing, stretched pony tail holders or barrettes with missing parts.

A couple of quick checks I do (post Free Store experience) when I am sorting through my “get rid of” pile to distinguish between trash and treasure:

Check #1: If a person in need were opening the bag in front of me to see what I was giving them, would I be pleased with my offering or ashamed?  I try to picture their face in front of me.  If I would want to look away in embarrassment, I trash it.

Check #2:  How would I describe the item for sale on eBay?  Couldn’t imagine selling it?  I don’t give it away either.  I trash it.  {OK, sometimes I repurpose things – like giving old sheets to my daughter to cut up for sewing practice…  But I don’t give away things that could have a new life I am not willing to give it.}

With that in mind, here is a brief list of trash:

  • Pants/skirts with a broken zipper
  • Shirts with pit-stains, ring around the collar, and other stains/snags/tears
  • All used underwear
  • Bras that have been worn more than a week (but please wash them first)
  • Used stockings, hose, tights (for women)
  • Tights, hose, leggings with runs, stains on the knees or feet, tattered knees (for little girls)
  • All clothes with holes, missing buttons or other closures, and stains
  • Clothes with tattered edges – cuffs, sleeves, etc.
  • Dishes with chips, cracks, or irremovable stains
  • Non-stick pans where the coating is scratched or peeling
  • Rusty kitchen tools – knives, vegetable peelers, graters, etc.
  • Melted/misshapen kitchen tools – plastic measuring cups or plastic spoons that touched a hot pan or the heating element in the dishwasher and now have the characteristic melted divot in the side, storage containers where the lid doesn’t fit because it went through the dishwasher on the bottom…
  • Used zip-locs
  • Broken trash cans
  • Broken lamps
  • Broken appliances (toasters, toaster ovens, coffee pots without a carafe or that don’t work, griddles, electric skillets, you get the idea.  If it doesn’t work, you don’t have the cord, or it burns at one end but works at the other… THROW IT AWAY)
  • Mattresses, sofas, chairs stained from body fluids – pet or human variety
  • Sheets with no more stretch to the elastic, holes, torn hems, stains, or significantly faded or threadbare
  • Blankets or quilts with holes, stains, worn edges
  • Books with torn pages, lots of writing/highlighting, stained covers/pages
  • Workbooks/Activity books/books with puzzles, word searches, crosswords, sudoku that are *mostly* completed
  • Puzzles or games with broken pieces, missing pieces, or torn cards/money/spinners
  • Bath toys/baby toys with mold growing inside
  • Used pacifiers, bottles with broken, cracked, or disintegrating nipples
  • Breast pumps which have not been appropriately cleaned – and don’t include the used-but-not-reusable parts
  • Silverware chewed up by the disposal
  • Gasses, mugs, teacups/teapots with chips, nicks, or cracks
  • The scale that no longer measures accurately
  • T-shirts from your college days – especially if you graduated more than ten years ago
  • Curtains with tears, stains, or faded from the sun

I hope you are starting to get the idea here.

I know – really, I do – how wasteful it seems to just throw away a pair of jeans or a set of dishes or a comforter from your bed.  All I can offer is: get.over.it.

It’s not about you.

Giving to charity should never be about relieving your guilt.  Giving to others should be about the recipient – blessOscaring someone because you have been blessed.  If you have well-used items that still have plenty of life in them, please donate them to a local charity or to a clothing drive for a country ravaged by disaster.

But if you have trash, give it to Oscar.  His eyes will sparkle with delight.

Okay.  I’m getting down off of my soap box now.  🙂