I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.

Friday, September 17, 2010

As the Things Actually Leave the House: Part Two

On Friday of last week, with Justin's help, I finally delivered the clothes to the family day shelter at the Unitarian Church. (Portland area folks, check them out here if you want to help. They're doing great things.)

Here's the pile in my studio before we packed up the car:

You think we could have packed any more into the car?

Probably not:

It was Friday afternoon, and when we arrived, some tiny little warning bell rang in the back of my head. It was quiet and easy to ignore... until I read the sign on the door. Church offices open Monday-Thursday. I heaved an overdramatic sigh of abysmal failure--mentally calculating the time and energy (my own as well as Justin's) that I had wasted by not planning properly--but I pushed the buzzer anyway. To my surprise, the kind voice of a young woman responded. I stated my name and my business, and she buzzed us in. We climbed the varnished wooden staircase, chuckling and elbowing each other on the way up. The space was bright and airy; the woman's face was warm, her manner welcoming. She chatted with us for a few moments, then called a sexton over a walkie-talkie, asking him to meet us at the curb. We thanked her and returned to the street to begin unloading the car.

(See, here I am, unloading the car.)

A sharply dressed tattooed young man with a fauxhawk and a generous smile came to greet us at the curb. He introduced himself and proceeded to help us haul the bags to the shelter.
After a couple of trips, still a pretty big pile left:

After we lugged the last of the bags over, and we all shook hands and exchanged sincere thanks, he asked if we wanted some sort of documentation of our gift, a receipt for tax purposes or some such. I waved away the idea and told him we didn't need it. It seemed to me that a reward (though my tax bracket is such that it wouldn't matter anyway--not much to write off against) would cheapen the whole thing. Somehow the idea, even, left a bad taste in my mouth. But why? I guess because of the thing that happens in my mind when I think of it now--the calculations. How many thousands of dollars were those bags of clothes worth? New? Used? Were they worth what I could have gotten for them if I had sold them? What I had paid for them? What the folks who designed and sewed them made? Was there some formula like the bluebook for cars--original retail minus a certain percentage for age, another for wear and tear? As if the dollar value had any bearing on the worth of the things, the worth of the action. The value of it, for me, was the feeling I got knowing that the particularly comfortable grey sweater that was swimming somewhere in the middle of one of those bags was going to be worn by someone who needed it.


  1. i want to fill my car with stuff! I HAVE NO GARBAGE BAGS!!!!!

  2. p.s. you must have had a hell of a closet!

  3. I spy my shoes and other "naked lady" goodies in those bags also! Go Shelley, color me impressed. I have to say that I'm relishing in how simple and easy and lovely it is to be living out of 2 suitcases right now. I love it. I may never come back to all my STUFF (which I'm embarrassed to admit now resides in 4 different homes both in OR and WA). It's just STUFF I'm realizing that I totally don't need. . .

  4. http://www.boingboing.net/2010/09/13/rolf-potts-is-travel.html
    ...about a guy traveling abroad with no luggage

  5. To answer your musings yes, there are set calculations for value of donated goods if you don't have the receipts to calculate off of. Not that I have personally done that ... there are accounting pros in my family, that's how I know. It probably would have saddened you to know how little each item is valued at used.

    I usually find homes for my things ... homes that don't even offer receipts for donations. Doesn't much matter ... the joy is in the giving. If it was a big ticket item ... maybe I would want that. Maybe not.

    Good work, Shelley!

  6. Love the link, Holly! Thanks all!