for release Friday November 25, 2005
by Melodie Davis
Too Much Stuff
Those of you who read this column regularly might recall that one of my volunteer activities is working with a ďclothes closetĒ that distributes clothes free to anyone in the community who wants to come and pick out garbage bags full of clothing.
Yes, you read right, oftentimes people walk away with garbage bags full of clothing, and mostly we donít put any restrictions on what people take because we have clothing coming in by the garbage bag full. Ten, 15 and 20 bags at a time. We do limit people to coming once a month.
Truly, many times it is overwhelming, and it didnít used to be like this.
The volume astounds me when I think about all of the other places in just this immediate community dealing with used clothing (population 42,000). We have two huge Goodwill stores, a couple of Salvation Army stores, another charity thrift store called Mercy House, and a large Ten Thousand Villages thrift store. All sell clothing at a very low price with the proceeds all going to charity. Then there are probably at least six or more commercial consignment shops offering good prices on quality used clothing.
We get a lot of our clothing donated from several of these consignment shops that they are unable to sell, which we in turn give away. Fortunately, when we get to the place where we have clothing coming out the doors, we are able to take our excess to a local church, Landmark Tabernacle that does ministry all over the world. They have a large warehouse about the size of a high school gym floor that is also filled with clothing. I assume that much of the excess clothing that they process comes pretty much from our immediate two-county area. They in turn collect and ship to an orphanage and its surrounding community in Africa, or U.S. disaster areas when needed.
I had a yard sale earlier this summer and sold almost nothing. I did everything right, I thought: I advertised, we landed a beautiful day, and we donít have a bad location. But when I dropped off all my excess at the Mercy House later that day and looking at the stuff flowing out their door from other yard sale clean-outs, I asked, ďDoes anyone sell anything at yard sales anymore?Ē They responded that many people didnít seem to sell much, because they get lots of stuff every Saturday.
Now, for those of you who are from my area, keep those clothing contributions coming in (Trinity Presbyterian Clothes Closet)! We donít want to cut off or discourage contributions of clothing, because we look for and keep the best in childrenís clothing, coats, and in-style, clean clothing for our clients. But I do wonder why everyone seems to have clothing coming out the gills!
I think it is the American lifestyle. Our penchant for always wanting more and more, plus it has to be the latest style. This is what keeps the used clothing business thriving. Interestingly, to the credit of most men, there seems to be a lot less menís clothing that goes through this circuit. Most men donít buy as much clothing to begin with (ever notice menís departments in stores are frequently much smaller than womenís?); men tend to keep their clothing longer, are less inclined to get rid of, or wear it out completely before someone in the household quietly gives the beloved holey T-shirt a decent burial in the rag drawer. I know I have generalized, donít send me angry e-mails. But most generalizations have their origins in truthóso see what you think. Who has the bigger closet at your house? Our real estate agent when showing us houses joked about the double walk-in closets: ďThat one is Ďhers,í and this one is Ďours.íĒ
Why go on and on about all this clothing? In this season of Thanksgiving, and as we get ready for the biggest shopping season of the year, think about what you and your loved ones really need and want this Christmas. Thereís nothing wrong with giving a nice sweater, coat or pair of jeans or pants. But what I have observed is that people feel like they have to give 3 sweaters or two complete outfits or whatever. One gift isnít enough: we pile on the gifts.
Some kids need three new sweaters, but Iím guessing they arenít the ones who get them. They, instead, end up at our clothes closet and get your cast offs next year.
Which is okay. Iím not complaining. Our economy is built on production, advertising, selling, buying. It all makes more jobs.
But somewhere, sometimes, a small voice is saying, it is okay to cut back. I donít really need a new dress for that holiday party coming up. Iíll just wear last yearís model one more time, and be $75 ahead. Maybe I can send off an extra check for hurricane victims or to any of my other favorite charities who would be delighted for an extra $75 gift. It is not only our waistlines that have grown, it is our closets.
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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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