How do we responsibly give stuff away?

As expected, moving has been hard. We are still in the midst of unpacking our new apartment, and while this move hasn’t been quite the nightmare I originally feared it would be, it’s still been a massive undertaking—hours and hours of retrieving and boxing the artifacts of our life collected over these past five, almost six, years.

Also, it snowed on November 21st—our scheduled moving day. All month long, Chicagoans were remarking on the unseasonably warm (and surprisingly precipitation-free) weather, and then, on the eve of our move, it came raining and then billowing down. We are cursed with bad weather when we move.

But most of all, as I mentioned in my last post, this move has been complicated because of my decision to keep all of my plastic this year. I actually transported my bins of plastic—and kept all of the bits I acquired throughout—to our new apartment.  I’m dreading (and avoiding) the impending decision of where to set up my hoard in our new place.

In some ways, though, this weird plastic experiment made the move easier, rather than harder. I think this is because I started the process earlier. Knowing that I would have the added burden of carting my plastic to our new apartment, I actually packed boxes in increments, dedicating a few hours each day to moving rather than waiting until the very last second to stuff things in boxes in a fever of anxiety (as I typically do).

Also, this move was easier because I factored in donation runs. I gave almost equal consideration to what I wanted to keep (and pack up) as I did to what I wanted to give away. Evan and I made three trips to Goodwill and one to Open Books prior to our move, and we will make at least one more run after uncovering more unwanted items in our unpacking process.

I’m a bonafide pack rat, and I’ve actually never made donating a part of my moving agenda before. Typically, I pack up everything I own, literally everything, including dried flower arrangements and decades old theater programs, and take it all with me. I’ll digress for a moment to give a plug for an awesome book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” This book has been amazing in its ability to help me overcome my hoarder tendencies, and it motivated me further to do lots of donating.

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Wowza-plastic! We saved all this from our wedding deliveries to reuse for our move.

My give-away trips not only helped reduce my volume of stuff, they also reduced the amount of packing material we needed. We took clothes and books and trinkets to Goodwill in boxes, and then we reused those boxes. And we managed to use only the boxes and bubble wrap we’d saved from our wedding gift deliveries (we had saved it ALL…for over a year).

Giving things to Goodwill helped me feel like I wasn’t thoughtlessly chucking tons of plastic into the garbage. Instead of throwing away cups and cords and random chotchkies, we donated them. At first, this made me feel environmentally responsible. I was not only avoiding sending plastic to landfills and waterways, but also (in theory) giving someone else joy—aka my “trash” would become their “treasure.”

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Sorry dudes! Off to Goodwill with you. Hope you like your new home!

But I’ve thought a lot more about this. This move really has forced me to think. In retrospect, I’ve realized a couple of depressing things. One: some of my “trash” is just going to become trash. Some of the things I gave away are not treasures. In a way, I cheated a little. I don’t know which of these plastic items will go to a new home. Perhaps the majority of them will end up in the garbage, which I had hoped so much to avoid.

In researching where to donate my stuff, I made an unsettling discovery. I learned that much of what we donate, even to places like Goodwill and Salvation Army, either gets dumped because it’s not resellable, or it gets shipped in enormous crates to poorer continents. Even donating caused me to unwittingly contribute to environmental harm.

I feel better that I tried to give stuff away rather than immediately dumping it. Yet there’s still a conundrum of how to avoid dumping plastic altogether, and donating doesn’t exactly solve that.

There’s also the conundrum of hiring movers. While I absolutely adored having a team of people at the ready to move my heavy furniture, because it was a wet, soggy mess outside, they had to wrap most of our belongings in a giant sheet of plastic wrap. Their industrial-sized plastic roll could have saran-wrapped a house. We’ve never had movers before, so I didn’t realize how much plastic would be involved, but I didn’t say a thing to stop them. The plastic protected our stuff from getting demolished during the move. But there was a heck of a lot of plastic remaining.

Ultimately, although moving was and is a giant stressor, this move really has made me consider disposal more critically. I realized that my hoarding of plastic has made me feel “safe” because, if I save all my plastic, I know it won’t end up in the ocean or in the belly of a turtle. This has lessened my guilt. But I can’t hoard all of the world’s plastic. I can’t even, long-term, hoard all of the stash I’ve accumulated—I’m itching already to get rid of it, get it out of my new, still pristine home, yet I still have five months of this challenge left to go.

So how do we give stuff away…really? How do we do it without causing harm to our world?

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