Generosity Guilt

I took my first car-load of stuff to Thrift Town this afternoon. It took four trips from the car to the store to drop everything off. I tried to feel buoyed by the generosity of spirit that comes with giving in-kind donations to a worthy cause. Instead, I felt mainly relieved to have that stuff out of the house, which wasn’t a surprise. I was surprised to find that I also felt guilt and embarrassment for having so much good quality, totally salable but unnecessary-to-us stuff in essentially one room of our house (plus one bag of stuffed toys from my daughter’s bedroom). The large amount of fluff between what we need and what we actually have is kind of embarrassing, especially during a time when so many people are struggling to afford the basics, like food and diapers.

This guilt and embarrassment won’t stop me from decluttering and donating. I hope that I’m able to use this feeling to motivate me to recognize what things we need and pass along the extra to those who need them more than we do. I also hope it helps me to be more mindful when I get ready to bring items into my home.

This kind of reminds me of a section of Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl writes about how there is no general meaning of life, but rather each person develops a meaning for his or her life in each moment.

As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible….This emphasis on responsibleness is reflected in the categorical imperative of logotherapy, which is: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!” It seems to me that there is nothing which would stimulate a man’s sense of responsibleness more than this maxim, which invites him to imagine first that the present is past and, second, that the past may yet be changed and amended.

In a way, the decluttering gives me a second chance. The first time around, I acquired too many possessions and allowed them to start owning me rather than the other way around. Now, I have a chance to give these possessions a second life in the home of someone who needs them and will be enriched by them in a way I was not. With any luck, as I move into the future and make decisions about which items to bring into my home, I am able to take responsibility for making a better decision than I have in the past.

What is life asking of me in this moment? I don’t think it’s asking me to be overwhelmed by embarrassment about mistakes I’ve made in the past or that I might make in the future. I think it’s asking me to reflect and to make difficult choices about what kind of home I wish to create for my family, not just the physical structure and its contents, but the feeling of the place where we dwell together.

Tonight, there’s the smell of home-cooked food lingering in the kitchen, reminding me of the meal we shared and enjoyed together. If you’re interested in trying what we made, it’s Pan-Fried Tofu and Greens with Almond-Ginger Drizzle (Bathing Rama) from Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family. We used collard greens and served it over rice. The drizzle is similar to this Coconut Peanut Sauce, except it has almond butter instead of peanut butter and 1/3 cup water instead of the coconut milk. The book says the Coconut Peanut Sauce is also good on it, so we may try it that way next time. Ours looked like this:

Bathing Rama
Pan-Fried Tofu and Greens with Almond-Ginger Drizzle Over Brown Rice (Bathing Rama) (from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair)

The kids loved the tofu and the rice. Not so much the collards and the drizzle. My husband and I loved it all. I’ll need to double it next time. Or serve more sides.

2 Replies to “Generosity Guilt”

  1. I felt very embarrassed and exposed during my giant yardsale since I had just turned everything I owned out into the driveway…it was very hard. I felt better after the last trip to Goodwill was done with though.

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    1. Wow, that makes me think of the book Material World: A Global Family Portrait, the one with all of the pictures of people in different countries sitting out in front of their homes with all of their possessions. I feel exposed enough just taking things to the thrift store. I can imagine how much more intense that feeling would be with everything sitting out front. I so admire how you were so willing to go through the difficulties to realize your dream. And your efficiency with space onboard Convivia. I love all of those nooks and crannies!

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