I started giving at an early age when signs of hoarding and entitlement amongst my siblings and me made my stomach hurt. I was the youngest in a 4-sibling family, and everything that was mine had previously been theirs. I rarely had a thing of my own that hadn’t already been played with or worn. For me, the sense of ownership of things was lost, a foreign concept even. What was mine was really theirs by default and the things that were theirs I was often forbidden to touch.
You might say I now have a thing about stuff. Stuff and me we aren’t, well, friends, as I’ve come to recognize the power stuff can have over people.
One of the biggest things I ever wanted when I was a teenager was a chance to wear a dress my sister had. I LOVED that dress. It was made for my body type, not hers, and she never, if ever, wore it. But it sat in her closet because it was hers. I couldn’t so much as look at it, or go near her closet. One summer day, when she was out of town for a month, I just plain wore it and loved every bit about being in the forbidden dress that would never fit my big sister. I wasn’t reveling in the naughtiness of my act. In fact, I was terrified. But that dress, in my estimation, needed to be worn and I was the right person to wear it. In so doing, as all bold deeds might prove, I got a miniscule stain on the dress that I never thought could be detected.
A month later, just after she returned, I heard the screams from her room and knew immediately what she had discovered. If a sky could fall, this was the day it hit the floor with a thud, cratering around her closet because of the rotten thing I had done. I don’t think I had ever done anything so rotten to her, other than existing. And this was, at the time of course, the last straw.
To heal my own wounds from the dress incident, and explore my feelings about it, my behavior about stuff radically changed: I took a 180-degree opposite course without understanding why, but it felt freeing. I gave and loaned things to others wholeheartedly, to the horror of my sister, and established strong bonds with friends who liked to trade and share what we had. I went so far as to loan out my most precious things, too, and understood implicitly that they might never come back. My sister was shocked by my giving nature, calling it “irresponsible”, accusing me of not taking care of my things.
Were they “my” things or things to communally enjoy, even if we might lose them in the end? As the youngest sibling, all my things felt communally consumed and I was okay with it. A set of precious earrings I had purchased during a summer on Corsica ended up permanently in the jewelry box of a friend. It felt wrong at first, until I let go of the thing itself and appreciated how happy my friend felt wearing them. That ache in my stomach disappeared altogether and my giving went on.
I learned that the more I gave away, the more I wanted to give away, just to see how far I could go with the feelings of discomfort, redefining giving as an act of free will with no attachments. I wanted to take all the power out of owning and coveting things. Coveting and hoarding made my stomach hurt and made me give all the more. Sure, I felt pangs of sickness when I gave away dresses I designed for my own body with fabrics I worked hard to earn enough money to buy. But if a friend asked for it, I’d give it freely, having seen the ugliness that comes with ownership of things. I could always make another dress. Or, as I soon learned, a friend would offer a new dress or shoes to me for no reason but love and kindness.
This week I started a project I’m calling “365 Days of Giving.” I want to relive those days of giving freely and removing the strings I have attached to the things in my life. I also want to explore the relationships I’ll redefine and uncover in the process. Some of the giving won’t be of stuff. It might be an answer to a neighbor’s need for a ride, or lending out an item we use daily to someone who could use it. I want to push the boundaries of giving, to the point where my family and I might go without to help another person, giving to connect with the people around us, not through our stuff but through kindness, sharing, and caring. This, in my mind, is true giving, giving until that hurt in your stomach goes away.
How Does 365 Days of Giving Work?
This is both an experiment and a challenge inviting others to join in the giving: Try, in your own ways, to give freely of your stuff or yourself, pushing the boundaries of ownership and giving collaborative consumption, sharing, and the gift economy a try. At times the balance may feel out of your favor, are you giving too much? I believe that when you work to create a balance in the common good, helping others, then you reach your own sense of peace and well-being. If resources are scarce for you, give of yourself in other ways: Offer a hand to a friend or help a stranger with a difficult task they can’t do on their own.
This project is made easy for me through our local Buy Nothing group. I post items I want to give, and people respond immediately. When someone posts something they want, I can see if I have it and then give easily. It’s our own local gift economy experiment, and I believe it can work beautifully, if everyone gets into the spirit of giving. So far, in just 3 weeks we’re approaching 1000 members and the giving is infectious!
If you want to try this experiment for a day, a month, or a year. Join me here and post your own stories of giving freely.
My format, for now, is to list what I’m giving each day and what I’ve received. Two simple categories, with an occasional blog post to deconstruct the lessons learned.
Date: July 23, 2013
2 Sets of Driftwood blocks for kids to play with.
2 bags full of health food including:
A loaf of bread
Date: July 24, 2013
Set of nesting omelet dishes
Pretty piggy bank
Hamster cage for my daughter’s birthday
Several toys for my children including a pretty piggy bank.
Date: July 25
1 Dozen fresh organic (soy free) eggs
12 Whittled marshmallow roasting sticks
Date: July 26:
A dozen eggs
Large T-bones for our dog
Pint of raspberries
A thank you note of appreciation
A cake from a friend.
Date: July 27
Helped a stranger by driving her massage equipment back to her home from a music festival.
Customized upcycled chicken feeders to be used to collect food waste at the music festival.
Because we went to the festival (and we brought bikes) my daughter took her first ride on a bicycle without training wheels. A priceless gift.
Leftover food from the festival for my chickens.
More paint thinner and windshield fluid for my car.
Little Pet shop toys for my daughter’s upcoming birthday.
Date: July 28
Basket of stuffed animals
Lily of the Valley Plants
Shelves for daughter’s room
Boston Baked Bean candies for my kids
More Little Pet Shop toys for my daughter’s upcoming birthday.
Bag of bread for our chickens
Date: July 29
Collards, Arugula, Oregano
Jar of honey from our bees
Little Pet Shop Toys
Boston Baked Beans
Shoes for us to give to Nepali Villagers
Date: July 30
Bag of small toys
Coleus Plant with a thank you note.
Date: July 31
1 Dozen eggs
Crab pot (Future loan)
Revolution Flea Stuff for cat
Stuffed Bears for daughter
Glasses Case for us to give to Nepali Villagers
Are you interested in joining me in this giving project? Let me know below or provide your own advice on ways we can give more freely to add more good will to the communal karma.