This year, I am pleased to say that it was the greenest Christmas I’ve ever done. All the presents were simple and inexpensive or even free, and bought from small shops (as opposed to buying from a large online store which shall remain unnamed!), and wrapped in old paper from previous Christmases or in newspaper (the Guardian does central spreads which are worth using as wrapping paper!). My cards were all homemade using leftover card, ornaments and paints. The food was all home cooked as ever. I made my own cranberry sauce this year- it was extraordinarily simple and very tasty. Finally, my fake Christmas tree and its ornaments – all of which have been going well for the last 16 years!
Let me say this straightaway, ‘Don’t ever do it!’
It seems a bit strange to discuss the cons of taking what others have thrown out- in fact, there’s a saying to the effect that someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure. For many years, I took in stuff given by people and also those I found lying in the street. I believed that it was good manners to not only accept other people’s gifts but also use them, whether they proved to a hindrance to my daily life or not. I believed that picking what other people had left out on the street, not only could help me (just in case I needed those items suddenly!) but also helped to clean the streets and the environment, giving things a second life. My way of thinking also came from having been brought up in great poverty and having too little.
For years, these objects lay in my home, in boxes when I moved, and in my new home. Even if they were difficult to use, I had to use them. The turning point came when I realised that I had become so tired of taking care of these things, storing them and cleaning them when they are so patently useless. Of my gifts, I noticed that one of my friends had a knack of giving me stuff that cannot be washed in the dishwasher. Hand washing is one of thing I hate, having done it from childhood and I love my eco-friendly dishwasher. Dishwashing is one chore I would be gladly free off. One gave me flowers and bowls which although very pretty did not last. So I would be left with utensils (or broken crockery that I thought I would use for arts projects!) that I could not use and empty flower pots. I picked up stuff from the street, stuff I haven’t used at all- books, cutlery, glassware, etc. Of the things I have picked up, furniture has been my most used item and I have even sold some antique stuff for profit. But the money made is really negligible. But the most despicable thing I have done is, giving my own unused stuff to my parents. Perhaps out of love, they did not say they couldn’t use it and at times, they even tried to, but gave up. These items have been languishing in their homes for years.
Now my eldest son having left home, and my father having died, I am now finding stuff stored in all corner of my own house and that of my parents. My mother is going to move to a smaller place. I’ve spent more than two months trying to declutter and stuff keeps coming out of everywhere. I tried selling them on eBay and no one would have them (although they are either brand new, unusual or antique items). It is also an effort of put items on the website and then keep checking and then having to post them. I’ve had people who bought the stuff without reading t&c’s and told me that they thought I was going to deliver the item to their home! Really! I tried selling them at antique shops- they were interested but always told me to come back when their shop had a little more space. In the end I got tired of ringing them and waiting for them. They also would give me very little money, which really wasn’t worth the effort. Then I tried giving them to the charity shops which are also filled to the brim with other people’s junk. But taking them on public transport to various charities, really tires me- I’ve got an incurable blood disorder which is debilitating. So I’m now ‘freegling’ stuff which means people can take it away. Bu that has been a great pain as well. People promising to turn up at an agreed time and then not doing so. One person even kept me waiting for two days giving all sorts of improbable excuses.
I now look back at my time over the years, collecting all this stuff (dragging some huge pots or furniture from the street), looking after it, moving it, trying all sorts of creative ways of re-using or up-cycling it, trying to give it to others, selling it, donating it and having failed in all these ways, then storing it. What a waste of time (and space) that could have been spent more creatively and usefully! But I still will not litter the streets with my junk, even though I might have picked the junk off the street. But perhaps something in me has changed. Today, my younger son, who is a hoarder, has given away two boxes of children’s books to someone who was very happy to have them. He even hoovered and cleaned his room- a teenager doing this is very rare! I am slowly decluttering- things that have been collected for years will take some time leave. In Buddhism, the word ‘karma’ means action and also denotes the effects of the action. So I think I may have changed my karma. I have thanked all the junk that came my way for the lesson it taught me and how it has helped changed my ‘poverty karma’. I feel rich and full, without all the junk in my life. I will leave up-cycling, selling, organising and re-using to all those people who get paid for it, have time for it, and do it well. My life’s work is different although it is still very creative. Also, I’ve made many friends by giving away stuff but disposing of junk does take a lot of time from my work.
As for picking other’s people’s trash, I will never do it again! So here are some lessons I’ve learnt-
- Do not have a junk mentality- do not let junk enter your body and environment in any way- junk food, junk mail or junk stuff.
- Do not even consider a junk drawer- if you have stuff that you are unsure about, put it where you and your family will see it everyday. If the sight irritates you or you haven’t used it for a month, give it away.
- Do not give junk to others, especially your family and friends. If you receive what you know is junk, accept it gracefully and then give it away. No one will care or ask about it!
- If you have no skills in up-cycling, re-purposing, or DIY, do not ever pick up junk that you think might be useful.
- Do not clear other people’s junk- their karma is theirs, they don’t need your meddling.
What are your lessons? Do you agree with me?