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Faith in Vermont: Take My Stuff, Please!

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Posted on September 22, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Stuff expands to fill the space available.

I’m not a physicist, but I’m pretty sure that’s a proven fact. It may even fall under Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it. Except in this case, the objects in motion are our family’s possessions, and the external force is me.

I am on a mission to get rid of our stuff.

When we lived in California -- due to the combined effects of sky-high Bay Area housing costs and raising 3 young children on a graduate student stipend -- our house was a 900-square-foot bungalow with no yard and on-the-street parking.

Then we moved to Vermont, where -- due to the combined effects of panic and lower-than-Bay-Area-housing-costs euphoria -- we ended up in a 3500-square-foot home with a basement, attached garage, and storage shed.

Our stuff expanded accordingly.

Over the past five years, stuff has been accumulating in our house at an alarming rate, and most of it isn’t even stuff that we bought. There are birthday and holiday gifts from generous grandparents and friends; there are books, toys, and clothing passed on by kindly neighbors who know that their hand-me-downs will be further handed down to four girls; there are the little plastic toys – four of them each time we go to McDonald’s or A&W or Whirlie’s World (which is why we tend to avoid these places, but still….); there are the “special” school art projects that have to be saved. And last year, when my parents moved to a house in Vermont that was smaller than their prior residence, they bequeathed us boxes upon boxes of my old memorabilia.

This year we reached the tipping point, for two reasons:

1) In January 2016, our entire family will return to California for five months while my husband spends his sabbatical at UC Berkeley; while there, we’ll be living out of one suitcase apiece in a tiny two-bedroom rental.

2) When we return from California, we will move (locally – don’t worry!) into a house that is much better suited to our family: a house with 12 acres of cleared land (no more wooded, rocky gardening for me!); a house which also happens to be 2000-square-feet large.

Two-thousand-square-feet is hardly a shack, but if you do the math you’ll see that it’s approximately 40% smaller than our current house.

The universe is telling us to downsize. So this fall, I’ve been tearing ruthlessly through closets and bookshelves and boxes, ridding our family of detritus.

Thankfully, there are numerous local opportunities for donating our excess stuff to worthy organizations.  Thus far, our family’s overflow has found its way to:

-       Junebug Mother & Child, the non-profit resale shop that takes gently used maternity and children’s clothing for cash, store credit, or free, and donates their proceeds to other non-profits.

-       Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) RetroWorks thrift shop, which seeks to reduce the amount of waste entering our landfills, provide training in employability skills, and generate revenue to support HOPE’s poverty relief work.

-       Bonnie’s Book Foundation, co-run by a local mom, which provides new and gently used books to children who may not own books at home, and to schools and organizations that serve at-risk children.

Then there’s Front Porch Forum. I resisted joining Vermont’s online “free community-building service” for a long time, because I assumed it would be just another social media distraction. Now, I look forward to the daily arrival of the Front Porch Forum bulletin in my inbox, in which local friends and neighbors post information, questions, and available or needed items. So far I’m a bit of a Front Porch Forum troll; not the kind of troll that lurks under a bridge and bites your ankles, but the kind of troll that lurks on Front Porch Forum and jumps at opportunities to give away stuff.

The only things standing in the way of our downsizing are our children. For some reason they resist my requests to sort through their stuffed animals and books and cull those that they no longer need; “no longer need” is an alien concept to my daughters. For instance, when I removed the 25 baby blankets that were taking up space in their closet (and which, by the way, we’d hardly ever used) on the grounds that we no longer have a baby in our house, all four of my daughters lay on the ground screaming as if I were trying to donate their kidneys. “But you CAN’T take those!!! They have MEMORIES!” they wept.

So I’ve become an undercover donor. When most of my children are at school, I tiptoe around the house stuffing bags with nonessentials; the trunk of our van is full of bags and boxes to be delivered to Junebug or RetroWorks or Bonnie’s Book Foundation, and I pray that my daughters don’t think to look back there.

All of this to say: If you need something in the next year, ask me first!

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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