Let me tell you a story about old t-shirts, and I promise I have a point.
Several weeks ago, I had a spurt of energy and decided to tackle the laundry room. When there’s some article of clothing nobody wants to think about, they stuff it in the laundry room, and have done so for years. So I girded my mental loins, took a decongestant for the dust, and dived in.
I’ve been something of a hoarder in the past, partly because I’m sentimental, partly because anxiety makes it hard to make decisions, and partly because we were so poor for so long, it really was reasonable to hold onto iffy stuff in case we needed it someday, somehow.
But on this day, I was ruthless. I got rid of stained tablecloths; I tossed out bedsheets with sub-par elastic. I said goodbye to stacks of once-adorable onesies that several of my little ones had worn, and had thoroughly, irredeemably worn out. I called people over to give me a definitive answer about whether or not they would ever wear all these overalls and cardigans and leotards, and I filled several bags and marked them “give away.” And I turned up dozens of t-shirts with corporate logos on them, and these I threw away.
Even though there was so much more I could have done with them, I just threw them away! Nobody in my house wants these shirts. We have clothes we like, and don’t need to wear t-shirts advertising an insurance agency that sponsored a long-ago softball team, or commemorating a marathon we didn’t actually run in. We already have plenty of comfy pajamas, and I already have plenty of rags. There is no chance in hell I will recycle them into some shabby chic rag rug or boho wall hanging. I want them out of my tiny, overstuffed house, and I want to get on with my life.
When you want to get rid of stuff, you have choices, of course. I could put them in a local clothing collection bin, whence they will be collected, shredded, and sold by the pound, and the proceeds will go to an organization that helps the poor in third world countries by pressuring them into getting sterilized.
I could put them in the back of my car and drive around with them for months until I remember to put them in the one bin three towns away that doesn’t have ethical problems, but by the time I get around to it, my children will have stepped on them so many times, they will be literal garbage. Or I could donate them to a local thrift shop, which, because it’s already so well-stocked, would entail making an appointment with someone, who would sort through everything and accept some but not all of them, and would add them to the already vast assortment of cast-off t-shirts with corporate logos on them, which the poor can buy for a dollar or even take for free.
Or I could throw them away.
Maybe this wouldn’t feel like a radical act to you, but that’s how it felt to me. Americans have been trained to believe that, because our world is drowning in garbage, we should always search for some other solution besides throwing things away, and if we do throw things away, we should at least offer up a pinch of the incense of guilt. But there’s more to the story than that… Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.
7 thoughts on “T-shirts and other heavy burdens”
Can totally relate to anxiety making it impossible for me to decide. Just reading that sentence made me anxious.
Last year, in the quest for more garden soil, I began putting our plain corrugated cardboard and also our unwanted 100% cotton clothing into my compost pile. It works!
P.S. I know your essay isn’t really about what-to-do-with-old-clothes. 😉
You are singing my song! Bearing the scars of an impoverished childhood, I also used to hoard clothes. A couple of years ago, I started the purge. At first, when I would throw things away, I felt guilty. And I also felt guilty donating to Purple Heart, which I’ve heard is a crappy organization, but they would come take the stuff right off my front porch. I decided that was good enough. The last few years I’ve been much better about getting rid of old clothes and more intentional about buying new ones. Turns out, I spend so little on clothes, I’m not sure why I was hoarding them in the first place. Aside from their pricey, sport appropriate sneaks (which I don’t pass down anyway), my boys mostly wear free tee shirts (from school and community activities) and sweats.
My sons range in sizes from kids’ 14 all the way up to mens’ large, but these days I only save blazers and suits. Part of me being more intentional in clothes buying is that I no longer buy anything new that was made in China, due to their use of slave labor. It’s a luxury I can afford and I’m doing what I can. I’m not judging other people for buying Chinese clothes.
So I’m trying to do what I can in my little corner of the world, but I once threw a family party where eco-evangelizing nieces and nephews were making jokey, snarky comments about the waste they saw me committing (plasticware). I was smiling, but in my head I was thinking, “This is about family, not waste. You idiot ingrates try throwing a party for 60 plus people without disposable products.” My husband saw my polite forced smile, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “So we’re doing our part to save the earth by not getting on a plane this decade. Did I hear you rowed back from Thailand?” My nieces and nephews are good people. They are walking their talk – they’re vegans and vegetarians because they truly believe by not eating meat they’re doing what’s best for the environment. But my husband’s response to them was perfect, because they do fly all around the world and airline fuel is supposed to be terrible for the environment.
I think there’s a recognition that comes with age that if we all just do what we can and treat each other the way we want to be treated, life would be much better for all of us.
Something I’ve realized years ago is that everyone donates clothes but no one donates soap or detergent. And then some people even complain about how poor people don’t take good care of donated clothes.
Here are some news for you: donated clothes are for free, yet laundry detergent is an expensive item!
I always make sure to specifically mention, when announcing that my parish is collecting goods for poor people, how important it is to donate laundry detergent. It seems foolish, but most people never remember to donate it.
When we were poor we used to wash our smelly items out in the bathroom sink using whatever soap we had (generally dish soap because it was cheapest). We didn’t have the quarters needed to do actual loads of laundry.
Warm winter jackets are always in demand here, but toilet paper, shampoo, tampons, and deodorant are even more in demand. In terms of food, the most in demand items at our area food pantries are Dinty Moore type stews, canned meat, and protein bars.