Jodi Cole Meyer is in the third month of her journey with the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess (B & H Books) by Jen Hatmaker. She’s already done a month of eating only seven food items and a month of wearing only seven items of clothing. This month she’s giving away some belongings every day. In fact, from the sounds of it, she might need to give something to you!
Q. So this month, you are giving away seven things each day. This somehow seems easier than eating seven foods or wearing seven items of clothing for a month, which perhaps only speaks to my own personal excess. Are there any rules about what you must give or how you must give it? How is it working out so far?
A. Giving away seven things a day seemed overwhelming . . . until I counted the pieces of clothing that didn't make the cut when I was getting ready for my clothing fast. The combination of going through several different sizes in the last couple of years, coupled with a tendency to buy things because they were on sale rather than because needed them, means that I have plenty to get rid of that won’t even make the smallest change in my daily life. Since that’s really not the point, I committed to giving something away each and every day to an actual person, not just to a charity. Charities and thrift stores will get a total of ten things per day, but it’s the daily practice of giving something away that has me scrambling.
Here’s the part that’s harder than the first two fasts: I am dependent on someone else being willing to undergo this transaction with me. On both the food and clothing fasts, I could stick to them if I was committed enough, but now I have to find someone who needs or wants something that I have. It’s sort of sobering to realize that my world is populated with people who have plenty of things, and it takes a bit of (sometimes a lot of) effort to make contact with someone who can better use my stuff.
Q. Do you fear that by the end of the month you will have nothing left that you are willing to part with?
A. No. My biggest fear is that by the end of the month there won't be a noticeable dent in my things. I have been amazed at how I feel about giving things away—two things that I very recently bought for myself because I really thought they would be useful and wonderful, I gave away without hesitation. These were not old things or things that I didn’t use. They were brand new. And giving them away was way more fun than buying them was.
It’s funny that this question has two ways to look at it: Will I have anything left? Or I am willing to part with it? After thinking about how I interact with so much of what I own, and my reasons for surrounding myself with things (beautiful things, useful things, time-saving things, edifying things), I am increasingly at odds with the decision-making process that went into acquiring each of them. I am hungry to get rid of things, not necessarily because someone else needs them more (although often they do), or the money that I used to buy them should have been put to better use (usually it should have), or even that it sends the wrong message about what I treasure (which it does), but that it is not good for me to have so much. It makes me lazy. It takes up my time. It sucks my attention away from other things.
I am amazed at how much redundancy is built into my life, mostly because I had a thing and then found something that was slightly better. So I bought the better version, but I didn’t get rid of the first thing . . . just in case. In case of what, I am currently unclear on. It’s time to start living right on the edge of danger, with only one vacuum cleaner, one small sauté pan, one copy of my favorite book, one black sweater.
One thing that I have noticed is that this discipline has taught me . . . actually hunting for what other people might need. Thinking of others’ needs before my own is certainly biblical, and of course something I had been encouraged to do by good and well-meaning people, including the pastor at our wedding and every Sunday school teacher I've ever had. I don’t think that I really got the hang of it until now. I’m clearly not great at it, but it's been a good start.
Q. Are there any items that were hard to give away so far?
A. Great question. When I was pestering my friends to tell me what I could give them in order to keep up with my commitment to give things away, one of them mentioned a red pitcher that is part of my pitcher collection. It is a lovely pitcher, and I can actually remember using it to serve water from (this is not true of most of the pitchers in my collection). I had never considered giving it away. Never. It’s part of a collection! And collections mean collecting, not dispersing! Everything in my soul rejected all of the things that I have been learning about owning “stuff,” and I was overwhelmingly grateful that she ended the suggestion with a laugh, showing that she didn't really think I had any obligation to follow through on the “request.” I mean, why that pitcher? She didn’t need it; she just liked it. I like it too.
Then I went home, looked at the pitchers that line the shelf around my living room, and realized that I had not gotten any joy out of this pitcher for a long time. I thought about the joy it would bring my friend, and the joy that giving it to her would bring me. I packed it up (after dusting it off . . . it really had been a while since I last used it) and brought it to her. Hard for a moment, but profoundly satisfying for much longer. Plus, I know where it is if I need it back. Just kidding! Sort of.
Q. I know the clothing was last month’s project, but I need to know. Did all seven items make it through the month? Did anyone ever mention to you that they’d seen you in the same clothes often recently, and if so, did you explain why?
They all made it through! But there was a small hole in one of the dresses and a stain on the T-shirt, and both dresses got a little worn-looking from all the washing. My husband was just plain sick of the dresses—one of the very few times I think he’s ever mentioned a preference in, or even noticed, what I wear. After wearing the same dress two weeks in a row in front of church, I had a couple of people mention that I must really like that dress. People I work with certainly noticed. I did explain that I was doing a sort of fast, and talked a little about what I was learning. It opened the door to some really interesting discussions.
Right after I finished the clothing fast, my husband and I went on a two-week trip. Now, I’m not an under-packer: I want to make sure that I am prepared for whatever activity or opportunity may arise in the time we’re gone. My husband scoffs at this, and just cares that there is enough underwear and socks to get him through—he’s perfectly happy with a pair of jeans and two shirts. So this time around, I felt differently about what to take, and I packed much more parsimoniously. I did end up forgetting two things: a jacket and sunglasses. Normally I would have driven directly to a store and bought both items, plus anything else that seemed like a good deal. This time around, I borrowed sunglasses, and made do with the clothes I had along. I feel like it’s a whole new me. Some of this stuff is sinking in, in a real way, I think.