Three weeks ago I kicked off a social experiment based on Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I recruited (wrangled) ten women to join (suffer) with me, and together we committed to radically simplifying seven areas of our lives over the course of the next seven weeks. On our hit list were: food, clothing, possessions, spending, media, waste, and stress.
Week Three: Possessions
Our third week of the 7-Experiment focused on radically simplifying our possessions. We committed to purging and donating seven belongings every day for seven days. Rather than donating to a large organization, we tried to find local individuals in need and establish an ongoing relationship.
Generosity Begets Generosity
There was a season of life where we were a 1-income family working in ministry. The generosity of others got us through extremely thin patches time and time again. We had a check for $1,000 find its way to our mailbox at exactly the right time. A family in our church even gave us a car. We were often surprised with financial or clothing donations. Our church community loved us well and took great care of our little family. Each time money got uncomfortably tight and I saw no hope in sight, I wrestled with our convictions that kept me home raising our young children rather than working, earning an income. But one day I read something that encouraged me to stop looking for ways to make money outside of the home and challenged me to use what I already had to provide for our family. So I got creative. I started consigning my children’s used clothing. I sold our books on Amazon. I put my expensive Art degree to use and made things to sell. When we were finished with an item, I didn’t keep it around to collect dust. I sold it.
Now, years later, we’re in a season of life where our children are older and my husband and I both bring in an income. I no longer sell our used items to make ends meet. It’s our turn to become the givers, rather than the recipients. Week 3 challenged me to put this conviction into action.
The focus of this week in the 7-Experiment was to donate seven items every day for seven days, which meant a total of 49 items. So I went through my house, through the garage and all of the closets, and formed a gigantic Mount Everest of things to donate. Word spread about the 7-Experiment throughout our community, so multiple times I came home to find donations left on my doorstep. Each of the nine other women involved in the 7-Experiment gathered giant bags full of home goods, baby gear, and bags (and bags and bags!) of men, women, and children’s clothing. Women in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Greenville, and all around the Lowcountry emailed me to let me know they were inspired to either participate or to start reading Jen Hatmaker’s book themselves. The Post and Courier, our local newspaper, caught wind of the 7-Experiment and interviewed members of our group for an upcoming article. The response to Week 3 was truly staggering.
Initially I thought coming up with 49 items to donate would be challenging, but as I stood back and surveyed the mountains of donations accumulating in my living room, my garage, and the trunk of my car, as I read the emails coming in, I couldn’t help but be amazed. The generosity of one—Jen Hatmaker—was inspiring the generosity of multitudes. It was contagious, and definitely immeasurably more than anything I’d ever anticipated when we first set out.
Facing the Hard Facts
I sat on the floor of my living room late one night, completely engulfed by mounds of donations. I’d sorted 6 bags of men’s clothing, 11 bags of women’s clothing, 7 bags of baby clothing, 3 bags to be given to Cinderella Day, 4 bags of home goods, multiple strollers, high chairs, and other baby gear. I was swimming in the generosity of my community. There was no lack of openhandedness in the Charleston area. But what was lacking was the destination for all of these donations. Where was it all going to go? And I realized for the first time in my life—
I live in a bubble.
I sat surrounded by hundreds of items ready and waiting to be given away…and I didn’t know a single soul to give them to. I knew of many worthy organizations, but no actual individuals who had no roof over their head, no food to feed their children, no warm clothes to wear in January. Somehow I’d successfully encapsulated myself in a bubble of affluence. Everyone orbiting my life lived in a similar circle of plenty, and we rarely collided with circles of poverty. I live in a town where most drive shiny new cars and wear name brand clothing, where rental companies charge more than a dollar a square foot and even sub-prime real estate sells at top dollar. Plenty and poverty just don’t intersect. Or so I thought.
Last year I came home to find that our neighbors a few houses down had been evicted. All of their belongings were thrown onto the side of the road. Furniture, baby toys, a high chair, clothing. Who knows if they had anywhere to go? My own family lived only yards away, preoccupied with our own needs and blind to those so close to home. I drove by this house every single day, never knowing this family was struggling…sinking…drowning.
And here I was again.
When it came time to match the donations with recipients, I looked around and found no one. I knew no one battling poverty. I don’t doubt they’re closer than I’d expect. But where does Homelessness live? Where are you, Poverty?
Of course, it’s everywhere. And for the first time in my life, I was looking for it.
My fellow 7-Experiment participants turned to social media to put out an SOS. More donations showed up on our doorsteps in response, and we got connected with numerous organizations and people in need throughout the Lowcountry. We learned of a single mom living in a studio apartment with her 18 month old son with no heat, no stove, and minimal clothing or furniture. Over 100 comments later, our one Facebook post asking for help generated such an overwhelming response that we were able to fully supply EVERY need for this one single mom. And we still had donations leftover! So we loaded up the back of a truck and sent men’s clothing downtown to Feed a Friend, which provides food and clothing to homeless men. But again, we still had donations leftover. So we loaded up another truck with donations headed for local single moms in need of women’s clothing, children’s clothing, and houseware. And we still had donations leftover! I watched as seven items multiplied by the hundreds. It was a modern day ‘fish that fed five thousand’ experience. And it was wrecking me.
On This Side
Because of the unexpected and overwhelming response to Week 3 of the 7-Experiment, we decided to break it into two weeks: one for collecting donations and one for distributing. Interestingly enough, just as we are wrapping up our distributions, we’ve learned of a tent city of homeless living in the woods of downtown Charleston. So now we’ve started the process all over again and are collecting items to take to them. One simple Facebook post has created a fire storm, and it seems that there is still volumes of untapped generosity in this community. Although we’re nearing the end of Week 3, clearly it’s not the end of this lesson for us. In fact, it looks like it’s just the beginning to something much bigger and wilder than anything we ever imagined.
All I know is that I can’t stand by and just do nothing. I’ve done that for far too long. I know that I can’t solve the poverty problem, but I can bring my plenty. Because it turns out that Plenty and Poverty are actually a perfect match.
Join me next week for Part II of Week 3: A Mutiny Against Excess Possessions as I share more stories from our experience.