By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 18, 2014
There doesn’t seem to a word for the opposite of hoarder, but that’s what I aspire to be. Something about having stuff that I’m not using becomes a terrible drag on my life, so every few months I go through the house weeding out excess clothing, books and knickknacks to give away.
I see it as a spiritual pursuit. Each day has only so many hours, and we must decide whether we will spend them cleaning, repairing and otherwise taking care of stuff—or saying a prayer, writing a story, singing a song or reading to a child.
I remind myself of the fourth century Desert Fathers who somehow managed quite nicely with just a robe, a Bible and a bowl for food. That well-known 20th-century monastic Thomas Merton wrote, “He who has left all things possesses all things”—and that phrase lingered with me. Don’t get me wrong. I knew God wasn’t calling me to enter a cloistered monastery, but I longed nevertheless to open up a space in my life, to prove to myself that I could free myself, just a bit, from worldly attachments.
I would be lying, however, if I told you my attempts to de-clutter always go smoothly.
One year, you see, I decided to get rid of a bunch of stuffed animals by donating them to our church for its annual flea market. After all, I reminded myself, I was an adult, so why was I keeping the bears, the rabbits and the Cookie Monster, for heaven’s sake?
There was one fellow I knew would be with me until my dying days, and that is Poppa, my bedraggled Pluto dog, a la the Disney comics. He is now bald, his head is attached with embroidery thread and his paws are bent in strange ways. But he was among my first animals, and he holds pride of place.
As I boxed the other fuzzy creatures up, I envisioned cherubic children chuckling over them and cuddling them. The animals, I assured myself, would be adopted by little ones—as well they should.
Still, when I dropped the fuzzy crew off at church, I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, reminiscent of childhood days when I couldn’t find my mother in a crowd.
“They’ll be fine,” I told myself, and added sternly: “Grow up!”
On the day of the sale, I headed over to church and hurried over to the area where toys were displayed. I couldn’t wait to see children rushing up to one of my plush beasts, scooping it up and begging their mom to buy it.
That particular fantasy fizzled out when I spotted tables laden with literally hundreds of stuffed animals of every conceivable size, shape and color. Turtles, pigs, chipmunks, frogs, elephants and hippos: you name it! But instead of angelic tykes caressing them tenderly, I saw boys running around and having the time of their lives by turning the animals into makeshift footballs.
Worse yet, I recognized my very own cherished creatures being roughly tossed about. I was horrified, but didn’t want to make a scene so I waited until the boys tired of their game, then gathered up my bedraggled beasts by the ears.
I explained to the bemused lady running the flea market that these were the animals I’d donated, and she waved me on when I tried to give her money.
Later I tenderly brushed them off and put them back on their shelves. They sat there for a few more years, until I was ready to take another tack. This time I decided to give them away, one at a time, to various charities that serve the poor. When I handed them over to the person running the thrift store, I knew there was little chance of ever seeing them again.
And I’m starting to see that when we give something away, we have to dispense with fantasies of how that object will be used—and by whom—and give with no emotional strings attached.
I still go through the house each fall piling up items for our church’s sale. But I’ve promised myself I cannot, under any circumstances, buy back my own stuff at the flea market.
Well, unless it’s that cute little rock my sister gave me years ago. It’s hand-painted to look like a cat. And I’ll admit it could easily find its way back home.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is a laugh-out-loud mystery, “Death Dons a Mask.” Illustration is by Jef Murray, whose art can be seen at www.jefmurray.com. Readers may contact the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.