Why is it so hard for me to give things away? My friend Myrna says it’s because, like her, I was a Depression baby. Our parents held on to worn-out, broken, or tattered things, believing they could never be replaced. Balls of string in her parents’ case, Myrna said; old screws and nails in mine. Who really needs a drawerful of cheesecloth and canning-jar wax that predates the Vietnam War?
Clearly, I have a problem with giving away anything that is halfway okay, but part of me, I have to admit, secretly revels in this seeming flaw: We live, after all, in a disposable age, in which culture (and marketing) promotes shiny new things, and I don’t at all mind counting myself among those who resist this urge toward wastefulness.
Another problem is that once you’ve finally ripped off the Band-Aid and decided to give something away, you have to find someone who will take it. And that isn’t as easy around here as you might think.
I was delighted this week to learn that as a benefit for the Synchro Swans, the water-ballet team at the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter, clothing and households groups will be collected at the Springs Presbyterian Church on May 3 and 4 for sale to a nonprofit charity. I ran straight to my closet to see what I could unearth.
There are clothes in the deepest depths of this closet that I haven’t worn in decades, and I don’t mean that figuratively. For example, an intensely colored Marimekko top, shortened unsuccessfully from a floor-length muumuu that I bought in the 1960s. (The fabrics Marimekko used then were of real quality, everlasting as iron.) I guess I kept the Marimekko piece as a memento of times gone by . . . just as my mother preserved a tiny tap-dancing costume I wore for a performance when I was about 4. My preschool tap outfit can be found in a drawer nearby.
Like all parents and grandparents these days, I am strangely disheartened whenever I look over into the corner of my yard that is inhabited by a herd of big, plastic toys — sad, cast-aside ride-ons that the kids have outgrown. My herd includes a four-wheeled Jeep-like vehicle, inflatable and hard-plastic horses to sit or bounce on, a rocket ship. . . . You get the picture.
The Synchro Swans people don’t want my sad toys, it turns out. They won’t take any toys for the rummage sale unless they fit inside a 24-by-24-inch box. Sigh. The Ladies Village Improvement Society doesn’t want them, either. And the place we called Caldor East, at the East Hampton Town dump — where you could once drop off serviceable household discards for others to pick up — was shut down by a previous town administration and, most unfortunately, hasn’t reopened.
This week I added to my giveaway troubles when I offered to figure out how to pass on a well-made Victorian couch that my son and daughter-in-law no longer want. The L.V.I.S. may or may not accept it for its furniture barn, I would have to hire someone to get it there to find out.
Is this, or is this not, a signal that our society is drowning in too much stuff?
Old clothes, at least, have an upside if you hang onto them long enough: Eventually — the circular rhythm of fashion being what it has become — they rotate back into style, and if they still fit, you get to feel clever and vain besides.
With all those household objects gathering dust, your only hope is that they become “collectibles.” I’ve got an Art Deco toaster, for example, and a popcorn-maker that should be in the Smithsonian. I have a hamper full of material, including some from curtains made for the Amagansett house 40 years ago; I have my mother’s china, which I never liked the look of, and a couple of generations of cookbooks (though my daughter would murder me if I gave those away).
Personally, I say the best way for all of us to cope with our excess can be found right here in the pages of The Star each week: Throw a yard sale! Family members just laugh when I announce I’m going to have one. I’ve been hanging onto that delusion for decades, too.