I was a sophomore in college when I learned one of the principles that still guides me today. Visiting with a friend who lived down the hall, I commented on a beautiful piece of artwork she had framed on her desk, a delicate rendering of flowers with an inspirational saying woven in between petals.
“Oh, thank you,” she answered and looked at the piece as if for the first time.
An hour later, I was back down the hall in my own room, catching up on reading for a class when there was a knock on my door. My hallmate was there with the framed work in her hands.
“I want you to have this,” Jenny said. “I’ve enjoyed it for a lot of years, but I hadn’t even noticed it lately until you said something about it. I think it is meant for you now.”
Speechless, I hugged her and found the perfect spot for it in my room. I read it every morning for years. Those words just felt like they were meant for me, like they were written for me.
That offering from my hallmate ended up creating a practice I follow today. What I understood from Jenny’s kindness was that we can receive joy or relief by seeing something that we once loved or used being loved or used by someone new. Now, when I am no longer enjoying something as much as I once did, I give it to someone else who might find joy from or a need for it now.
Last week, I enjoyed a wonderful morning with some really fun and interesting women during the Spark Your Systems workshop. Though we primarily focused on how we organize our time and processes in order to create more of the life we want, the subject of organizing closets came up. It was then that I shared one of the very concrete ways that Jenny’s gift informs my actions today: for every item that comes into my home, I make the commitment that at least one item has to go.
For almost twenty years, I have followed this one in, one out rule. For clothing, I keep a bag hanging on the back of my closet door to collect items that I am giving away to make room for what I have purchased or have been given (to be fair, I don’t necessarily get rid of the same type of thing. A new blouse might be swapped out for jeans, for example, and if I didn’t have the thing at all, I will very occasionally let the one in and one out rule slide but that is super rare). When a fair amount has been collected, I go through the pieces to see if there is something that someone in my life would enjoy having and then divide up the other items for drop-off at my usual donation sites. Occasionally, I’ll consign some items but that is also really rare. For household goods and toys, I keep a shelf in the garage. As it fills, I load it in the car and make the pertinent drops. It is a process that keeps me mindful of not over-consuming and of sharing, values that are important to me to be living. Moreover, it’s a process that helps me to keeps things organized and in order as I go. Nice lessons learned, yes, but perhaps what Jenny’s generosity most concretely taught me is that the greatest delight available to us very rarely comes when we receive. Delight is maybe even more amazing when you share.