In some Native American cultures, people perform a ceremony called a “give-away” as a public recognition of a new personal status–such as through a wedding, or the naming of a baby–or to express thanks for blessings received.
Last year, I gave away virtually everything I owned. This included furniture, kitchenware, clothing, books, music, artwork, decorative items, photos, jewelry, and mementos. Letting go of belongings was difficult at first, but became easier as I felt the increase in lightness that accompanied the cutting loose.
As I went through the stages of unburdening myself of material goods, I recognized that most of the value of our belongings is in our emotional attachment to them. That was part of the reason I gave away most of my stuff, rather than throwing it or selling it. The Great Give-Away took longer than if I had had a yard sale, and did not bring me any cash, but I found much satisfaction in the ability to be more generous than I could otherwise be, giving nice things to friends–and strangers–who wanted and could use them.
Sometimes, these generous gifts strengthened an existing friendship, if mostly by offering the impetus to get together and hang out. When I gave my small collection of quirky foreign film DVDs to my dear friend, Beckie, she cried with gratitude. Other times, my give-aways spawned new friendships, or re-connected me to something that had been important. For instance, one stranger, who picked up my herbs and spices, is the new director of a local non-prof that had helped me out years ago, and for which I had volunteered in a serious manner. She accepted my invitation to come in and chat for a bit, during which I told her how much the organization’s work had meant to me. Also, we discovered that she sees daily the four pieces of artwork I had made and donated to the organization. When I told her I was the artist, she gasped, teared up, and got goosebumps, because she loves them and finds them so meaningful, and even more so, having met me and heard how the organization had greatly helped me in years past. The new director later invited me to speak at the organization, and after that event, to a regional group of such organizations.
Another recipient turned out to be a homeschool mom that I had helped years ago. Though we had not been in touch since, she still remembered and appreciated my kindness in taking time to allay her fears. I was gratified to hear her update on her homeschooling and her children’s progress.
One person was so grateful for the things I gave away–some long curtain rods for her new home, as well as some perennial divisions from my garden–that she insisted on repaying me for my kindness by coming to my house with her cleaning supplies. That is how a total stranger came to spend most of a day washing windows and scrubbing the floors on her hands and knees, so my house would be ready to put on the market.
These encounters were enriching in ways that money and material goods cannot reach, and affirmed that for me, the connections with people are the most valuable of things. My great give-away also proclaimed my new personal status, that of a traveler whose belongings are light enough to take her into a whole new life, a childhood dream come to life.