Don’t Donate, Incinerate: Getting Rid of Unwanted Stuff.

You might be tempted to donate that old sweater to charity.  Don’t waste your time – nobody wants it.  Instead, you should burn it.  That warm glow you feel?  Freedom, from the bitter chains of materialism.

As minimalists we are always finding stuff to get rid of, and once the decision has been made our first reaction is to donate. Old shirt with only one or two holes? Donate.  Watch with missing band?  Donate.  Wife’s weird cat sculpture, that might be a paperweight, but seems to stare right at you, no matter where you stand?  Donate (surreptitiously).

We think we are making a big difference.  We envision a poor skinny boy sitting in a broken down tenement, warming his shaking hands by the light of a propane stove.  His only joy comes from a small gum encrusted GI Joe action figure with a missing leg that some brave soul had the courage to give away.  Yeah right.

We need to face up to the fact that most of our extra stuff is junk, pure and simple.  If you don’t want it, nobody else does.  Maybe you get a rush from giving away a stack of your wife’s raggedy old towels, but trust me, the only thing those are being used for is bedding, by rats, at the dump.  Even “new” items, still in the box are worthless.  Do you think somebody wants a pack of glow in the dark sharpies?  Or a 2015 “Pug’s Mugs” wall calendar?  

If you don’t want it, its junk.  And you should burn it all.

Inspired by Nature

For a real world example look no further than nature.  A wildfire burns through the clutter of an overgrown forest and makes room for new trees to grow.  It’s such an important process that foresters start fires intentionally to keep a forest healthy.  These “controlled burns” are necessary to clean out dead brush and old trees, to keep the risk of a catastrophic fire low.  So too must you carry out controlled burns in your own life, cleansing the old and unwanted, before it overwhelms you.

What if instead of controlled burns, rangers “donated” dead logs and old leaves to other parts of the forest?  Not only would it be more work, but it would increase the risk of a major fire in the process.  Giving to charity causes the same problems.  By giving away junk to the homeless and needy, even usable junk like your wife’s new shoes, you are increasing the risk of catastrophic materialism.  Burn it instead.    

Joining the Brotherhood

Fire is a cathartic, cleansing force.  Burning needless crap is a ritual that has been passed down through the generations for tens of thousands of years.  By striking the match and alighting it upon that ugly pink purse your wife bought, you are joining an order more ancient than civilization itself: the brotherhood of man.

Compare this to the process of donating, a long complicated dance that gives no satisfaction to anyone involved.  First you lug out an empty box from the attic, then, over several days, you fill it halfway with an assortment of random stuff, then you pull a few things that you “really need” out, then it sits in a corner for a few weeks, then a car, etc.  Forget that.  When I decided my wife didn’t need that stuffed penguin she keeps by the bed I went straight out back with the lighter.  There was no takeback, no dialogue.  It was final, and freeing.

How to Burn

When I find something that needs to go I try not to even think about it: I drop what I’m doing head to the fire pit, a small hole behind the house.  I keep a lighter, a can of gasoline, and old polyester clothing there to facilitate burns.  Having your fire pit ready all the times is important for when you make that spur of the moment decision to burn something.

For example, yesterday I was watching TV when I noticed my wife clutching a horrible neon green throw pillow with the word “LAUGH” embossed in silver sequins.  Obviously it had to go.  As soon as she got up to use the bathroom I grabbed it and headed out back.  The pillow’s strange amalgamation of manufactured materials burned fast and pure, with no need for gasoline or kindling.  Who’s laughing now, I wondered, as the cheap little sequins melted in the cleansing flame.  I went back inside feeling free, and even a little lighter.  The beer I enjoyed afterwards was more refreshing than any I had ever tasted.

A Minimalist Ritual

While quick decisions are important for any minimalist, a more ritualized approach can also be satisfying.  Once a month my friends and I gather at a vacant lot for a bonfire.  We toss all of our unwanted stuff into the pit, douse it with gasoline, chuck a few M80’s in there for good measure, and light it up.  Then it burns, and we dance.  

Standing hand in hand while watching the flickering flames evokes an ancient feeling of kinship.  Like our fathers before us, and their fathers before them, we are partaking in an ancient ritual.  Our hands become roots that bind us to a common fate and take hold in the soil of time.

The fiery communion gives a greater purpose to our modern junk than any it had before.  Kindling is a noble and undeserved fate for rubbish like my wife’s selfie stick, or her electric toothbrush.  As the melting plastics send noxious fumes into the sky, the modern contrivances that history will forget arrive at their final resting place: Hell.

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