Who owns the extra clothing in your closet?


The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” (source)

I’ve been thinking about this quote from St. Basil the Great lately… specifically in the clothing area. I have a surprising amount of clothes that I don’t like or don’t fit properly; why don’t I give them away?

This quote, paired with a minimalist-style desire for less “stuff” in my life, led to the ultimate overhaul of my entire wardrobe.

As I was sorting things, I was having a philosophical discussion with myself (as often happens when I’m home alone; the cat is not much of a conversationalist). Here’s the question:

Why do we give less fortunate people our junk?

The initial answer seems obvious: they don’t have much, so they’ll be grateful for whatever we give them. But what kind of attitude is that? Do I think the invisible “they” don’t know any better and don’t realize they’re getting my junk?

Now, let me add that I come from a very secondhand and thirdhand family… we love Goodwill and thrift stores, and about 90% of my clothing is already secondhand. I’m not a spendy gal. But! We as a community of privileged need to change our attitude.

There were several times I caught myself holding back on donating a dress or pair of shoes… “I paid a lot of money for that! I should hang on to it!” …even though it doesn’t fit and I haven’t worn it in 3 years.

Why should I keep that dress from those who are less fortunate? They are humans just like me and deserve nice things for nice occasions- maybe a wedding or funeral dress? …Does it even matter?

A second excuse I used for keeping clothing was this: “Second-Cousin-Once-Removed-Euphronia-Fitzherbert gave me that top. I should hang on to it.”

The real question I should ask is this: would sweet little Mrs. Fitzherbert be offended if that shirt was given away and worn by someone who needs it multiple times a month (or week!), or would she prefer that it hangs in the closet for another 2 years until I decide that a lime green turtleneck just isn’t going to come back in style?

I had to break the hearts of a few distant relatives today, but they are no worse off for not knowing and I can clear my conscience. It’s something I plan to focus on as I get the rest of the house in order: how can I give from my surplus, instead of just my excess?


What are you holding on to that a neighbor needs? Food? A pair of shoes? Spending money? In what areas of your life are you being challenged to surrender your “wants” in order to help the needs of another?

(Author’s note: this post was originally published on one of my other blogs. I’m bringing my best work here, to showcase it and share it a little further).

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