Giving, not just sacrificing

Susan Vogt saved the crib from her four children and set it up when her son and his wife brought their baby to visit. The son informed her that the drop-side design was unsafe and no longer legal. So she turned it into a piece of furniture with pillows, but the charity she tried to give it to didn’t want it, either. She ended up using the metal parts as garden stakes and kept the mattress to put on the floor when children come to visit.

“That was probably the hardest piece of furniture that I ever had to get rid of,” Vogt said.

It wasn’t just an object. The crib was filled with memories of her own children.

Vogt was thrifty, and the storage space in her home in Covington, Ky., was neatly organized with things she thought she might need — until Lent 2010.

“I was trying to decide how to make it more meaningful,” she said. “I had the usual things to give up, like desserts, but then I looked around my house and realized that although I never considered myself a conspicuous consumer, I had collected more things than I needed. It seemed like letting go of some of that stuff would be a meaningful Lenten experience for me.”

Vogt committed to giving up one thing on each of the 40 days of Lent. “I wanted to see how that would change me, and it did more than I thought,” she said. “I thought that I would be doing some good for others by sharing things with folks who needed them more than I needed them, and indeed that happened, but it was more than that. On the spiritual side, it put me more in solidarity with those who did not have the luxury of having things that they were free to give away.”

Vogt decided to continue the project for a year and found fulfillment in being liberated from objects and in being able to share her abundance.

“It’s a spiritual challenge to put our stuff and our lives at the service of others,” she said.


Vogt is the author of five books, including “Blessed By Less: Clearing Your Life of Clutter by Living Lightly” (Loyola Press, $13.95).

Our Sunday Visitor: What Scripture inspires you to give away things?

Susan Vogt: The story in Luke 12 about the landowner who wanted to build a bigger barn to store more things. I think about that and what I am spending my time and money on. I wonder why I’m saving all this stuff, because it can be taken away at any moment by any catastrophe and, ultimately, by death.

OSV: Why do people hang onto things they don’t need?

Vogt: For me, it was the instinct that someday I may want to use it and might need it. And the emotional side reminds me of a happy or special time, or a landmark in our family that I want to honor. The object is a way to bring the memory to mind. Sometimes it’s just a saving instinct that you’re going to wear it again or use it again.

OSV: Any easy ways to say goodbye to stuff?

Vogt: We’ve taken photos of items, and you can also have a farewell by wearing a piece of clothing one more time, or using a piece of dinnerware one more time. And doing it with honor. Sometimes I’m not ready to give something away, and then the second time through the closet, I don’t know why I still kept it, and now I’m ready.

OSV: One Lent, you took the Food Stamp Challenge for two people to eat on $9 a day. How did that go?

Vogt: There were a lot of trade-offs, like choosing what was cheapest and what would create a nutritious meal. It took a lot of knowledge, and we had to calculate every meal.

OSV: What has decluttering taught you?

Vogt: Spiritually, the process helped to remind me that my worth and value are not dependent on what I own or wear, or even the deeper thing of how much I accomplish. That’s not the measure of my value.

OSV: What about giving up things that take up your time?

Vogt: I’m currently working on not saying yes to everything people ask me to do. I have to let go of my inclinations to do everything, because I can’t. This is learning a stewardship of time.

OSV: Has giving away material things helped you with emotional clutter?

Vogt: It puts it all in perspective that it’s not worth hanging onto a grudge, or pushing relationships with anybody to get my own way. In the bigger picture of life, healthy relationships are going to be what I value most. It’s not important to win an argument if I lose a relationship.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.