It may be summer in the mercury charts and its certainly over 45 in the shade – but perhaps because of climate change, most of us in Bahrain seem to have been bitten by the spring-cleaning bug and have been busy getting stuff out of our homes (lives?) that we didn’t even know existed for the past decade or so.
Juxtapose that with the summer holidays when most of Bahrain is on break and we are left with mounds of unsaleable stuff that gets sent to charities that don’t need them. So much so, charities have started rebelling and refusing to be the dumping ground for lazy donations.
When it comes to tech excess, things are even more difficult to dispose. Not used stuff – just brand new gizmos which have been left high and dry by changing technology. My spring-cleaning unearthed things that we simply have no use for anymore – clip-on camera for our laptops, Walkman sets, iPods ... all replaced by built-in conveniences.
Royal Humanitarian Foundation secretary general Dr Mustafa Al Sayed once told me that during a particularly terrible flood situation in Pakistan, when aid was pouring in from all over the world, desperate villagers were chasing away lorries bringing clothing and canned food that they felt was not halal. Instead, they asked for tents since their homes had been washed away – and, ironically, given that the disaster involved too much rain, potable water.
Similarly, a friend who volunteers at a well-known charity initiative for children with special needs, says they are routinely presented with too many inappropriate gifts – tottering piles of colouring books and cursive writing exercise pads for children who courageously battle to grip a pencil steadily, read-along story books when many suffer from attention deficit issues and can barely string alphabets together.
What would they really want, then? I asked. Her answer surprised me. Laptops, she said. The children are so quick to pick up lessons electronically, learn basic life skills taught with digital illustrations that laptops would be far more useful than notebooks and crayons. Would you give a gift of papyrus and stylus in this day and age to a child, she asked with a despairing eye roll. It’s not about what you don’t need and want to dump but what the recipient of your charity actually needs.
Having recently started the journey from an over-stuffed life to a minimalist and sustainable one, I am finding out how difficult it is to give away perfectly good things even if they are unused. When our families were growing, I remember a group of us best friends sharing everything from cribs to baby mattresses and even kids’ “as new” hand-me-downs for the first couple of years of our children’s lives. Not because we could not afford new stuff but because it was just so much more sensible to use the good stuff in the circle. It is a situation that’s quite unthinkable for today’s families.
If you ask me, charities too must learn from the practice of wedding gift registries and list out what exactly they want from donors. The days of not looking a gift horse in the mouth are behind us – especially when they come in herds!