Every Thursday, I drive through my neighborhood absolutely mesmerized by the heaps of trash and recycle that line both sides of the street. Flat screen TV boxes. Old media stands. Towers of single-use water bottles. For nearly three years, I have worked furiously to minimize what sits in front of our house. In fact, I have been ruthless with what I accept to the point that we have decided to raise a minimalist baby. Why, then, am I driving around with a polyester flower in my cup holder?
I keep a handful of change in the console of my car at all times. I’ve been caught quarterless at Aldi one too many times to not have learned that lesson. Plus, I’m a sucker for lemonade stands and collections at intersections. Normally, I politely decline the swirling electric yellow concoctions and instead compliment the sellers on their industrious nature. I also pass on peanuts, mints, and any other accouterments that Kiwanis or Misericordia or anyone else might be handing out. Unless there are Tootsie Rolls. Early on in my marriage, I tossed in a handful of coins, declined the Tootsie Roll, and rolled up the window only to look over and see the betrayed eyes of my husband. “Who says no to Tootsie Rolls?” Lesson learned.
Yesterday was set to be much of the same. On the way out of the hardware store, I noticed a woman sitting by a milk jug with a hand-lettered sign. Support Our Veterans. I rummaged around in the bottom of my handbag, retrieving two Aldi quarters and a few loose pennies. I don’t carry cash. This would have to do.
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It’s true that I didn’t know the charity. I guessed the local VFW, but I wasn’t sure. The sign didn’t say. Still, I figured that 53 cents in her milk jug had the potential to do more good than it would do rattling around in the bottom of my purse. Before the coins clinked to the bottom, her hand was out. Palm up, it held a flower. A Buddy Poppy.
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I’m just happy to donate.”
I’m a Midwesterner through and through. This is not how manners work here. If someone politely declines, that’s it. Game over. End of story. You might purse your lips. You might think a thing or two. But you don’t argue. Not after an act of kindness.
“Oh, it’s alright. I didn’t even give that much.”
“Put it on your purse.” Wait. What? This isn’t the script. What was happening here? I paused just long enough for her to say, “Others will see it and think to support veterans.”
For someone who essentially has a degree in semiotics, you would think I wouldn’t be so dense. For someone who teaches signs, signifiers, and signified for a living, you would think that this concept wouldn’t be lost on me. Why, then, was I only looking at this crinkled flower as a piece of polyester?
I knew what a Buddy Poppy was. I used to gather them up proudly when I was little. It was one of the only times my mom would gladly indulge an impromptu request for money when we were out running errands. The daughter of a decorated World War II soldier, my mom was never shy to show her support for other veterans.
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Was I really going to rebuff this token in the spirit of less clutter? At first, I was. I still dislike fundraiser t-shirts. Yes, they spread awareness. But they also come at a cost. Financially, they take money away from the actual cause. Environmentally, they lead to more clothing waste. Socially, they are often the product of unregulated factories. So why would I view a poppy any differently?
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Buddy Poppies are different. They are made by disabled veterans in VA hospitals. According to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, “The VFW Buddy Poppy program provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.”
It’s true that I don’t need more clutter in my closet. Or my house. Or my cup holder. But it is also true that some things, some tangibles might outweigh the cost of clutter. Today, I’ll tie my poppy to my purse because of everything it symbolizes. And because the next time I toss money into a milk jug, I won’t need another poppy to show that I care.
So Tell Me…What things have tested your understanding of minimalism?
Half Life Theory
It’s funny how you had to catch yourself for a moment there, even with embracing the minimalist lifestyle, there are somethings worth making an exception for.
Buddy poppies ARE different! Great post!
I find myself catching myself all the time when it comes to decluttering *and* finances. I have so much to learn!
Britt @ Tiny Ambitions
I couldn’t agree more! Some things are worth more than the ‘clutter’ they may create in your life. My step-father is a veteran and supporting veterans is super important to Mr. TA as well. We get poppies every year and then place them at a memorial service on Remembrance Day.
The one thing that has tested my understanding of minimalism is my grandmother’s jewelry. I inherited quite a lot of it when she passed, but I don’t ever wear any of it. I’ve often thought about selling it, or donating it so it can have a second life with someone else. But, I would never get rid of it – it’s beautiful and the pieces remind me of her every time I see them sitting in my jewelry dish.
Grandma jewelry is so special, isn’t it? I have two pieces left from my nana, and I know I won’t part with them.
For the Oldsters it is a cranberry glass collection. Mrs. Oldster got it from a great aunt and, although it has never been outside of the boxes we brought them home in, we cannot part with them. I feel for my daughter on whom most of the “we can’t part with it” stuff will fall eventually. On the other hand, maybe we’ll have a fire 😉
I am trying to be better about parting with the things I think I can’t part with. But I know HP will inherit at least a box or two 😉
I love Buddy Poppies, I picked one up at my grocery store this week.
Our minimalism was tested when we moved into our house. My mother-in-law kept ALL of my husband’s toys and books and movies from when he was a kid and gave them to us. She had even kept his old pacifier (gross). We tossed a lot of it, but I think I may have to teach him Marie Kondo stuff to get him to part with more haha.
Gary @ Super Saving Tips
Beautiful post. I was just writing this morning about nostalgia and decluttering (to be published on Tuesday), and I agree that some tangibles are worth saving. Buddy Poppies are more than just a thing and I’m glad you decided to accept it. It’s important that we all remember to take care of our veterans, as well as to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country.
I cannot wait to check it out, Gary!
I’m not familiar with Buddy Poppies, but it seems that taking it was the right thing to do.
In terms of what tests my minimalism… my whole office. I have all these books and scripts and student papers, when I know I mostly work digitally and should get rid of 90% of it… I just feel like a professor’s office should have stuff. It’s definitely on my summer to-do list.