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.
Related Post: You Don’t Have to Give, But You Absolutely Should
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.
Related Post: 5 Things to Do Today Besides Buying a Mattress
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?
Related Post: Thoreau, The Minimalists, and Opting Out
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?