Every year, the month of January has most of us packing up clothing and unwanted items from our closets, basements and garages to make room for new holiday loot.
It’s usually that annual resolution to try and make this a better-organized year that spurs us into action. Once we have amassed that pile of discarded clothing, furniture and whatnots, the next step is to tote it to a thrift store or contact a charity organization to pick up the lot and haul it away to its resale shop.
We then relish that feeling of satisfaction at having purged out the dross, all the while feeling quite charitable for having donated items that will be useful to someone in our community, but why? Where does this sense of reward come from? Are we giving just because we’re wired to be altruistic, or are we donating for more selfish reasons? Actually, it’s a little of both.
Researchers began studying the science of “giving back” in the 1990s and discovered that donors tend to give more when they know they’re assisting a few people in their community. It seems we enjoy helping others more when it’s on a one-to-one basis. By giving to a local thrift store, we know we’re helping out someone in need right where we live.
In our area, Fort Sackville Project, Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul stores all are retail establishments that sell used items donated by the public. Volunteers usually staff these stores, so the overhead is kept low. The goods are priced at a fraction of their original value and the monies go to support the shop’s charitable intentions.
Why we give
So why do we feel compelled to give? People donate for several reasons and some are quite basic: we simply want to get rid of what we consider to be junk. Others may be reclaiming a part of their lives after divorce, relocation, or after kids have left home. And still others give based on their religious or spiritual beliefs.
Those who are environmentally minded see thrift stores as a very green alternative. By donating to a resale shop, the earth remains more sustainable by conserving energy, reducing pollution and preserving resources needed to create new goods. Donating items reduces consumer consumption and helps eliminate waste by repurposing something that was destined for the landfill.
Behavioral economist James Andreoni theorized that one of the reasons we love to give is to gain that warm glow of satisfaction. We get what social psychologists call the “public benefit” of giving when we’re recognized by others as being charitable.
Of course, the opposite theory asserts that we give so we don’t feel selfish or stingy. Giving is a way to prove to ourselves that we are good-hearted; this is known as the “private benefit” where we’ve accomplished something for ourselves, and can still feel altruistic.
Regardless of our motives, giving does appear to be in our nature. Americans gave $373.3 billion in 2015, an increase of 3.8 percent from the previous year. In fact, giving reached an all-time high last year with the largest donor base comprised of individuals, according to Giving USA.
Even businesses get into the giving spirit during this time of year. It’s a great way to move out overstocked or obsolete items and clear the shelves for new seasonal merchandise. Plus, there is that tax deduction.
Taking it full circle
Then there are those of us who take the giving full-circle, not only donating items to thrift stores but shopping there as well. The reasons are many and varied from having a budget, to supporting the charity’s mission, to scoring antiques and haute couture at rock-bottom prices.
But charitable organizations report that the average thrift store customer is still the person that the charity aims to serve: those who have suffered setbacks in life and are in need of the items and services being offered.
So as we start the new year, take a walk around your home and look for items you don’t need or want, then donate them to a charitable organization. There’s someone out there who will truly love what you consider to be junk. Not only will you feel satisfied for having moved it out of your life, you’ll experience that warm glow for having donated it, too.
Happy New Year, Boomer readers!
Joy Neighbors, from eastern Illinois, knows the wine industry well. She writes a weekly wine blog, has judged national wine competitions, and speaks nationally and internationally. Follow her blog at http://joysjoyofwine.blogspot.com.
By Joy Neighbors