Charity Really Begins At Home

by Amy Zidell


Here's something on the lighter side.

Charity is good thing. It's a nice thing. And is certainly does start at home, at least in this particular case. I finally decided it was time to straighten up. Really straighten up. It was time to have a dinning room that would function as a room where one could eat on a table rather than function as a room where one stacks junk mail, mail mail, magazines, and stores a variety of boxes packed and otherwise.

This may have been prompted by my friend's sigh at my current chaos at a recent visit. Or it may just be possible that the prospect of my not moving anytime soon motivated this call to cleaning action. You see previous occasions of critical clutter mass seemed to coincidentally coincide with my moving to a new locale. So when things were out of control I merely had to pack everything up and move. Every time this happened there would always be a box or few that would remain unopened at the new location. Either there wasn't room, time or inclination to unpack the boxes. Frequently the boxes would have papers I needed to sort through and that's just not my favorite thing.

Anyway, theoretically, eventually the relevance of these chronically unpacked boxes would diminish with each move to such a point that unpacking these boxes would become unnecessary. It's an unconscious pack rat theory. I suppose that some mathematically equivalency would result when the number of unpacked boxes reached a certain critical number. However, statistical eventualities aside, curiosity would likely get the better of me. And why does curiosity get the better of one and not the worst? Curiously influenced, I would probably end up unpacking the boxes even if I could find my index of numbered box contents. Did I forget to mention the numbering system? Because even if you know what's in the box you still want to see it or see how much of it there is or at least I do.

As I am quite content to stay put right where I am and as my clutter had reached a frightening level, I faced the very real options of being found underneath a mound of aging papers in 50 years or cleaning up. It was a difficult decision. In my defense I must protest that I don't know anyone working from home to have a totally tidy house unless they have a full time maid.

The first object of my micro-management skills: the dining room. My dinning room table was engulfed by a moat of magazines. Old magazines. Magazines starting from the 70's. A painstakingly preserved collection collected by my a friend's grandmother. For some reason, after she passed away and my friend was heading off out of state for a new job, I ended up with the magazines. Initially, I thought I would sell them on ebay. But they seemed so happy snuggled around the dining room I didn't have the heart to disrupt them. Besides, the expense of shipping all these magazines would be prohibitive to be practical. There's like ten grocery bags full of them. No exaggeration, though I do reserve the right to exaggerate throughout other portions of this article before and after this disclaimer.

These periodical treasures of Architectural Digest, Bon Appetité, and Connoisseur seemed like good starting cleaning targets. I carefully vacuum the bags of magazines removing whatever dust may have collected. I gather the bags together in the living room and start with bag one. I want to look through and see if I might find an original ad for classic cars. Vintage car ads are rare, desirable gems to find if you didn't know, incase you're not a car collector, or if the phrase Detroit Steel is not obviously perceived as complementary to you. A large pile of magazines and an hour of cable programming later, I discover that apparently, Architectural Digest, Bon Appetite and Connoisseur magazines are a bit more upper crust than the target muscle car driving audience. Oh I found car ads just not for any cars I've been in. There were ads for Cadillac El dorado, for BMW 3.0 CS Sports Coupe, for Jaguars XJ6 and V-12, for Mercedes Benz 450 SE, for Excalibur, for the Chrysler Imperial LaBaron, for Lincoln Continental Mark IV Gold and White, for the Jensen trio including the Interceptor Converse, Interceptor Saloon and the classic Healey as well as the entire line of Rolls Royce including the Silver Shadow Sedan, the Silver Shadow Long Wheelbase, the Corniche Coupe and the Corniche Convertible. I'm guessing that trying to find an original ad for old Chevy pickup would be totally out of the question. I decide that I don't need to go through ever magazine in every bag. Good choice.

I stack the bags of magazines in my entry area ­ out of context that series of words could sound inappropriate. It's too small to be considered a hall, perhaps entryway is more descriptive. I realize I'm digging a hole here ­ there I go again. Moving on. The point is the stacks of magazines are out of the dinning room. This singular step makes a huge difference. Chairs can now move in and out freely about the table. This is really interesting. My dog discovers the immense joy of sticking her face through the blinds to gaze upon the front yard. Who knew straightening up could be this fun for my dog?

I force myself to focus on the stack of magazines. I am determined to finish one aspect of this process before I move on to other boxes and assorted bric-a-brac. The idea of dumping the magazines in the recycling bin seems morally wrong. I call my friend to see if they have any specific preferences for the ultimate magazine destination. As usual they remark, "I trust your judgement," and continues, "I don't want to know what you do with them." They agrees that ebay isn't a good option. When pressed they comment, "If it was up to me I'd take them to UCLA." We both knew that wasn't going to happen. I had geographical and medical treatment issues with that choice.

Clearly the option to pursue is to donate the magazines. The question is where. I thought a library of some sort where Architecture is studied would provide a good home for the magazines, so I call a local State college. The 'friends of the library' line bounces me to voicemail. I push the number necessary to get to the main library administration. They'll know what to do with a magazine donation, right? I speak with a pleasant gal and leave a message. I am told someone will call me back. (Days pass without a response.) After I call the school I try the Jewish Family Services thrift shop. They do a lot of good work. I thought what a great way to give back. In preparation of Shabbat, they are closed Friday. They will be closed Saturday for Shabbat itself. I will have to try back on Monday.

"No," was the answer I got about whether or not the JFS Valley Storefront would like vintage magazines to sell at their thrift shop on Monday. I'm certain this answer will remain consistent throughout the week. They suggest I try the Jewish Council of Women. I reach an administrative office. I try to give my magazines away again. This group is less helpful than the previous one, and more emphatic, "NO!"

I persist, clarifying that they do indeed have a thrift shop. I advise them that they really ought to sell vintage magazines because people pay a lot of money for old magazines. They offer some uninspired suggestion themselves but I am able to come up with the great idea of a library donation all on my own thank you very much.

Next I call the local public library. They don't think they need such things but they'll get a supervisor. I wait long enough that I start counting silently. If I get to the magic number, I had yet to determine, I was going to hang up. The supervisor comes to the phone before their number is up. They explain that because the main down town library probably has every old magazine, the local branch doesn't need them. I ask if they know of any charity thrift shop that sells magazines. "Try Out of the Closet," they suggested, "They sell books there. Maybe they sell magazines." This made perfect sense to me. There was a store west of me. I look up Thrift Shops in the Yellow Pages to find the address. My eyes passed the Discovery Shop Cancer thrift shops and kept going. I remembered the time I donated some old clothes only to be attitudinally scowled at and my discards insulted at a Discovery Shop. Hey if the stuff was in better shape I wouldn't be giving it away! I jot down the address and feel relief at knowing this periodical collection will soon find a home with open arms.

I take a break from my organizing and straightening and make phone calls, answer and write a couple dozen e-mails, respond to business inquiries and other terribly productive things. It is time to load the car with the magazines. I realize that the Bon Appetités have address labels on them. I sit down in my entryway and carefully peel these off. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I was packed and ready to go. A quick stop at the bank and I was on my way to Out of the Closet. My experience with closets to this point has been limited to storing things in them. I believe as a child, some closets may have provided excellent hiding places during hide and go seek games also. I find the store with little traffic or difficulty, grab a bag of magazine out of my trunk and walked into Out of the Closet. This act strikes me as amusing if only for the play on words. For those of you that don't know, Out of the Closet is a thrift shop benefiting people with HIV and AIDS. I greet the purveyor and proceed to get my next load of magazines. They come and help me unload my car. I get my little slip for my taxes and walk out of Out of the Closet and head back home to tackle the next assortment of material I'd accumulated.

When I return home and step into my entryway there's a clear void, but not in bad way. I don't know if I feel better about successfully triumphing over the pratfalls of donations or because I actually tangibly cleaned something.

I playback a message on my answering machine. It's from the friends of the school library. Oh well. It's too late now.

I realize these magazine aren't the most exciting or valuable thing to donate but it's something and every little bit counts. But should a phone book need to be utilized more than once to give something away? I think not. It's amazing the effort involved in just giving something away. It shouldn't work that way. Sadly it does. I can't believe I'm the only one who's experienced this. Maybe I've just tried to help the wrong organizations. I've wondered previously if the sheer number of charities just confuses the potentially charitable out of charity altogether. I developed an entire argument that if there were only fewer causes there could be more charity. Responsiveness to the charitable should be obvious but it's not. That probably has a lot to do with the sheer number of charities. If you're motivated to help and offer to help and the offers are shrugged off why not start another charity? No matter the charity, no matter the cause I fully believe in the words, "Charity begins at home." In my case it started right in my dining room.

2000 Amy Zidell

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