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The practice of loss

I‘m married to a man who’s practically the opposite of me.

He’s a textbook left-brain analytical engineer, punctual, logical, strategic and decisive. “I’m gonna need some more information” is an often spoken phrase of his, and I’m convinced Joe Friday is his long lost uncle – Just the facts, ma’am. I know he’s thinking that even if he doesn’t say it out loud.

I skip to the other end of the spectrum: a feeler and a dreamer, creative and passionate, sure the world’s ills could be solved with a little more love. Notice that means I’m right brained–an indicator that most of the time I’m right?

Sadly, probably not.

He’s a numbers guy and I’m a words girl. Ice and fire. Sometimes a volatile combination and sometimes just messy, but always interesting.

We’re over two years past our Silver Anniversary so I suppose there’s something to this “opposites attracting” thing. We’re sticking together.

Suffice it to say we rarely approach anything the same way. This doesn’t mean we always disagree, but when we agree, we typically arrive at the same conclusion along a different path.

One benefit of being married to your opposite is they think so entirely different from you.

Yes, I believe that can be a benefit and here’s why:

They help you to see and think about and understand things you wouldn’t otherwise see or think about or understand. Not because you’re being stubborn and don’t want to, but because they’re the type of things that genuinely wouldn’t cross your mind.

Years ago my husband began encouraging a practice that, at first, I resisted. I’m a messy person who forms (often ridiculous) sentimental bonds with inanimate objects, and he’s a pragmatic neat freak. But when he appealed to my senses of reason and stewardship, I had no choice but to see its wisdom:

The practice of loss.

HoardersPhoto by Michelle

There’s no formal definition for the practice of loss, it just means when you add something new, you subtract something old. It’s that simple.

For some things, this goes without saying:

Accept a new job? You have to quit your old.

A college student with a full schedule adds a new math class? He’ll have to drop something to compensate (and stay sane!).

You buy a new car? You trade in or sell the old.

But those things aren’t really what I’m referring to; for me, it mostly manifests itself in my closet or kitchen.

I get attached to clothes that I bought in a memorable place or that remind me of a special date. Never you mind that I will never wear that tee shirt or pair of pants three sizes smaller, THEY MEAN SOMETHING.

They mean something, alright: they’re taking up limited space in a drawer or closet.

I also have a penchant for just about everything in the kitchen–pretty dishes, glasses and serving ware, unstained dishtowels, unburned potholders (thank goodness for silicone!), and oh my word! ALL OF THE WORD ART FOR EVERY INCH OF WALL SPACE IN MY HOUSE!

Except that last thing isn’t prudent and might just jank the place up….

But you see my point, right? As I continue to find pretties I “can’t” live without (especially because I only buy bargains) (Look! I’m saving money!), my cabinet and drawers aren’t magically expanding. Is what’s true for me also true for you?

The more I have, the harder it is to find what I need.

Plus, it’s often the case I don’t even use some of the items because I play kitchen favorites.

Excess is poor stewardship. Someone else could be using my perfectly good, no-longer-used kitchen paraphernalia. And rather than everything falling on my head when I open an overflowing kitchen cabinet, I can put my hands on six glasses that match.

Practicing loss is an important concept to teach your children as well. It’s key to creating a generous spirit in them.

Most children living in America have more than they’ll ever need–clothes, toys, food, books–you name it. To train them from their earliest memories to think in terms of what they can give away when they receive something new will establish a wonderful practice for life.  We’re living in an entitlement culture and I’m convinced generosity is not only a gift to the receiver, but also to the giver.

With Christmas just around the corner, churches and organizations are already looking for gently used items for men, women and children.  Why not “shop” your house and see what you can do to reduce clutter, clean out closets and drawers, and give away? And for heaven’s sakes, please don’t donate broken, dirty or unusable items! If it once worked but doesn’t now, or if it’s too worn out or dirty for you to wear, throw it away.  It’s okay, really–if you’re like me, sometimes all you need is permission to get rid of something.

Realign your thinking to keep only what you’ll actually use. Be generous to others. 

The gorgeous irony is when you learn to practice loss, you’re receiving something of greater value in return.

Oh, how I’d love to hear your stories! And if you happen to be looking for new gifts for high school and college-age students, start here.


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  1. Sarah

    Such good points – I especially like your emphasis on beginning this habit with children while they’re still young. My only comment is that many thrift stores/resale shops/charity clothes closets actually really do want your stained, dirty, or torn old clothes. I was surprised to learn that many charity operations that run off donated items make a significant portion of their income from selling bundles of no-longer-usable clothes (especially cotton) to fabric recyclers, who process the old fabrics for cleaning products. Before discarding them, it’s worth calling your local Salvation Army family store or town clothes closet to ask if they’d like stained/poor condition clothes. Ours actually begged us for them, and just asked that we put them in a separate bag and label them “stained/old clothes” to save them a sorting step before dropping them off. Of course, this does not apply to your local church collecting household goods for poor families or Christmas gifts for foster kids – nobody wants a bag of rags under the tree!

    • Robin Dance


      Wow–you taught me something I didn’t know! Thank you for sharing your experience with organizations looking for yuckity old clothes…I had no idea. And thank you, further, for add what you did at the end, giving those old clothes to people who would be using them for daily wear; it’s an important distinction. I have a friend who grew up as a missionary kid and she said they actually received used TEA BAGS from people at a wealthy church. Their hearts were broken by what some people gave away…

    • Robin

      I love this! As I have recently been doing, I have been weeding through many items in my home, and wondering what made me hold onto them so long, even sometimes wondering why I purchased them in the first place! I have donated two bags of used clothing and household items to a local thrift/rehabilitation company and it made me feel good and accomplished! I have a bag of old towels that will be donated to a local animal shelter, along with some other linens and items they can put to good use. With an old three story, five bedroom home I find I have amassed much too much and re-purposing things to others who have need or want is a perfect way to create order as well as serenity in my own home. Thanks for your words.

      • Robin Dance

        Ha, Robin–whenever I see another “Robin” I feel like I’m talking to myself :).

        I’ve lamented what to do with old towels I don’t feel right about donating to Good Will, etc; the animal shelter is a great idea (I love that this post is giving ME ideas from y’all!).

        And it’s true–decluttering can bring peace to a home. There’s so much benefit to trimming down what we have, focusing on need–ours and others.

  2. Lynda

    It is so hard to part with things sometimes! My son is 5 and *may* be a bit of a hoarder. We do take time before his birthday and Christmas to find items to get rid of to make room for gifts that will probably be coming. We’ve been using his age as a guide, so when he was 3 he found 3 items; this year he found 5. Sometimes we donate, sometimes they go in a sell pile, and some go in his favorite: give to friends. Items in that category could still be played with when he goes to their houses! 😉

    • Tia

      My almost 9 year old son is having a horrible time with this. I have tended to hold onto things but have recently, over the past year or so, changed my habits. My son seemed to be doing better, but this month started getting upset about items his 7 year old sister is donating. She has always been on the other side of the scale, more concerned about being generous than anything. My son seems concerned about the item, the memories, who gave it… he can’t even express it, he just cries.
      I’d love to hear a gentle way to break him of this. It just goes to show that we all process things in different ways.

      • Kelly

        Tia – we have 5 children from age 32 to 14. When the oldest had the opportunity to see my mother-in-law in action at the church’s pantry, it heightened her understanding of how our family’s (as well as other families’) excess could make other less provided-for families’ lives ‘easier’ or lessened a burden. It remained true for the next 4 children. The Pantry not only provides clothes and food items to families in need, but because children donate toys to the Pantry, there’s a bit of special joy added to the family-in-need’s parcel when the church worker ‘fills the order” (for a variety of church social workers and some government social agencies). Perhaps your son, through your encouragement and participation, could help out at a church pantry for a short time (plan to go with him) because (you’ll let him know) “he’s 9 now and that’s when boys are such wonderful helpers!” You may wish to pre-arrange his help with the Pantry coordinator, say, volunteer for the next 4 consecutive weeks – for example – especially if it meets once a week. This will hopefully give him the real opportunity to see that what brought pleasure to him (resulting in the recollection of fond memories of gift-givers) is meant to be shared with others. It is a continuation of the ‘love’ the original gift-giver extended to the recipient, not a rejection of the memory of the gift giver! Just a note, mother-to-mother: sometimes holding on to what the child ‘owns’ is done as a way of the child’s desire to control what actually is beyond his ability to control himself (deployment of a parent, uneasiness in a family due to certain circumstances, etc.) I added that to this comment to help other others (parents) see that there are differences. It’s wonderful that you have a son who is sensitive to the ‘gift-giver’! He is already thinking beyond ‘just himself’! Wow. 🙂

      • Robin Dance


        I wasn’t able to reply yesterday so I’m thankful Kelly offered some ideas (thanks Kelly!).

        My reigning thought is “seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. What is the underlying issue to his angst? Is it a loss of control? Is he concerned something of great value will be given away? At 9 he’s old enough to understand reason and logic so I wonder what’s going on behind the eyes.

        Maybe it’s plain old selfishness. It can rear its little head in any age, any time–including adults!! 🙂 So he wouldn’t be unusual for that to be surfacing (and it’s no failure on your part). I love the idea of continuing to model it, not guilt him or manipulate him, but honestly confessing how you’ve even struggled with holding onto things in the past so you understand, but what joy GIVING brings. If he could put one of his nice things in the hands of a child who has little to nothing and see the response it might make a strong impression. But those opportunities don’t always exist…

        Perhaps time and consistency from you will help him most. I’m convinced generosity can be taught…so good for you for continuing to find ways to manifest it!! 🙂

      • Jessica

        Some kids are really sensitive and this can be a really hard area for them. Not being able to part with things is actually one of the symptoms of my son’s OCD. (Incidentally, he is nine as well.) I’m not trying to diagnose your son with OCD. 🙂 But when logic and reason aren’t working with a 9 year old, we need to accept that there might be something deeper going on, and it’s not necessarily, or even likely to be, selfishness.

        I would applaud any effort he makes to part with anything, no matter how small. He’s not holding onto things out of a lack of generosity, but rather out of a love for what those things represent to him. Help him to see other ways he can preserve those memories and share his love for the people who gave the gifts. And again, start small and praise all efforts.

        Also, watch him for other signs of anxiety. There is actually very highly effective therapy for anxiety in kids, and it can make a world of difference for a kiddo.

  3. Robin Dance


    What a beautiful way to teach your son this practice. Wise mama. 🙂

  4. Noel

    Thank you for this insight! As a mom of 5 children, I think this is going to be an essential principle if I’m going to be able to keep from drowning in all the “stuff” that makes its way into our home.

    • Kelly

      Here’s a tip my hubby and I instituted regarding toys objects provided by fast-food-places. The toys, we told our youngest 4 (of 5, having learned NOT to repeat some of the ‘mistakes’ from overindulgence=bring-home-clutter), were to either be discarded after having eaten at the restaurant (cheap plastic), or left on the table (telling a counter worker that we were leaving the item there for a child without a toy – say a beanie baby). No qualms. That was our rule, and we stuck with it. Never had a problem…and sometimes the toy (like a good book from Chick-fil-A), would be dropped off at the Pantry on our way past the church on our way home from lunch/dinner.

      • Robin Dance

        Whoaaa, Kelly…impressive! I mean, I loved those Beanie Babies and mini Madam Alexander dolls back in the day. And Chick-fil-A toys/books were always items they played with or read (and sometimes activities we did). BUT it’s a wonderful practice to keep junk out of the house; and someone else WILL enjoy them. Did you ever exchange for ice creams?? 🙂

    • Robin Dance


      Well, I know it was with THREE children–you’ve got me by two!! 🙂

      • Noel

        And mine are so creative too. It’s wonderful that they are always making things (needle felting, R/C planes from scratch, crocheting, painting, etc.), but it’s very, very hard to keep things clutter free. Both the materials they need AND the things they make.

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