Whose Clothes Are in Your Closet?

There’s a TV commercial for a credit card company that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?” Today I pose a similar question, “Whose clothes are in your closet?”

You might answer, “Mine, of course.” Or, “My spouse’s and mine.” But listen to what St. Ambrose said seventeen centuries ago. If you have extra possessions (like clothes), you are supposed to give them to the poor. In doing so, he said, “You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor. You are handing over to them what is theirs.” So whose clothes are in your closet? I suspect some of your clothes (like some of the clothes in my closet) belong to the poor, that is, to individuals who are seriously struggling economically.

Part of one of my closets...

A small portion of the clothes in my big closet.

I think of St. Ambrose’s quote every time I can’t find something in my closet because it’s bulging with too many clothes. Or the drawers in my dresser won’t close right because they’re stuffed with stuff! It’s a good practice to go through our clothes on a regular basis. If we haven’t worn certain items in a year, or they no longer fit, or we’re simply tired of some things (yet they are in good condition), then for heaven’s sake clean them, pack them up, and take them to your local thrift store or shelter. They aren’t yours!

I’m sure most of you reading this blog already do this. Donating to thrift stores (and buying from thrift stores) is not only generous and frugal, it’s one more way to recycle goods rather than throw them into a landfill. Some families also exchange used clothing regularly. When I was growing up we sometimes had big family gatherings. My mother and aunts often exchanged children’s clothing with each other. Wise women. They were recycling without calling it that! At a recent family gathering I saw my nieces (all young moms) continuing this venerable tradition.

Our Christian faith gives us ample motivation for sharing the goods we have. St. John writes, “If someone who has the riches of this world sees his brother or sister in need and closes his heart to them, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17).  That’s another good question. And I love what the British writer G. K. Chesterton wrote: “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” I’m still working on that second way!

Does anything here resonate with or contradict your personal experience?


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  1. Chris Keil on February 4, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Sr. Melannie,
    I have continued to do this over the years. It’s a good exercise. Another one is to donate 1 or 2 items for every item you buy. Ultimately I still long for the days when I wore uniforms!!!!!
    God Bless You, Hope to see you soon in Texas!!!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 4, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Dear Chris, I like your practice of donating something every time you buy something. One person told me she says, “If I bring something into the house, I take something out.” Thanks, Chris! Yes, I hope to see you in Texas soon! Melannie

  2. marian on February 5, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Why do I/we accumulate so much?
    Because I/we are in a big hurry…have to have enough clothes to grab and go off to work or where ever we go…
    Because if only I/we have enough (information) we will be on the right track …

    “if have all these things…but do not have love….” was in the second reading this Sunday…Your reflection reminds me to slow down a bit… be mindful of God and neighbor in all of my choices …thanks Melannie

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

      Dear Marian, I like the way you related your having too much “stuff” to being “in a big hurry.” Your intention to slow down a bit makes good sense to me. It’s something I have to remind myself of over and over again. Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  3. Colleen on February 5, 2013 at 8:18 am

    I am an avid garage sale/thrift store shopper! I find it very difficult to pay retail prices because in my mind so very little of it is worth the price. But that doesn’t address the problem of too much-on the contrary, it makes it quite easy to justify buying more because it’s such a good price, I can pass it on or my personal favorite delusion “I can diet down and fit into this someday!” and then I wind up with a bulging closet of good intentions AND excess clothing! Your wise words give me pause and force me to think about my accountability here; I can put off sorting and donating when it comes to “my” things and “my” schedule, but when I think of it in terms of it belonging to someone else, well that puts an entirely new spin on it! If someone is going without a warm coat because I haven’t taken the time to purge my closet, or my children’s closets, it becomes less of a “to-do” list item and more of a christian obligation! I do regularly donate to thrift stores and our church pantry but thanks to this article, I will make a better effort at doing so more regularly because if I’m not using it, it’s not mine! Thank you.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

      Dear Colleen, You make a fine point about cheap prices justifying our buying more and more! I also liked your phrase “personal favorite delusion.” We all have delusions, if we’re honest. Yes, for me too it’s easier to “donate” when I think of it in terms of belonging to someone else. Thanks for your insightful words! Sr. Melannie

  4. Antoinette on February 5, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Your columns arouse my curiosity on what Melannie will focus on this week. Your reflections inspire me but also make me realize how we are all so much alike in our everyday experiences.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 6, 2013 at 7:28 am

      Dear Antoinette, I hope I can keep your curiosity alive….Yes, we humans are very much alike. That’s what makes writing work! Thanks for commenting! Melannie

  5. maggie moore ssj on February 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 6, 2013 at 7:23 am

      Dear Maggie, I had similar thoughts as I was writing my blog….Melannie

  6. Annette on February 21, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Having read your columns in Living Faith and felt nutured, today I am visiting your Sunflower Seeds for the first time. I selected a column that called to me to read first, and am really taken by the quote by G.H. Chesterton. I am indeed a work in progress, so the thought of desiring less feels very valuable to me. I like the idea that having less stuff to manage will give me more time to seek communion with our God.
    Thank you for your spirit that draws me closer to that divine light.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on February 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Dear Annette, Welcome to Sunflower Seeds! I’m happy you’ve joined us! And I’m glad you resonated with Chesterton’s words. And I like your words that having less stuff could translate into having more time “to seek communion with God.” Thank you for that thought! Melannie

  7. Wayne on March 10, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Enjoyed being the only dude in the group this weekend. My wife laughed when she heard that news. She is always scheduling pickups from The Purple Heart which helps us to weed out our excess. Hope you made it home to a piece of fine chocolate on your pillow.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Dear Wayne, It was nice having you in the group at the Jesuit retreat center in Wernersville, PA this past weekend. It was great that your wife “allowed” you to come! (I’m teasing!) How nice that your wife schedules pickups from the Purple Heart. That’s a good practice. Thanks again, Wayne! Melannie

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