BOOK GIVEAWAY! The Book That Changed My Life: Doing Good Better

giveawayI received an exciting email this morning from the Centre for Effective Altruism. They invited me to nominate someone to receive a free copy of the amazing book Doing Good Better by William MacAskill.

I read this book a year ago, and it changed my life. I had a total Ebenezer Scrooge moment. I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about it anyway, so what better time than now?

Before I read this book I was feeling pretty cynical about the world in general. Humans suck at doing good. We’re cruel to each other. We’re careless with our planet. We aren’t very kind to animals on the whole. What’s the point in even trying to make a difference when each of us wields so little power against the enormous darkness in our world: hunger, poverty, cruelty, oppression? Why bother caring when so many people who could help refuse to do so? Why save people when the planet is already struggling to support our population? Why bother sending $10 to a charity if they send you $20 worth of marketing materials in return?

I talked to a friend about it. He told me that it’s harder to be kind and altruistic than it is to be cynical. But when you get right down to it, every person has a story, and everyone who’s struggling deserves to be helped. He told me about this movement called Effective Altruism that aims to identify the most important and fixable causes in the world and get people to focus their efforts there.

So that gave me a little glimmer of hope, and then I picked up this book, and it gave me so much more. It made me feel rich and powerful. It made my somewhat meaningless day job feel suddenly full of meaning. There hasn’t been a day since I read this book that I’ve felt sorry for myself for having the job I have, so that alone is testament to how it has changed my life.

Here’s one of the most important things I learned from this book: small amounts of money can do tremendous good. Somehow I always thought that the highest moral action was to volunteer. Spending time physically dishing out soup to the hungry or knocking on doors to drum up political support or traveling to Africa to build homes seemed like the only real way to make a difference, and I’ve always shied away from those things because I highly value my free time and because—well—I’m shy. But in reading this book I learned that a little money can actually go a long way, and giving money to an organization is often far more valuable than giving time. I won’t bother trying to rehash the information in the book, but this guy is a brilliant economist and he did the math for us, and you can read all about it. It partially depends a lot on the type of charitable work you would do and how good you would be at it (I’m starting to think that getting involved in political action might actually be a very powerful use of one’s time), but the point is that giving money is a deeply charitable act as well. You don’t have to be super rich or influential to make a difference, and you don’t have to feel like a lazy a-hole if all you do is give money. And choosing a charity with your brain instead of your heart is a particularly kind thing to do, because it’ll greatly increase the impact you can have. Money has great power, and compared to the rest of the world, we have a lot of it. Giving money is a wonderful thing to do.

That might not sound like a very exciting premise for a book, but if you have some interest in altruism, I strongly encourage you to read it. It’s well written and not a slog to read. And in the wake of recent events, I think we could all use as much hope as we can get our hands on.

So if you’d like a copy of the book, just leave me a comment and convince me that you want to read it. 😉 I’d also love to know about books that changed your life. I’ll pick a winner next Wednesday (11/23/2016)!

(Apologies to Sandy Underwood and Cincinatti Magazine for shamelessly stealing their amazing photograph.)

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What KonMari Left Out: What To Do With Your Cast-Offs

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie KondoI was hesitant to try KonMari at first. I had watched Marie Kondo’s Google talk on YouTube, and I knew she advised throwing a lot of things away. Sure, paring down your possessions until you love everything you own sounds great in theory, but what about the waste? I can’t just send half my stuff to the landfill and go blissfully about my life.

Then my mother put her copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in my hands, so I set that concern aside long enough to read it. And I devoured it. And then I decided to give the method a shot, and I am so glad I did. I’m a more conscious consumer now, and I think I will ultimately consume and waste less as a result of this process. But there’s one major thing I think is missing from KonMari’s wonderful books: what to do with the things you decide to part with.

I think KonMari purposely avoided this topic because stopping to decide what to do with the things you get rid of — or even thinking about having to make that additional series of decisions in the future — may derail some people from completing or even beginning the method. It’s hard enough to keep going with such a huge task without also having to worry about where the discarded things should go. And I think that’s totally fair. If this sounds like you, then you have my blessing to simply throw your things away, so long as you do the method. Because it’ll teach you to appreciate stuff in a way that will keep you from bringing excess into your home in the future.

I ended up putting my discarded items aside and dealing with them (much) later instead of throwing them immediately away (which goes against the method, yes, but I swear I only fished two or three things back out of the trash bags). You don’t have to procrastinate like I did. And I felt awesome after I got rid of things in a way that I felt was responsible. I was energized by the idea of someone else getting good use out of my cast-offs. I think making this a part of the process is worth it if you’re an environmentally conscious and/or altruistic sort of person, and it’ll actually boost your enthusiasm and motivation as you go through the KonMari process.

So here’s a list of ways I’ve found to responsibly get rid of some common items, both big and small. I did virtually all of these, so I recommend using a multi-pronged, ongoing approach. However, if you simply can’t take the headache of dealing with your stuff so meticulously, there’s always the option of taking everything that’s still usable straight to your favorite drop-off thrift store. You’ll even get a tax break!

Option 1: Host a Swap Party

This option is by far the most fun. Set a date, buy a big bottle of bubbly and some snacks, and throw a swap party for your friends. This works best for clothing, accessories, toiletries, and household items. I’ve also heard it called a “naked ladies party,” which sounds like something entirely different. Invite plenty of people and ask them to bring a reasonable amount of stuff, and then lay everything out and let people browse and chat and sip and have fun. Usually everyone goes home with some great new things for free, and everything that’s left over gets donated to your place of choice (see Option 3).

Option 2: Sell

Local Stores
If you’re parting with anything that’s valuable, selling it can be a lot of fun. I’m partial to local (chain) stores like Plato’s Closet and Half Price Books that I can take things to and walk away from with cash, even if it’s less than I would get if I sold things myself online. Even consignment stores like Worn save me from having to post and store and ship each item.

Online
However, I have friends who have had a lot of success selling clothes and accessories on sites like Poshmark, Mercari, and Tradesy. There’s also eBay, of course, where you can sell almost anything. For larger things like furniture, it’s quick and easy to sell or give away on Craigslist. If you have things that are useful but not really that valuable, there’s Freecycle. I’m thinking of putting my vast collection of bubble mailers up there sometime soon.

Garage Sale
If you have an entire weekend that you don’t know what to do with, there’s the garage sale option. I did this a couple years ago and made forty bucks for two days’ worth of work, which isn’t great, but it was not a bad way to get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s satisfying to give your neighbors a good deal on something they can use, and making even a little bit of cash off of stuff you never would’ve used anyway is a great feeling.

Option 3: Donate

I like to donate different things to different places, both because I want to support different causes and because, to be honest, I feel a little guilty about piling a lot of stuff on any one place that already has stacks and stacks of donations. Somehow, spreading it out feels better to me.

Books and other media
go to the Planned Parenthood book sale, which I like because the dropoff requires zero human interaction, plus it supports a cause I care about.

Stylish clothing, Housewares, and some Toiletries
go to a local store called the Beacon Boutique which benefits a women’s shelter. I also really enjoy shopping there!

Women’s Business Attire
There’s a place in Des Moines called Dress For Success that provides donated business clothing to needy women who are interviewing for jobs. I haven’t donated to them before, but I think it’s a cool concept.

Other Clothing
goes to The Clothing Closet in West Des Moines where low-income folks can “shop” for free.

Necessities – Toiletries, Blankets, &c.
Shelters like CISS always need things like personal hygeine items and warm stuff like blankets and coats.

Unexpired Pantry Items
can go to food banks.

Anything Else That’s Usable
Housewares, odd and vintage clothing items, stationery, etc. — goes to good ol’ Goodwill. Other options include: the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, and local thrift stores. [Edit 9/30/16:] A commenter mentioned the Disabled American Veterans (D.A.V.) thrift store, another great option. For like-new building materials, fixtures, and furniture, the Habitat for Humanity ReStores are a good option. I think it’s worth doing a little research to see what exactly the profit from these stores goes toward, because choosing a cause you believe in will make you feel extra good about your donation. Also, if you’re donating to a smaller organization, it’s a good idea to check their website or give them a call first to make sure you’re giving them things they have a need for.

Option 4: Repair

Make an effort to fix your damaged stuff. Oftentimes, all it takes is a few minutes of searching the internet for a solution to present itself. As a bonus, fixing something you thought was broken makes you feel like a hero.

Clothing
Sew up those holes—you can do it! I usually watch a YouTube video and then sew up or darn holes, reattach buttons, and replace broken threads. I condition and polish my leather items to keep them in good shape. Virtually any stain (besides ink) can be removed from fabric with Shout Stain Remover Wipes. (Don’t even bother with the Tide Pen, it sucks.)

Appliances and such
If an appliance is acting weird, try googling the problem. My husband was able to repair his keggerator by buying a small $3 part! I’m still proud of him.

Option 5: Repurpose

The sky’s the limit on this one. I don’t do a lot of repurposing, but some people are really into it. You can use fans and magnets from broken computers and microwaves to create all sorts of gadgets. You can put virtually anything in your garden to add whimsy and visual interest. Old iPods can be used as alarm clocks or for music in the car. Old clothes can be turned into quilts. Scrap wood can become any number of things, like a shoe shelf or a table top. Use your imagination, or search Pinterest.

Option 6: Recycle

Electronics
You can take almost anything related to electronics to Best Buy to be recycled. I’ve taken TVs, cell phones, power cords, batteries, and ink cartridges there. It’s super quick and easy. [Edit 9/30/16:] I did a little research after a friend made a suggestion in response to this post, and discovered that Goodwill stores in central Iowa will also recycle old computers!

Appliances
I took a broken dishwasher to a local store to be fixed up and (presumably) resold. Sometimes churches have programs that fix broken appliances and provide them to the needy. Do a little googling to see what’s available in your area.

Textiles
If you have clothes or other textiles that are no longer wearable, H&M stores can recycle them. [Edit 9/30/16:] I’m told that Goodwill also recycles textiles, but I haven’t confirmed this.

Paint, Cleaners, and Other Hazardous Materials
In Des Moines, the Metro Waste Authority has a hazardous materials drop-off site. Anything that’s still usable goes to the Swap Shop to be resold.

That about does it.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I don’t want anyone to go crazy trying to find exactly the right way to get rid of every little thing they decide to KonMari. But I hope this will at least inspire you to try the method and to take a moment to donate or recycle the big things you get rid of instead of sending them to the landfill. Believe me, you will reap the benefits in terms of feels. ♥