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Got everything?

As we pack up to go travelling around the world for a year, we’re sorting through our stuff and making loads of charity donations.

Kids’ keepsakes excluded, I rarely hang on to stuff unless it’s loved or needed. But there are things that escape the purges, coats especially.

No-buy bender

I’ve been on a no-buy mission since volunteering in Lesbos. Refugees were travelling with almost nothing. After making the crossing from Turkey in dinghies, they might arrive with a single bag. Some had nothing, fortunate to escape with their lives after being dragged from the sea.

I would run up the steep lanes from the harbour to the donations sorting house to find dry clothes, shoes and blankets to wrap them in.

The next morning, the harbour would be draped with clothes carefully arranged to dry in the sun. They’d get laundered and used by the next people to arrive.

The donations house was rammed. Piled high with nappies, toiletries and kids’ clothes. But the men’s clothing and shoe rooms were often empty, especially after the sea rescues.

Refugee clothes draped over chairs in Molyvos, Lesvos, during the refugee crisis (For an anti-consumerism post by Ruth McAllister Kemp)
After being rescued from the sea, refugees’ clothes are draped over chairs to dry
Anastasia's house - a storage house in Molyvos, Lesvos, used during the refugee crisis (For an anti-consumerism post by Ruth McAllister Kemp)
Boxes and boxes of supplies waiting to be handed out to refugees
Anastasia's house - a storage house in Molyvos, Lesvos, used during the refugee crisis (For an anti-consumerism post by Ruth McAllister Kemp)
The donations storage house was packed to the rafters. This was the nappy room.

Our time was spent sorting, rather than distributing.

Frustrated by the situation, my friend and I took boxes of toothbrushes, toothpaste and sanitary items to the refugees camped out on the harbour cobbles. They were just rising after an awful night, disorientated from arriving in chaos and the black of night, now greeted with a picture-postcard scene of fishing boats bobbing on the water.

I held open boxes as the refugees crowded around and gently investigated the contents. They gestured to ask if it really was okay to take packets of toothbrushes. They took what they needed, just a small something to feel a little bit cleaner, a little more human.

Do you have everything?

The refugee situation in Lesbos showed me the dichotomy between having everything and having nothing. Between having nothing but everything. It’s a complicated relationship that I wrestle with at home. I strive for half empty food cupboards. Empty drawers. Empty storage boxes. Empty shelves.

Everything I buy now is needed, well researched and bought secondhand (if possible). My friend feels the same. Before Lesvos she was thinking of a house extension. She now redirects her energy to supporting refugees.

The coats are staying in my wardrobe as textual memories, but I’m packing my rucksack with just three changes of clothes, my running shoes and other essentials. I want that to be all I need. And for all that I need to be all that I want.

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