The Sequence

“Where are you in the sequence?” I say this to my adults-in-training frequently. “How was the situation before you played a part in it? And how can you leave it just as good, if not better than you found it?” For example, last week my daughter was painting. She cleaned up after herself pretty well. Nonetheless, she is a child and cleaning up is a life skill that improves with age I think. As we were getting ready to leave the house, I noticed that there was a jar half-filled with water holding a paint brush left on the art table. I asked her to finish cleaning it up and think about what her place was in the sequence.

Had she found the paint brush and jar in that condition before using it? What could happened if she left it on the table while we were gone? Perhaps a cat would have jumped on the table and knocked over the paint water creating a mess for her (me) to clean up when we got home. What was her part in the sequence?

Sequences show up all through life. Sometimes we see their development in hindsight and sometimes we purposely plan them, but each one of us play various parts in many different sequences. This question is a tool I also use to filter how I manage my stuff. Where am I in the sequence?

Everything beyond what God created in our world – plants, water, sky, land, us, animals – is man-made, meaning that a person has handled it before you have owned it, and another person will handle it after you own it even if it’s just to be taken to the landfill.

The sequence of stuff has helped me especially with the chain of events that happen after I own a thing. (I’m working towards improving my part in the sequence for items I choose to buy, but I find it is much harder to educate myself in responsible consumerism than it is to discard responsibly.) The sequence has helped me to have better stipulations for what I donate versus what I consider trash.

I no longer donate anything that will be a problem for it’s next owner. I no longer donate parts of things, clothes with stains or holes, or things that could be fixed that I don’t feel like fixing. All of these things become trash, because donating them just prolongs their inevitable fate. Donating them just places them in the mix with good donations that will need to be weeding out of my junk. Donating them leaves throwing them away to be done by someone else when I could take care of that step for the next person.

Using the sequence of stuff, I imagine what the lady at the donation center must be thinking when she is picking through what items she will put on the floor to sale and what items will be carried off by the weekly trash pick-up. I’d love to interview an employee of a thrift shop to see what percentage of the goods they receive are actually trashed.

Not donating my items that should be trash forces self-reflection. When I make myself trash these things I have to ask why I would have been ok donating them to someone else who won’t be able to readily use them. Why would I donate a shirt with a rip in the seam that may not be noticed by the next owner until she tries it on? Why would I donate a chair that looks good with a hidden cracked leg?

And why does it pain me to throw them away? Do I really think that the next owner will repurpose or fix it, or do I not want to feel like I’m throwing away the money or memories that were invested into that thing? The questions and answers are different for each item, but I’ve learned that stuff is just stuff and stuff feels nothing. It is only my feelings towards what I own that navigate the part I choose to play in the sequence of stuff. How will I choose to make it better for the next person?

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