My mother loved beautiful clothes. As she was a bargain hunter, she often bought new clothes on sale. The advantage of owning a big house, which she lived in on her own after my brother and my leaving for university and work, was that there was always enough storage room. My mother didn’t have to throw out stuff, she could just store it away, even if she didn’t use all of the things anymore.

When we began clearing out the house, we started on the first closet pretty soon. We sorted it in different piles- things I would be wearing, over there. Old clothes which seemed not wearable anymore, over there, and we would bring them to the clothes recycling bin. And lastly, clothes that could still be worn by someone else on the third pile.

The old clothes and rags were the easiest to identify and let go – we put them all in big bags and brought them to several recycling bins in the course of days. Also quite easy was the decision, which clothes to keep for my own use.

What became difficult however was the decision what to do with those clothes on the third pile. We decided that clothes which I wouldn’t want to keep for myself should be given away or sold. Sometimes we could think of someone from our groups of friends whom the pieces might fit, and so we put the clothes aside as a gift to them. Everything else was put back into the boxes and stayed stored away for later.

And that was how the boxes remained. For months. For years. Thankfully, my brother’s house was just as big as my mother’s, so we could store the boxes at his home. But of course, every additional box stacked away somewhere was taking up precious space and kept being in our way and laying as a heavy burden on our souls.

When the wave of refugees reached Germany in 2014, we finally knew what to do with a big part of my mother’s remaining clothes, the modern ones. We decided to donate those to the refugee relief.

And that brought our family history full circle – my grandparents had fled Upper Silesia with my new-born mother in 1945 and couldn’t bring anything except the clothes on their backs. In the 1990’s, after my grandparents had both passed, we had found a letter in my grandfather’s belongings, which he – a paraplegic – had typed on a typewriter, multiplying it by using carbon paper and obviously sending it out to everyone he knew in Germany. In this, he was speaking about his dire needs, only owning one pair of trousers, one shirt and one pair of shoes and asking if they could possibly send him some trousers or a shirt…?

My grandparents’ misery must have been heavy, but with a lot of inventiveness and help from others they managed to improve their lives in the German economic miracle years. No wonder, clothes always meant that much to my mother and my whole family!

Before we passed on the clothes, we checked everything, put stuff that had gotten a bit smelly during their time in the boxes into the washing machine and packed up everything once again. There were a lot of warm winter coats, pullovers and trousers that were still fashionable and in good shape, but just not completely “en vogue” anymore, which also made them probably not that sellable in a second hand shop. But now we had found a good opportunity to donate the clothes and do something good with them.

And we knew: Our mother’s clothes that had always been so very important to her would be helping people in need, dress them fashionably and keep them warm – and they would be appreciated. And this was way more important to us than if we had sold the boxes for money. We realised: Giving stuff away is more enjoyable than selling it – and it is also much quicker!

 

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