Remember my Advent Challenge?!

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit behind with my blog and am still catching up with last year’s events! Way back at the start of December, I embarked on the Advent Challenge. The basis of the challenge is that you give away one item you own every day for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. I decided 24 items would be too easy for me, so I went for two items per day instead. I tend to get on a roll when I start a clear out, so I didn’t actually track down one item each day, I just had a couple of tidying up sessions and then counted how much stuff had amassed. It was a lot! I ended up exceeding my 48 item target – I gave away 57 items, plus around 10 pieces of jewellery that I was too lazy to count!

Some of the items that have now left the building include:

  • A freebie inflatable happy hand from the World Cup in Brazil. Cool at the time, not so cool once the party is over!
  • A face mask and an eye mask I haven’t used in years. I happily handed over the latter to a friend; it’s nice when can rehome your stuff to somebody you know.
  • Kitchen items: poaching pods, an assortment of crockery I never use, a shot glass from Seattle, a lunchbox and a timer.
  • Two handbags and a rucksack.
  • Six scarves… I still have quite a few scarves.
  • Two picture frames.

Although I come from a family of hoarders, I’m fairly ruthless with my stuff; if it doesn’t fit, doesn’t work, isn’t needed anymore, it goes, usually to a charity shop, but sometimes to FreeCycle. So I was quite surprised at how many things I had hanging around my house that didn’t need to be there.

Actually, I had already got together some unwanted clothes prior to the Advent Challenge, because around October or November I start thinking ahead to Crisis Christmas. Many Crisis volunteers bring donated clothes along with them to the centre, and they are very gratefully received by the guests. My collection started small, with a few bits from my own wardrobe and a few from friends in Southampton:

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By the time December came around, and I’d mentioned to people I was aiming to get a car load of clothes to take with me to Crisis, I ended up with quite a haul. The photo below doesn’t show very well how much stuff there was; one holdall is hidden behind the others and the box on the back right was packed with socks and hats, which were kindly donated by a family friend.

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Then a few days into Crisis, my dad added some more clothes:

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Knowing you’re giving away your things to people who will appreciate them far more than you definitely makes the process easier.

Doing the Advent Challenge highlighted that while I’m probably better than a lot of people at not keeping stuff I don’t need, I could still free up some space in my cupboards. I intend to continue weeding out this month and taking what I call an essentialist (more realistic than minimalist?!) approach to my possessions. It’s actually pretty liberating.

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Christmas is coming!

As I write, I can see the sun – having made a comeback after a rainy spell – shining on the houses across the street. The sky is a pale blue with a scattering of a few barely visible, wispy clouds. Which of course makes the title of this post seem even more ridiculous.

Since 2011, it’s been around this time of year that I’ve started thinking ahead to Christmas. Not because I’m one of those super organised people who gets their shopping in well ahead of the inevitable December high street madness, but because Christmas for me has come to mean Crisis. And Crisis volunteer applications have to be submitted in October. This year I’m being given a head start, because I’m going to be a Key Volunteer and need attend a training session next month.

For anyone who doesn’t know what Crisis Christmas is all about, the basic idea is this: Crisis opens a number of centres for 7-10 days across London at the end of December. People who are homeless come along and get a hot meal, and can access various services while they’re there. These range from doctors, podiatrists and hairdressers to art and crafts, sports and CV writing, with loads more besides. The aim is to provide comfort, warmth and friendship during what can be a difficult time of year for some, but more critically to encourage people to take positive steps towards improving the quality of their life. For some this might involve breaking an addiction or cycle of debt; for others finding employment or reconnecting with family.

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I’ve volunteered for a few charities, and have always found it enjoyable and rewarding, but I’ve never come across anything like Crisis Christmas. When I’m there, I work harder than I do in my regular job. I barely sit down all day, don’t stop for lunch (unless mince pies on the run count) and last year still went in on my day off. Why? Because it’s an absolutely amazing environment to be in, with some incredible people – guests as well as volunteers. I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve found more fulfilling than Crisis Christmas. It’s a bit crazy, a bit intense, you never know when you might be asked to clean the toilets, and you always end of your shift grubby and knackered, but you genuinely feel like you’re part of something worthwhile and special, and that by being there you’re actually making a difference to the guests.

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Crisis is really where it all started. Volunteering there altered my preconceived notions of what a typical ‘homeless person’ is like (in short: there’s no such thing), and fostered what has become a growing interest in issues surrounding poverty in the UK. Every Crisis Christmas has strengthened my belief that I should be doing something other than teaching, and has made it harder to keep ignoring the persistent voice in my head that tells me I want my job to focus on making a real impact on people. So, along with the 4000 odd guests who attended Crisis Christmas last year, I feel like I also have something to thank Crisis for.