This year has been one full of packing and unpacking. I’ve been travelling for work and I’ve been travelling for pleasure. Most of the time I’ve been living out a suitcase. Everything I need has been fitting in one bag that weighs 35 pounds or less.

I’ve noticed something curious about the things I have been carrying around with me. About 25% of my clothes never leave the bag. The other day I pulled these items out to take a good look at them and realized that they all fit under the “in case” category. You know, "in case we go to a fancy restaurant or "in case we have a hot/cold day.”

As I picked the “in case” items out my luggage and decided I won’t be packing them on the next trip, I looked at the items and wondered why I carried them with me around four countries? And I thought about how much stuff I own just “in case” I need it and how much simpler my life would be if I gave it all away instead of hoarding it.

When I got home, I began to look around for the items that made up the 25%. I found soccer pads and shoes “in case” my husband takes up indoor soccer after a five-year absence. There is my guitar collecting dust just “in case” I decide to callous my fingers again. Then there are numerous small shampoos and soaps from hotels “in case” I need them for a trip.

If I’m honest, all of these “in case” items are a symptom of a lifestyle filled with excess. I have more than I need, while others have less than they can survive on. I know there is no quick fix to the problems of poverty in the world but perhaps if I found ways to better use the 25% it would go some way towards helping those struggling to survive.

These are a few of the ways I’ve found to spread the excess that I own in different areas of my life:

Formal wear

I’m pretty good at donating clothes on a regular basis. Even so, when I look at my closet I see plenty of “in case” items that I haven’t worn in years. There are evening dresses I can’t even fit into any more that I have kept in case a chance comes to wear them again. This year I’ve decided to donate those dresses. Take a look at donatemydress.org for where to deliver your dresses in the U.S.

Business attire and suits can be donated to careergear.org who provide professional clothing, mentoring and life-skills to help men in poverty become stronger contributors to their families and communities.

Linen

Wondering what to do with worn out towels and blankets? Why not drop them off at your local animal shelter where they can be used as bedding for the dogs and cats.

Food

Coming home from holiday I decided to take a look at the long-life food in my cupboards. I found a stash of canned food still well within the use-by date that has been sitting on my shelves for over 6 months. Many of these cans contain “in case” foods that I don’t actually like to eat, so I put those foods in a bag and dropped them off at a food bank where they can be distributed. I’ve also decided to no longer buy the “in case” foods that I don’t really prefer.

Soap

My bathroom cabinet is full of unused travel size shampoos, body washes and even those fold out toothbrushes airlines give on intercontinental trips. Since we have a friend who has made it is mission in life to befriend homeless people, I sent him a message and asked if he would thought his friends would like them. He sent back a resounding, “Yes."  If you don’t know anyone who hangs out with homeless people, why not give a shelter or halfway house near you a call and find out if they could items like this for welcome packs.

Gift cards

I found a couple of gift cards which only had a few dollars on. I remembered reading about an organization that collects used gift cards. I looked it up and came across giftcardgiver.com. They accumulate the cards and then give them to people or organizations with needs. Some of their success stories include a family driving from Alabama to Boston for medical treatment being matched with Gas Cards and a women’s shelter in need of undergarments for their residents matched with unused Victoria’s Secret gift cards.

Cell phones

Cleaning out my draws I found a couple of old phones. One I gave away to a friend who had broken her phone and couldn’t afford a new one but that still left another two outdated phones. Hopephones.org accepts donations of any phone, working or not, with or without accessories. The phones are either refurbished for sale or recycled safely. The money paid to the non-profit for recycled phones goes towards outfitting health workers.

As I’ve started to looking for places to send my “in case” items I’ve found that there is a non-profit that will take just about anything from eyeglasses to baby clothes to desk supplies and tennis balls. In most cases a simple Google search of “where can I donate X” has introduced me to some good charities in need of my excess. Realizing that my “in case” items can meet someone else’s need is revolutionizing the way I think about extra 25% I own.

Wendy van Eyck is married to Xylon, who talks non-stop about cycling, and makes her laugh. She writes for anyone who has ever held a loved one’s hand through illness, ever believed in God despite hard circumstances or ever left on a spontaneous 2-week holiday through a foreign land with just a backpack. You can follow Wendy’s story and subscribe to receive her free ebook, “Life, life and more life” at ilovedevotionals.com. She would also love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.

Publication date: April 25, 2014