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For Military Families, 'Tis the Season for Purging

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Five hours into sorting Barbie shoes and Legos I had an epiphany: What if this year we were a military family who really embraced the idea of giving?

And by that I mean, what if this year my family looked for ways to give our possessions away?

I have ulterior motives here. 

My kids have way too many toys -- and this month they’ll get even more. This fact that kept painfully presenting itself in the form of Legos embedding into my bare feet. 

We have no room in the playroom for more dolls or Nerf guns. No shelf space for new games and puzzles.  No empty bins in which to store this year's freshman class of Squinkies, My Little Ponies and Pokemon cards. 

Also, I refuse to spend another Saturday with a label maker and a stack of plastic containers. 

In fairness to my husband and me, we really don't spoil our children with gifts. We only buy them toys on their birthdays and Christmas, and on a rare occasion or two throughout the year. It's the far-flung relatives, the well-meaning relatives, who buy most of the trinkets and treasures, and who sometimes pass along their own children's passed over playthings. 

To the point that we were drowning in them. 

Serendipitously, not two days after my epiphany, my daughter came home with a flyer announcing that her school was having a rummage sale to raise money for the American Cancer Society. They needed items to sell. 

Yahtzee! 

(Literally. We donated that game.)

My father and three of my grandparents died of cancer. I explained that to my children and told them that the toys they chose to part with would be sold to raise money to help find a cure. 

That proved motivation enough and one hour later I had two garbage bags stuffed with plush animals, trucks and games -- toys no one had played with in months. We also donated an outgrown bicycle and an assortment of baby toys. 

There was breathing room in the playroom again. Better yet, we were on a roll. 

When a friend posted on Facebook that her young son was struggling with his father's deployment, my son was eager to help. A few days and one flat rate shipping box later, he had eagerly parted with a collection of well-loved wooden trains he hadn't played with in years, excited to know that his gift would bring a smile to another military kid. 

But the most fun came the recently when my 2-year-old announced that she was done with her toddler bed. She'd only used it for a few months and -- a rarity for furniture in my house -- it was still in perfect condition. I listed it on a yard sale web site and quickly found a buyer willing to pay $50 for the bed.

When she arrived and handed over the cash, I surprised her by telling her to keep the money, thus discovering my new favorite way to purge -- listing something for sale online and when the buyer shows up to pay, just giving them the item instead. 

It's like a used stuff version of paying for a stranger's latte at Starbuck's. I plan to do this more before the year's end -- at least enough to clear a path through the garage. 

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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