My tips on cardigan folding (hint: I’m horrible. Actually about the clothes and, if you want to keep reading, a rough day)

I was folding clothes in the boutique a week or so ago when a question came to my mind to ask a friend who was in there with me: “What do you consider the hardest piece of clothing to fold?”

“Unbuttoned cardigans.”

High-fives around.

Easily the hardest thing to fold. First, you need to find which is the top of the cardigan and the bottom, which is sometimes quite complicated depending on the sleeve size, which can also be taken for the actual trunk of the cardigan itself, because some sleeves are so wide. This then requires to actually find at what point along the top are the shoulders, more or less (I’m the “halfie” folding type, which means I fold along the middle line of the front of a shirt – not the best way to fold, and I’m hoping this will not be a deal-breaker for a future relationship, but I like the efficiency of it). That is if the cardigan does not have a hoodie, which tempts me to just throw it in the “summer” pile and let someone deal with it in 2-3 months. While holding the shoulders, then you have swing back (sometimes a large, heavy cardigan) so that the two shoulders meet and you have a halved piece of folded clothing (I’m thinking at this point in writing that I should just shoot a YouTube video of this). The problem with an unbuttoned cardigan (as it takes too much time to button up, because some buttons on cardigans are too hard to handle and/or find), is that you then have these long, wildly not perpendicular halves that are not easily foldable into anything recognizable. I kind of double them over into thirds, so it’s now 1/6 of its normal size (and probably almost the shape of a cube) and put it down wherever it needs to be. I might as well have crumpled it into a ball and throw it on the “Women’s Sweaters” pile.

I can’t believe I just wrote a very long paragraph about folding an unbuttoned cardigan. So much for that PhD.

You would be AMAZED at the clothes we find and what I could have done with them:

  • Retired by now after having opened a vintage clothing store
  • Clothed a small city in summer clothes
  • Clothed the entire cast of the Brady Bunch for a full season
  • Put pants on the population of a large town of men who weighed 150 kg (~330 pounds) and measured 2 meters tall (~6’6”) (I’m so confused as to where they come from)

People literally clear out their closets without regard to what they are sending. They just want to get rid of the stuff. There are two main things that I have learned from going through all these donated clothes that are generalizations, but I now have evidence for:

  • Women buy and discard clothing far more often than men
  • Men wear clothes until they can’t be worn anymore

I know there are exceptions, but generally speaking, it’s all in the hundreds of cardboard boxes and bags I’ve been through. I’m guessing the ratio of women’s to men’s clothing is around 6 or 7 to 1.

In my first week, I came up with the idea to have a Twitter, Instagram or Facebook account dedicated to pictures of the crazy clothes we found. For many reasons, this is a bad idea (but oh so good at the same time!). In that vein, however, here is a Top Ten list of the crazy finds I can remember:

10: A box, shipped from the United States, with a single T-shirt and 6 ½ liter bottles of water

9: An entire box of clothes that were wet with pee (?)

8: Three 1 kg painted rocks

7: In one box, three very large full-on ball gowns

6: Lingerie. I kid you not

5: Six-inch heels

4: A mini-skirt with “Sexy” written on the butt (Um, which population is arriving on Greek shores?)

3: A pink t-shirt top for a 5- or 6-year old that read “I’m too sexy for this shirt”

2: A black tube top for a young teenage girl that had a large, bedazzled skull on the front

1: Female jean jacket, for an older teenager, with a black setting on the back that had depicted the grim reaper with the words “Order vs. Chaos”. I will just say it didn’t last long in the boutique

The cutest by far was a onesie that was a full on dinosaur with tail, ears, fins and all for a 4-year old.

On to my day…

Today was not the best day. I can tell that I’m getting burned out. The normal patience and calm is there, but I find it taking more of a toll by the end of each day. I’m at a point where I need to be careful to not totally cross a line or my desire to do something like this again will be lowered. It’s not on a physical level, although my body again feels like I went on a long, full-day hike, but more on an emotional/intellectual/human-to-human level.

After the large number of refugees arriving over the weekend, I was expecting there to be a disaster in the clothes boutique/containers this morning, but I was pleasantly surprised to see everything well in order and quite stocked. We are very low on certain items (which I will remedy tomorrow when I pick up some of the GoFundMe purchases), but otherwise Tabakika weathered the storm very well.

New arrivals were coming in the morning, so I started by working in the clothes boutique. Mostly working the door, which is not as easy as it seems, because you are the one who determines whether people get to come in or not. It’s just an uncomfortable position to be in, easier when it’s clear that people have needs and are wet and not so much when you kind of know that people hid their clothes or shoes so they could come and get more items at the expense of others. Yes, this happens all the time. Luckily, cute kids have a way of balancing out that part.

In the middle of the day, after several hours of that, I was asked to go the port to support the one staff member that was there. Souda, the post-registration camp, was full and they were sending post-registrants from Tabakika to the port to spend the night. Souda was full, because the ferry lines, in what I’m guessing is a normal seasonal shift (but who knows), has down-sized the number of seats on the ferries to Athens (by 8000/month, so 150-200 per ferry), which means that not as many refugees can leave Chios per night as before. This creates a backlog of people on the island as they wait for open seats. The ferries are full for tonight and the next two nights. This is one of the many frustrating logistical aspects of the refugee crisis that has you scratching your head.

There were 100 or so refugees in the port when I arrived, but groups of 10 and 20 kept arriving over the next few hours. Clothes, water, questions. Clothes, water, questions. At around 14:00, the staff member said that he needed to leave for a meeting and that he had gotten permission to leave me alone there to handle everything and someone would come in 2 hours. Okay. Glad to know that I’m trusted enough that they would leave me with almost now 200 refugees, but I’m quite positive this is not SOP. There was no one else, so what can you do?

And, yes, everything went fine. Some of the time, a Sunni Anbar Province gym teacher, Daesh-cursing, father of 5 who had ear buds in his ears the entire time and left his family behind to seek work in Germany, helped me with interpretation. He’d also bring me the most serious cases of those in need of clothes, doctor or something else. Such help is so very much appreciated.

A staff member came at 16:30, but the two of us were immediately inundated with the refugees’ needs (it was getting colder, sun going down) and some new arrivals. We were alleviated from the pressure when a few volunteers came to serve soup, which was the first meal of the day for some of the refugees. The line (or quasi-line) formed up quick!

Why was today not the best day? Mostly, it’s because of all the little things that I don’t write about that are piling higher and higher, that push cynicism and frustration to the forefront, attempting to backburner patience, calm and kindness. It’s not necessarily a struggle in the moment, but it wears you down. Add that to everything else that makes this difficult and it makes for a rough day. I know I’m continuing to be vague about this. I have a feeling that you will have to get me to sit down in front of you to explain further someday.

Fellow volunteers! If you have clothes stories, please put them in the comment box!!!

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  • I came to the same conclusion as you, men wear out their clothes, children grows out of them and women just change them. That is why we constantly lack mens clothes, but have plenty for the smal babys. My “best” find in the clothesboxes: a bikini and a ladys swimsuit. I don’t think these women really fancy a swim in the aegean ocean any time soon.

    Hang in there. You are making a big difference in many peoples lives. Just remember to take a break for yourself every now and then.

  • Dear Josh,
    Despite the rough day, you found the words to make me laugh with the lesson of folding an unbuttoned cardigan and the hell of a jerk people ‘donate’. I wish those who sent those crap things would read your post and feel some shame. Cheers, Véronique

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