Photo Credit: Sergey Tinyakov/Shutterstock
“It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” “Be the change you want to see.” But most importantly, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Statements like these may be age-old and on the trite side, but that doesn’t make them untrue. As principles to live by, they’re undisputedly good ones. But at the same time, where do you start when the world is so vast and its problems, struggles, and suffering so oversized and widespread? When you’re in need of kindness yourself, how do you dole it out without eventually pouring from an empty cup?
My solution is microkindnesses: tiny, minuscule things that are extensions of your everyday life that you can tack on. Little generosities that can add up to a decent amount of good karma without costing you much time or money. Here are some of my favorite ways to make a small difference in a hard world.
For the Hungry
Let’s be really honest here: Most of us buy more snacks than we like to admit. We then look guiltily at our just-in-case boxes of crackers on the verge of staleness; snack packs of cookies the kids no longer like; breakfast and protein bars that we got over; or just excess packaged food because it was buy one, get one and you had a coupon so it was practically free.
With these, you have two options: You can look at them taunting you from your pantry every time you open it … or you can throw them in an airtight container (for longer preservation) to keep in your car in case you encounter someone who is in need.
I choose the latter.
I live in Atlanta, and before that, Long Island, New York, and there are definitely parts of town in both places where you’re sure to encounter someone who’s hungry. Since no one carries cash anymore, there’s such a stigma to giving the homeless money. And honestly, because it’s simply not safe to take out your wallet willy-nilly, keeping a snack box for the needy is a great way to immediately help someone who just needs something to eat.
Plus, a lot of these snacks are shelf-stable and will keep pretty indefinitely. Most have only “best by” dates and not expiration dates, which mean they are safe for consumption — just not as potent or flavorful as before that date. This means that your microkindness doesn’t require a lot of maintenance, since you don’t have to keep checking in and rotating the selection in your kit for dates.
When given to those who are truly hungry, their gratitude will be enough to fill you up, too.
For Our Sisters in Need
It may surprise you, but something women’s shelters are often in need of are the mundane or even embarrassing things you don’t really think of. For example, tampons, pads, deodorant, sunscreen, hair ties, even contraception and other personal health and hygiene items are usually in high demand … and they aren’t cheap, either.
With so many brands out there with new developments and product lines, if you’re anything like me, you’ve tried a bunch and have found that some are not your favorites. After all, all of our bodies are built and shaped differently, and what works for one woman doesn’t necessarily work for another. For instance, some tampons I find irritating, some pads change their surface texture, or both have been ditched in favor of a menstrual cup, or for me personally, a disc.
One way to clear the clutter if you’ve made the switch to a different method or just don’t like a brand’s “new and innovative” update is to put them neatly in a box to drop off at a local homeless or battered women’s shelter.
Another option, if you have a few toiletries, is to fill sandwich bags with some quick bare necessities. In addition to a few feminine hygiene products, include a couple of cotton swabs, some hair ties, or individually packaged towelettes. Be honest with yourself about some of the trial-size goodies you’ve snagged: Will you ever really use that tiny bar of hotel soap or little lotion you took home with you? Or can you let it go to make something as simply luxurious as scented soap help another woman feel like a woman again?
For a Stranger
The smallest, nicest thing you can do costs nothing at all. Just make eye contact and say something nice. Be fully present as you do it and show someone, anyone, that they matter.
Go ahead and compliment a stranger. Drop the filter and tell the tired-looking mom at the grocery store that you find the print on her reusable shopping bag adorable and her kids extraordinarily well-behaved. Tell your retired neighbor that you love looking out your window to her carefully tended garden. After yoga, spin, Pilates, or any fitness class, tell someone who had perfect form, impressive stamina, or just a whole lot of commitment and say you noticed their effort.
This extends to loose associates, too. Remember personal details about coworkers, and ask how their aging parents, sick cat, or cranky toddler is doing. Tell your everyday barista you like their new glasses.
Just opening the conversational door, holding out your hand, and hearing that they’re seen is sometimes the thing we most need. And we all know, compliments mean the most when unsolicited and unprompted. When someone who isn’t close offers them with no strings attached, they’re given more weight and belief than when a person who cares for them does. No rose-colored glasses or quid pro quo here.
Try saying one nice thing to one person every day and watch their smile and response warm your heart, too.
For Our Four-Legged Friends
Got a leash you don’t use? Keep it in your glove box, along with some extra treats. You never know when you might see a dog who’s lost their owner, and having an extra leash is clutch for helping to reunite the two. Even if you never use it for that purpose, just knowing you have the intent could be enough of a reminder on a bad day that you are doing your best to do good and are ready for it.
Even smaller, carry treats with you when you walk your own dog. Again, this can help get a loose, lost dog to trust you enough that you can read their tag to reconnect them. And asking an owner if you can give their good girl or best boy a reward is a fast way to engage with people and brighten up their day. There isn’t a dog owner in the world who doesn’t want to tell people about the joy their pet brings them, and it’ll brighten their day to do so.
If you want to go bigger, tons of animal shelters could use scraps from your life, and not just food scraps. Old blankets and towels can provide physical and emotional comfort for dogs in sterile shelter pens. Food your own dog is too picky for that you were going to toss will be happily devoured by hungry ones in need. Helping out man’s best friend can really be as simple as making your trash their treasure.
For Our Planet
I see microkindesses as doing incremental things to bring positivity to all living things in this world — and that can mean the Earth itself. And the kindest thing you can do for our planet is to pause and think.
We do so much automatically and thoughtlessly. We accept plastic cutlery in our to-go bags, even though we’re eating at home. We accept individually packaged sauces in our takeaway food. Grab extra napkins. Take the straw. Double bag the groceries in plastic. Throw out the aforementioned plastic bags. Triple-wrap leftovers with aluminum foil or Saran wrap.
If every day, you bring consciousness into one autopiloted action or question a habit, you can make significant changes over time. In the notes of your delivery order, just type in “no utensils or napkins needed, please.” Keep reusable grocery bags — plural — in the trunk of your car so you’re never without. If you do leave with a plastic bag, save it to line a bathroom garbage can instead of buying flimsy little ones, or bring it back to the supermarket, where many have bag recycling stations set up.
You’ll be amazed at how much excess you can decline if you take a moment to ask yourself if you’re opting for something because it’s necessary or because it’s a habit. Does your pizza slice really require that much aluminum foil? Probably not. And do you really need a fresh sheet for your toaster oven when there’s nary a crumb on the one you accidentally left there the last time you cooked something? That second’s pause will have just saved you a foot off your roll and dollars off your monthly expenses.
Today, it’s hard not to feel hopeless and overwhelmed. We’re stressed and don’t have much left of ourselves to give. But these teensy kindnesses are upcycled from leftovers. Excess material, resources that might otherwise be tossed, things that clutter your space. Even fleeting thoughts that you’d otherwise dismiss, from random complimentary observances to questions about something being wasteful.
Giving them away frees up physical, mental, and emotional space. Bit by bit, the easy task of being microscopically kind bulks up your karmic balance while lightening your spiritual load. So at the end of the day, although you're directing kindness at others, the person you’re truly being kindest to … is you.