Selective Dumpster Diving

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I live in an affluent area, and I am frequently amazed and groused at some of the things that people leave out as trash. I’m all for downsizing, but I believe very strongly that there’s a way to do it responsibly, or at least more responsibly. When there are so many people in this world who are in need, it’s almost criminal to throw away perfectly good items that could find further use in another home. I am painfully aware of how much I sound like my mother when I say or write the phrase, “perfectly good.” I’m going to have to live with that.

A few weeks ago, on a single day, I saw the following left out as trash: a ride-in toddler car (Flintstone style), a filing cabinet, a huge tub of wooden blocks.

The last I couldn’t pass up. With Akiva in the car, I stopped by the side of the road. We took a look at the blocks, decided they were pretty cool, and put the whole tub in the trunk. That night I washed every single one (I may be cheap but I’m still paranoid) and brought them into the living room. There are several sets of gorgeous, colorful wooden blocks, including a set printed with phrases and illustrations like “plant daffodils,” “go for a walk,” “ride a pony,” “in Paris,” “on the moon,” etc. We’ve been putting those together to make up (sometimes nonsensical) stories and draw pictures and put on short plays.

I imagine these blocks had a good life in their previous home and am grateful that they continue to give rise to creativity and family adventure rather than rotting away in a landfill. I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t feel like everything has to be new, or even new new. (Says she who mindlessly bought her son a shiny new red bike, over much internal objection.)

I had occasion this week to share a ride with my friend Anita, who is 90 years old. She talked about her upbringing and young adult years, and about how she came up with creative solutions to shortages and lacks. During the war, for example, she would put a little hot water into a used-up jar of jam and use the resulting mix as a sweetener for tea. She used old pantyhose to tie her tomato plants to stakes. She made cuffs for her tomato plants from old newspapers, to protect them from pests. (She’s volunteered to help me with my garden next year, G-d willing. I can’t wait to receive her wisdom.) Her daughter Jeanne lived off the grid for several years (which at the time Anita regarded as a rejection of her values) and learned to make it, grow it, or do without.

I clearly need a dose of that, and don’t quite know how to get it.  (Little by little, I suppose.)  Summertime, and the living is too easy.

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4 thoughts on “Selective Dumpster Diving

  1. Hooray for second chances! Much, much better to prolong the life of “perfectly good” things rather than toss them in a landfill.

    (Says the mom who just watched Wall-E deal with a world of trash. Ick.)

  2. wisekaren

    Don’t feel bad about the trash thing — here in our “affluent area,” people deliberately put “perfectly good” things out on trash day for others to take. That’s why they’re not in a trash bag or can. I’ve left out everything from a slightly malfunctioning toaster (with instruction booklet taped to it) to an uncomfortable (for me, anyhow) office chair to LOADS of big plastic kids’ stuff. It’s always gone before the city trash truck arrives. I feel good that these things are finding new homes, and it’s easier than offering it up on FreeCycle.

    Did you happen to catch the story on NPR (by an old friend, Tovia Smith) about Wellesley’s dump? I later heard that it got more angry mail than just about any story they’d done in ages.

  3. cliftongardner

    Interesting story. You’d think that people would (a) keep items that are perfectly good or (b) give them to others who might need/want them.

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