Thursday, February 21, 2008

Adventures in Dumpster Diving

Well, I told you I’d share something about my past-time of “dumpster diving.” I don’t want to appear insensitive to those who, because of their circumstances, must root through trashcans for food and necessities. My dumpster diving is purely for fun, not for sustenance. I am just a suburban mom who gets a thrill finding uses for stuff other people throw away. I love getting use out of something, even temporarily, that would have ended up at the local dump.

My dumpster diving days started a long time ago in, of all places, a dumpster. It was the last day of school in fourth or fifth grade. All the other kids had gone home. I was wandering when I saw that the school dumpster’s sliding metal door was ajar.

I peeked inside, and two of my passions were ignited: the desire to snoop, and the desire for free stuff. There, in the dumpster were leftover workbooks and school supplies (even dictionaries!) and-- the snooper’s holy grail-- carbon copies of all of the student report cards for the year! I climbed inside and sat among the milk cartons reading everyone’s grades and comments. After a while, I gathered a few favored school supplies, and headed home.
I couldn’t take everything I wanted, because my mother would have balked at my bringing more junk into the house. She was always sorting through things trying to get rid of them. I didn’t like how she discouraged us from going to yard sales, either. Now, 30 years later, I get it. I don’t want my kids bringing junk into our house either. I want to be the one who picks the junk in this family!

That was my one and only foray inside an actual dumpster, but I’ve been on the prowl ever since. Now, as I drive my minivan around town, I check out the discard piles in front of people’s houses. My philosophy is to take it now, and if I find out it’s not a good fit, donate it or recycle it later. On the few occasions I have mulled over whether to pick something up, it has been too late and I’ve been seriously bummed. I still pine for a pristine set of wooden TV trays I left standing at the curb. My treasures have included baby gear, bookcases, tables, chairs, toys, shelves, sprinklers, and one of those things that spreads fertilizer in your yard.

My kids are on board with my habit. This may change when they are teenagers. Molly scans the curb to see if anything looks good. When she was starting preschool, her teachers came by for a home visit. When a teacher complimented her on her pretty nightstand, she declared “that’s a dumpster dive!” She proceeded to take the teacher on a dumpster dive tour of the house. I do try to exercise self-control and have only picked up one item off the street with another person’s child in my car.

A few times I’ve been caught by a house’s owner, which is a little embarrassing. A smile, a thank you, and a quick getaway seem the best approach.

I’ve also been known to donate my own things in order to make room for a new dumpster dive. I try to maintain a “one thing in, one thing out” mindset and I don’t think my house looks junky…yet.

My favorite find is a huge cabinet we refer to merely as “the dumpster dive.” It sits outside our kitchen door and we use it as a place to store our recycling, as well as serve as a bar and buffet for outdoor parties. I am not sure what it was in its former life, most likely a workbench in someone’s basement. I love if for many reasons: its chipped milky green paint, the old phone numbers scrawled inside, the way it keeps our recycling, birdseed, sports equipment and grocery bags stowed out of sight. But most of all, it makes me appreciate my husband and his support of my quirks.

I had driven by it on a trash heap for several days. I pined for it, but I was sure Tom would put the kibosh on bringing it home. Unlike most dumpster dives, I couldn’t throw this one in the back of my minivan on my own. I needed serious buy-in on his part. This involved removing both bench seats from my van, finding a place to stash the kids for a few minutes, driving over in broad daylight to the middle of our town, and raiding the trash heap. When we got there, he said there was no way it would fit in my car. After almost 10 years, I know that van like the back of my hand, so I asked him to please try to help me get it in. Rather than squelch my dream, he helped me wrestle that thing into the car and it worked!

I get warm and fuzzy when I think about how he did not make fun of me and tell me our house was starting to look like the Sanford and Son junkyard. Two years later, he still loves that “dumpster dive,” and he even puts in orders for things for me to be on the lookout for as I zip around town. Looks like I may have a convert!
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1 comment:

amy said...

who could pass that up? it's fantastic!!