By Matt Boness
We often don’t give it a second thought. We throw things into the garbage can that we don’t want anymore and take the bag out when it’s full. Once a week, it goes out to the side of the street and magically trash disappears, never to be seen again.
When you move, you think about trash a lot. You go through everything you own, throwing out what you don’t want to move. Regret how much you have accumulated. Throw out more. Regret even more. You begin to watch the sanitation workers from the crack in the blinds to make sure they aren’t completely upset with you for the large pile of throw aways you have left them to clean up. You leave trash after you lock up your house for the last time and hope your neighborhood and the city code enforcers don’t catch you leaving trash on your curb for a week.
Then, when you get to your new city, you have no idea how trash collection works despite always creating trash. You have boxes to throw out, broken dishes that didn’t make the trip, pizza boxes from take out because your kitchen is in disarray. Trash always accumulates. Do you need a rolling cart? Just put bags out? What day of the week is trash collected? Do you separate recyclables? What recyclables does this city collect? On and on.
Trash knowledge is essential information when moving and yet it is one of the hardest things to figure out without some serious sleuthing of the city or municipality sanitation department website.
But why is it so important? It is only trash no matter how you sniff it. Trash, and it’s systems play a larger role in our lives and the way we interact with our neighbors and things than we probably think about. It speaks volumes about us as people and our relationship to not only the things we own but to those around us; which tends to be far more long lasting, in good or bad ways, than the things we are chucking out.
Let’s take the fact that if we didn’t get rid of our trash in some way that we would have problems with sanitation, with our neighbors who have to smell our pile of trash, with our homeowner’s association and the city we live in. Most of us live under some sanitation code, whether personal or by law and that guides the way in which we deal with things we’d rather not own anymore. Our relationships and the way people interact with us and our homes are contingent on how we deal with trash. Trash and getting rid of it isn’t just for our own good but it is a reflection of how we interact with those around us as well. We have off hand conversations with neighbors when we meet at the curb once per week. We silently judge the size of the piles of our neighbors and take a glimpse into the part of their lives that is normally behind doors by checking out what they are sending to the dump. All of these small interactions, centered somehow around trash, are a part of the way that we relationship build.
Throwing unwanted items away prior to a move also speaks into our consumerism and how much we own. There is an element of stewardship associated with what we buy and how much we buy prior to the point of throwing it away years later. Are we buying the things that are going to last, even though they may be more expensive, or are we buying single use items that will inevitably find their way to the trash pile sooner rather than later? In this way, we have an unspoken, unmet relationship with the person who made the products we buy, the person who shipped them from their origin location, the salesperson at the store who rang us up at the counter, or the delivery person who drops them at our door. Whether in person or not, we are entering into the fabric of life of all of these people and like it or not, we make choices about how to interact with them.
Trash speaks a lot about who we are and how we interact with our neighbors, city and our own buying habits which have reverberating consequences across a globalized production model. Moving was just a major life event that highlighted the habits I’ve had for years and honestly, want to change now.
Moving is hard. The more things you own, the more you have to move. You literally have to lift every pound of everything you own and put it on to some kind of conveyor and then lift it a second time to replace it into a new space. I want to be more intentional with my buying so that I don’t have so much trash the next time we relocate. I want to interact with the people all along the production system in a better way instead of mindless buying and throwing.
If you’ve never thought about trash, maybe take five minutes to do so. What does your trash, the things you are throwing out and the things you keep say about your interaction with those around you? Whether you change your habits or not, hopefully it gets you thinking about what kinds of things you are throwing out more than once per week when it magically disappears from the curb.
For more inspiration, read Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter