A wall hanging made from fabric found in a dumpster
I have a soft spot for junk. That is, what other people call “junk”. I’m not talking about things one might find at a yard sale or a thrift shop, though I love poking around in those places. It’s also not being a pack rat — I’ve been accused of that as well. I mean good stuff we throw away. I’m especially drawn to dumpsters and curb-side piles. I actually feel sad when I see some perfectly good object that has been discarded. The other day I witnessed a couch being fed to a trash compactor and it broke my heart. It seemed so violent and unnecessary.
A year and a half or so ago I found some fabric in a dumpster in Princeton, New Jersey. A lot of fabric. I filled up the trunk, went home, and then went back for another load. A lot of fabric. It was from an interior decorating store that was going out of business and all their old swatches of upholstery and drapery fabric was being tossed into a massive dumpster – the kind you rent for construction projects. I’ve made quite a few things with that fabric – a couple of wall hangings, some shoulder bags – and have more plans for the rest of it.
Before that we found some dishes that had been piled next to the dumpster near our apartment. They’re a beautiful blue onion Nordic pattern, one we regularly see in antique stores. Someone ate their morning cereal and put it out with the rest of the dishes.
Then there was a desk. Not a lot of desks seem to be made of real wood anymore. This one was small and charming and had knives, forks and spoons for drawer handles. It was painted blue except for the top. It looked like it’d been around for a while. But it was left out by the dumpster in the rain and got damaged. We tried to save it, brought it home and let it dry, but it was too far gone.
This summer I discovered a potential gold mine for things that get thrown away. We live next to a plant nursery in Atlanta. One day I was walking to the grocery store, past the nursery, and noted an open dumpster behind the nursery. On my way back I stopped by to peek inside, and lo! perfectly good plants that just needed some pruning here or watering there. I retrieved a four-foot tall hibiscus plant – soaked in its five-gallon container. It was so heavy carrying it home that my arms were sore the next day. I can’t wait until it blooms.
When I was a kid I looked forward to the time of year when people put all the junk out on their curbs for the city to come by and take away. I credit my dad with teaching me to have vision and showing me all the potential for things other people didn’t want anymore. One time we rescued a round metal wire plant stand. I see those at antique stores all the time, too. I still have mine and will never throw it away.
The other day I saw a tape measure sitting in the middle of a busy intersection. I’m sure it wasn’t left there on purpose or thrown out the window or anything like that. It was probably an accident. Still, I felt the urge to stop and pick it up. I thought I might do just that on my way back. Later in the day I was dismayed to see it laying there, all strewn out, mangled and tangled. I keep thinking about that tape measure and what a waste for it to have been forgotten and destroyed.
I think a lot about habits and patterns. I worry (probably to excess) about the projected long-term affects of them. I can’t help but wonder how our psyches, outlooks and assumptions are shaped by our actions, both intentional and unintentional, every day. In this case, I worry about how our attitudes toward things might have a trickle-down effect on our attitude toward people and relationships. Does something happen to us when we stop fixing things, just throw them away and get new ones? I’m afraid we already do that to each other.
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