Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Art of Dumpster Diving

I'm not entirely sure where my extreme aversion to the term (and practice of) "dumpster diving" came from, but I am almost positive that it stems from the same place that my nearly uncontrollable urge to spend does--my mother (and my grandparents). Now, I know my mom is going to read this and I would just like to say that I am not blaming her, just acknowledging that most things in life are learned from our parents. For instance, the love of shopping and, conversely, the love of giving. The love of cooking and of taking care of the people I love. There are a lot of things, but most of them aren't bad.

Now, back to dumpster diving. As most of you who read my blog know, I moved to an army base last year. It is extremely common for people to leave things on the side of the road to be picked up by the bulk trash collectors. This is even more common during PCS (permanent change of station) season, which is fast approaching. Let me tell you, people throw away some amazing things. Almost brand new bed frames, cabinets, shelves. You name it, it's been put out on the curb to get tossed out.

Now, I am not generally what a person might call "green." More often than not, I forget to put my glass in the recycle bin and I go through more paper towels than anybody without a kid has any right to. But! Even I think that it is a crime that so much of this stuff is being hauled off to the dump. That's right. The dump. So, every once in a while I go out with my good friend, we'll call her A., and we scout out what's been left out. Sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we don't.

Four weeks ago, I got really lucky. I happened upon a washer and dryer set just a few feet down the street from my house. Sure, they're old and the dryer squeaks like nobodies business, but they work and I've never owned a set of my own before. Score!

I thought nothing of it until last week when A. texted me at 0730 and said she'd found a big pile of stuff, did I want to take a look? I threw on a sweater and some comfy shoes and met her outside. We found a beautiful bed frame and set of shelves and picked them up. As we were loading the last of the bed frame into her car she turned to me and said, laughing, that she loved dumpster-diving.

I froze, confused. Is that what I was doing? My immediate gut reaction was to put the shelves that I'd just appropriated for my myriad of wired electronics back on the curb. I didn't, realizing that I would have to explain this reaction to her and I knew that I was being down right silly. I didn't want to explain that yes, I was actually turning down a beautiful set of free shelves because she had used that dreaded phrase. This wasn't the first time that the subject has come up, only the most recent, and I am ashamed to say that every time the topic has been broached, I've reacted the exact same way; With judgment. I've spent the last week trying to figure out why that is and I think I've finally hit on the reason.

When I was younger, maybe 4 or 5, my mother sent us back to Utah and we lived with my grandparents for a time before followed. I have a very clear memory of my grandpa talking to my grandma about her heart medication and saying that they couldn't afford to get us pillows and to pay for her pills and the pills were more important. Of course, this is logical and I can accept that. Later that night, he woke us up and gave us some pillows that were still hot from the dryer and smelled faintly of bleach then tucked us back in and turned off the light. I lay awake for a time, staring at the crack and heard him talking to my grandma again. This time he said, and I remember this very clearly, "Don't tell Sylvia that we got those pillows from the dumpster." (Sylvia is my mother.)

I realized he was telling my grandma to lie about something and I knew that you only lied about things that were shameful. That thought has stuck with me for years, even if it's not true. While I don't think I could ever bring myself to climb into an actual dumpster, I think I may have come to terms with the fact that it's not shameful to save money if you can. Besides, those shelves really are pretty amazing.