Monday, June 05, 2006

Junk in My Trunk

Going through the Monday morning ritual at work today, as everyone asked what we did this weekend, it occurred to me that one of the highlights of our weekend was our trip to Goodwill to drop off all the crap that we had gathered in our foyer.

I know. We're already an old married couple and we haven't even had our first kid.

But that was just one of the highlights. Another was the country karaoke party that we went to Saturday night. Well rested from our late afternoon nap--I told you that we're an old married couple--we stayed out until 2 o'clock Sunday morning. Not so bad for some old folks.

At the party, everyone--mostly unmarried and childless--had the same questions for Mama:

  • When is it due?
  • Do you eat a lot of pickles?
  • Do you have a name yet?
  • How do you feel?
And all of the same stories--I think that people ask the questions just so they can tell their favorite pregnancy story:
  • My sister/cousin/aunt/grandmother had her baby two weeks/two months/four months early/late, aren't you scared about that?
  • My sister/cousin/aunt/grandmother ate nothing but borscht/pickled herring/kimchi/pork rinds/Rocky Mountain oysters/wheatgrass during her pregnancy. Why aren't you weird like that?
  • My sister/cousin/aunt/grandmother named their baby eight months/two years/a decade/six Olympic cycles before it was born. Why can't you pick a name? How about. . .
  • My sister/cousin/aunt/grandmother barfed every day for three years after she became pregnant. Nothing you had compares to what she went through. You're so lucky.
Then again, Mama is so beautifully pregnant now that strangers congratulate her on the street, as she walks to work. That's pretty radiant, if you ask me.

While Mama fended off the hordes, I took advantage of one of my final nights with a guaranteed designated driver to add to my looming beer gut--not a martini to be found, damnit--and debate foreign policy with a towering Montanan whose policies are to the right of Mussolini's, and possibly even to the right of Cheney's. When he said that sometimes you just have to carpet bomb people into freedom, I checked to see if he'd found the good stuff under the sink, but he was drinking the same beer I was. Damn.

The charm of that conversation eventually wore thin, as did Mama's conversation, which had covered the depth and breadth of poop, puke, and other bodily emissions, so we finally headed home. On Sunday, we managed to wake up just early enough to gather all of our junk from the foyer and load it into the car before Goodwill closed at 6 p.m.

Much of it was crap that no longer fits or is needed in our new kitchen, such as our old microwave, old placemats, and old plastic container parts (bottoms without tops and vice versa). Some of these we thought would serve someone else well, and others we debated tossing in the trash. We did toss some items, but decided that the rest could still be useful, even if not for their original purpose, so we took them along.

We actually did pretty well to make it to Goodwill. Often we load up the car with recycling--which soon won't be necessary, since Alexandria finally required condo buildings to recycle (thanks to Liberal Banana for pointing that out)--along with our crap for Goodwill, but then make it to only one or the other of the two drop offs. Then we spend the week driving around with a trunk full of junk. But we're not the only ones.

There's always a line of cars at Goodwill, each one full of crap to be donated, and Sunday was no exception. This seems to be a ritual pilgrimage for us that we make every fortnight or so, and it got us to wondering, "Are we the only ones who do this? Are we the only ones who have a revolving pile of discarded crap somewhere in their house, bound for Goodwill?"

Beyond that, did our parents do this? I remember my mom stacking up bags of things for the local Cerebral Palsy charity, which would send around a large truck periodically to pick up donations. But I think that most of that was children's clothing that we had grown out of, or toys that we never or rarely played with. I also don't recall how often they came around. Really, I paid so little attention as a kid, I'm lucky I wasn't hit by a fire truck.

Or have we, as a society, evolved into a culture of buy it-try it-dump it? Are most household items so cheap anymore that it's easier to bring one home and toss it out if it doesn't work (or breaks) than it is to shop around for something that is the right fit and somewhat durable? And where do these dumped items go? I believe that most of the clothing goes to third world countries, where it has devastated the local textile economies, but what about the plastic containers and the placemats?

Are we simply unable to, as the bumper sticker commands, "Want Less"? Do we need more? It would seem that we need less, that we're always trying to surf the accumulating wave of crap, fearful that it will crash down on us, and yet we keep getting more crap. Why is that? Has the satisfaction of ownership been outpaced by the allure of acquisition?

Judging by our conversations with friends, Mama and I shop for and buy less crap than our friends. Where do they put it all, or do they make a daily Goodwill run? Do they eat all of it? Or, heaven forbid, do they put it all to good use, while we just keep throwing our money down the drain, as my parents would say? Are we bad shoppers? And what happens with all the extra crap that we're buying for 3B?

Enough questions for one day. You tell me: what's the deal with all this junk in my trunk?

[UPDATE: Added link to LB's blog. Mea culpa, LB.]


  1. I think that only households like one that I saw on "Trading Spouses" (or whatever that show is) can manage to have zero waste. Those people did the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" policy and went dumpster diving and got leftover coffee grinds from a coffee shop for compost. I, on the other hand, do the same as you guys. Drop stuff off at Goodwill, and then start a new pile. I hate all my old clothes and am always striving to look at least mildly fashionable. Now, should I be putting my money to better use and sending it to people in countries who have nothing? Sure. But I've grown up in the American culture of buy-buy-buy and it's hard to step outside of that.

  2. Anonymous1:11 PM

    Everyone know you canr carpet bomb for freedom.What was that guy thinking, CIA all the Way baby!!!

    TCB of the drug war.

  3. One solution to the never-ending crap pile is to move to progressively smaller and smaller dwellings! It's worked for us even though we added 2 kids into the mix. We also do things like Netflix and the local library so that we spend less money and don't fill our house with things we don't really want. However, the plastic storage containers are slowly taking over the entire house....not enough room...must organize what little crap we have...must not waste those leftovers...aaaaahhhh!

    There is this strange duality in our culture about value and price. We want everything to be inexpensive, so that on the one hand we want even beautiful, durable things to be low cost, but then we don't seek out the beautiful and durable things because it's easier to by the cheapo stuff and give it to Goodwill when we don't want it any more.

  4. Yo, King o' the Drug War
    There are some folks who do believe that you can carpet bomb your way to freedom:

    Ripley: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

    Hudson: Fuckin' A...

    Burke: Ho-ho-hold on one second. This installation has a substantial dollar value attached to it.

    Ripley: They can bill me.

    Can we escape the duality, or have we built it into our economy and allowed it to pervade our society? Is crap unavoidable?

    As for the smaller houses, if ours got too much smaller, we'd have to sleep in the kitchen, although we have been moving to slightly larger places since we got to this area. Point well taken.

    It seems that moving, whether to a larger or smaller place, is also strong motivation to reduce need. We needed an entertainment center to organize our media until we had to move it out of our basement apartment in DC. Then we needed some dynamite, a chainsaw, and a stiff drink or three.

  5. I think we can escape the commercialism of our culture, but it's like escape velocity: it's really hard work.

    We have made some conscious decisions that have impacted our lives in a big way, the biggest one being not watching TV. We still watch movies but no broadcast or cable for the last 5 years.

    Don't get me wrong, we just substituted another drug: the internet. But it made a difference in how we viewed the world. Now when we do see TV somewhere, we always notice how much time is spent trying to get us to buy something. (Sorry, not the royal we, I'm including hubby in this.)

    So, yes, I think our economy/society is largely supported by materialism and commercialism. Part of that is the idea that constant growth is the indicator of economic health. The only way to sustain that kind of growth is to make people want to constantly buy things!

    I've tried for a kind of feng shui, clutter buster thing: bring into/keep in my home only what is beautiful, useful or loved. Luckily so far that has included the kids and the cats.

  6. We've been thinking more about the TV thing. Coincidentally, we've also been watching less TV--especially now that the West Wing is no more. We had some pretty vicious DTs the next Sunday, but I think we're all better now.

    We do the Netflix thing as well, and I'm obviously hooked on the Netcrack, which I think work well. Movies tend to have more substantive content, and Netcrack requires reading, which isn't a bad thing.

    As for only bringing in what is beautiful, useful, or loved--I agree. The devil is in the details: what qualifies?