Organising topics for my Life Stories and Legacies Class this term, I was inspired by the notion that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. What makes some of us collectors or even extreme hoarders? How does that contrast with the modern penchant for minimalism and a spate of books on decluttering?
There are popular television shows about collectors and hoarders, and government brochures with encouragement to downsize. Information about over-consumption and the need to recycle can be found in many places. And despite our ex-PM Tony Abbott’s delusions, I’ll go with expert scientists and agree climate change is affected by human pollution and behaviour.
We are at a tipping point and need to consider our carbon footprint.
Planet B Doesn’t Exist
There only is one planet Earth
and we need Plan A to save it
There is no Planet B for us to live –
no matter how eccentrics crave it!
Mountains of waste at danger level
a throwaway culture created mess
‘built-in obsolescence’; ‘shop ’til you drop’
bad habits to abandon – let’s confess!
Less packaging to be disposed of
Less plastics that poison the sea
Less chemical interference with food
Less consumption from you and me!
More recycling goods stopped working
More repurposing products useful still
More local retail and farmers’ markets
More thoughtful behaviour, the general rule!
Think before buying or disposing
Do you really need to use a car?
Can you grow, compost, and share
homegrown food better than afar.
McMansions a blight on suburbia
and planned density now a necessity
but let’s replace lost backyards and trees
because green spaces, not a luxury!
‘Pollute and Perish,‘ more than a catch-cry
Climate Change promises an unpleasant fate
concerned effort and beneficial action
needed NOW – tomorrow is really too late!
Close friends have died recently and that’s always confronting as well as heartbreaking. Friends not only die but some downsize and may move away. Nearing retirement age, I find talk is not of building, renovating or celebrating new homes, but of shedding the accumulation of years, moving into retirement villages, trying a sea or green change!
‘Collector’, ‘hoarder’, ‘minimalist’ transforming abstract to reality.
What particular description or category suits me? Hint – minimalism doesn’t get a look in, especially when it comes to books but I have been known to cull some!
Motivated by the annual hard rubbish collection, I’ve made another attempt at cleaning out the shed and other rooms in the house with the encouragement and help of my daughters.
The introspection and soul-searching traumatic as I examine everything rationally, discover long forgotten items, unachieved dreams, good and bad experiences and try to emotionally and physically discard lots of memories with the mementoes.
Memories stirred by old concert tickets, boxes of photographs, postcards, political leaflets, baggage tags and souvenirs.
It’s definitely easier to go through the wardrobe and face the fact that even if the youthful 10-12 figure returns, certain items will never be worn again.
Culture Change Needed To Face Climate Change
A report about clothes and landfill recently made me consider the habit of retail therapy, indulged in at various times.
After my mastectomy, a lot of favourite clothes were rendered useless because my cleavage disappeared, but hanging in the wardrobe are rarely worn clothes bought on impulse, or because they were a bargain.
These statistics from last year make sobering reading:
Australians buy an average of 27 kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms* into landfill – and two-thirds of those discards are manmade synthetic/plastic fibres that may never breakdown.
Sustainability consultant Jane Milburn said Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles after north Americans who annually buy 37kg each, and ahead of Western Europeans at 22kg while consumption in Africa, the Middle East and India averages just 5 kg per person. These figures are sourced from north American magazine Textile World…
There’s been a transformational shift in the way we source, use and discard our clothing which has major social and environmental implications. Fast fashion produced from global supply chains is driving purchasing of excessive new clothing, often discarded after a few wears
Like many people, I grew up in the era where hand-me-downs were common, mending or altering clothes, darning socks and even fixing shoes, valuable skills many parents or grandparents possessed. At school, we learnt sewing by making practical items such as aprons and pyjamas before venturing to make embroidered placemats and doilies.
Maybe it is time to return to sewing on buttons, replacing broken zips, refashioning garments and thinking twice before grabbing that sale item!
I know many friends and a lot of young people who ‘op shop’ for clothes so that’s a step in the right direction but perhaps the biggest change will come when the people who make the clothes are paid decent wages and the price will inevitably rise. Nothing like ‘the hip pocket nerve’ to drive change or a social conscious.
There’s History In Old Writing
I’ve uncovered lost writing notes, scribbled poems and stories, and hard copy from computers long dead and abandoned. The poem below, written after I experienced my first ever car boot sale at Mordialloc Primary School ties in with the theme of this blog.
Car Boot Sales a popular way of raising funds. They sometimes replace the traditional school fete, and for a tiny school like Mordialloc Primary, in an era where parental volunteers are shrinking because both parents work outside the home, inviting the wider community to pay $5 – $15.00 to sell items from their ‘car boot’ is less effort and less labour intensive than organising a fete.
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mairi Neil (1992)
For a glimpse of our consumer society
The values some people uphold
Visit the local school’s Car Boot Sale –
And observe what’s bought and sold.
The secondhand clothes and bed linen
Some charities used to receive
Preloved stuffed toys and old hats
Perhaps all harbour nasty disease…
“Spoil Yourself” a sign above decrepit shoes
Makes you wonder at the vendor’s sanity
But no trace of humour marks his face
As he stands proudly beside the inanity!
The dealers arrive when stalls are setting-up
They rummage and poke to find treasure
Greedily grasping valuable items they spy
With their experience of commercial measure.
Mums wander around, children in tow
Conscious of a near-empty purse
Offspring demand toys, or food to eat
Whingeing children every parent’s curse.
Crafty folk proudly arrange their goods
Aware their creativity is on display
But people are hunting for bargains
Not rewarding talented work today.
A spectre-like man haunts every stall
Mr Black Moustache with checkered shirt
Tussled curly hair frames his bald patch,
Trousers reveal shoes caked with dirt.
He fills a black bag with various loot
Purchased at haggled, rock-bottom prices
Videos, cutlery, BBQ tools, chipped Esky,
Jaded jacket; a contraption for making ices!
Disappearing like steam to offload booty
Perhaps to a nearby parked car…
Returning to fossick and buy a sun lamp,
Then quibble earnestly for a pottery jar.
Suddenly, it’s anything on wheels
That catches his discerning eye –
Collapsible cot, battered suitcase,
Ironing board, old heater dragged with a tie!
Mr Checked Shirt returns again and again
Flush with an endless supply of cash
No doubt he’ll sell his purchases
Transformed treasure out of trash.
Sizzling sausages tantalise customers,
And baked potatoes scent the air
Joining musty clothes, potting mix
Perfumed spices strange and rare.
The sun drifts behind spreading cloud
The breeze from sea promises a gale
Startled stall holders little time to pack –
The fickle fortunes of a Car Boot Sale!
Do you like collecting things? Are you ever surprised by the things people pick up, collect, keep?
The annual hard rubbish collection for our area of Kingston was picked up on Tuesday, the regular rubbish collection day.
People were asked not to put items on the nature strip until October 9th, however, unsightly piles of discarded stuff gathered for weeks.
The early piles rummaged through with people taking items deemed useful.
I came across a group of tradies excited over a bunch of toy guns they’d ‘rescued’, exclaiming what good condition the collection of twenty or more was in as they divided the booty up.
It was the day after the horrific Las Vegas rampage and they looked sheepish when I suggested maybe the household had a rethink of the appropriateness of giving children replicas of sub-machine guns, revolvers, rifles et al.
Unfortunately, some scavengers often scatter piles leaving nature strips to resemble the aftermath of the hurricanes in recent news broadcasts.
The comforts of modern society are many but there are drawbacks aplenty
How sparingly can we live? True minimalism, a balancing act with everyone having a different idea of what are bare essentials.
What possessions can we reduce that will not affect the basic functionality of our lives?
It never ceases to amaze me what people throw away – wooden furniture whose only crime is being unfashionable or needing a coat of varnish or paint.
Solid sofas that could be refurbished, ubiquitous plastic toys needing a soak in hot soapy water to make almost new, and lots of small items easily disposed of via the bins provided for weekly garbage collection.
A walk around the streets at this time shows we really are a society in love with consuming. Maybe we can lose that reluctance to reduce as well as adopting reuse, recycle and repurpose.
Some would rather buy new and buy more, sucked in by the constant bombardment of advertising, lured by the bargain, and the ‘must have’ latest gear, technology, clothes, design – whatever.
Yet a quick survey of my Life Story Class and the students
- have a worm farm on an apartment verandah
- wear hand-me-downs or op shop bargains
- grow own vegetables, compost and keep chooks
- make and repair own clothes
- refashion, repair and repurpose clothes and accessories
- buy organic when possible,
- bake bread and cakes,
- bottle fruit and make jam
- recycle furniture,
- take own shopping bags
- have already downsized
- nurture trees and plants
- have discovered secondhand bargains
We may be grey-haired but in our hearts we are green!
Apparently, there is a law (although I’ve yet to hear it has been enforced) carrying a fine for taking stuff from the nature strips because piles of ‘hard rubbish’ are council property.
Others suggest councils hope scavengers will collect as much as they can leaving less for contractors to do because the cost of discarding rubbish is high.
The Council sends out a leaflet with a list of items not to be dumped – old paint and chemicals should be taken to a special recycling depot. Old fencing and building rubble are also not allowed. Yet walk around the streets and it’s as if community literacy is non-existent.
Kingston Council even has a place for old computers, televisions and other bits and pieces of technology. A quick check online shows they are not alone – many councils and other organisations want you to recycle.
I’m glad of the hard rubbish service, especially the opportunity to be rid of white goods and mattresses – and there are always plenty of those discarded.
The safety message of removing doors from fridges and freezers still stipulated to avoid tragedy, whereby a child locks themselves inside an abandoned fridge and the interior magnetic release is broken, or absent.
Although, not many children play in the streets nowadays or have the unfettered freedom I had in childhood.
In this world of readily available toys, a mountain of abandoned stuff is not an opportunity to explore and play make-believe games – they leave that to adults!
Council Hard Rubbish Collection 2017
Utes circling like crows,
four wheel drives and cars with trailers
people out walking, slow to a stroll, stop.
A hungry flock pick over the carrion.
The annual hard rubbish collection
reveals scroungers and scavengers,
is anyone immune?
Under the guise of repurposing,
and reusing, even recycling
we rummage and speculate about
the lives of others – frugality, luxury, stupidity, serendipity…
Hoping in their discarded trash,
we find a treasure!
I found various writing prompts on the subject so be inspired:
- Sit down in your character’s office or bedroom. Glance in the wastebasket. What’s inside? A photograph? An orange rind? A half empty bottle of whiskey? What we throw away can reveal surprising things about us. Write flash fiction describing the contents of a character’s rubbish bin and why it’s important!
- Discuss and write about bargain-hunting.
- Did rampant consumerism receive a shot in the arm with the Internet (eBay, websites like Gumtree) or does it encourage more reusing and recycling? Do you remember the days of ads in the local paper, The Trading Post, garage sales, car boot sales and Swap Meets?
- Do you donate everything to the Salvos or give to needy friends and family? Have you noticed a change in attitude by charity organisations?
- Are you ‘green’? What steps have you taken to live a sustainable lifestyle or do you think the human contribution to climate change is tosh?
11 thoughts on “Make ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose’ Reality – Please!”
In our street, we are not the only ones who discard things on the nature strip from time to time in the hope that they will find a new home with someone else. Op shops won’t take electrical goods any more so when we put out two fans we added a sign that they were in good working order, and they were gone in a day. A small dresser went very quickly! People put out outgrown toys and they disappear quickly too. I think this is nice, because it’s not unsightly for a day or two and if they’re not gone in that time, then we put them aside for the hard rubbish collection later on.
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They do this in Toronto too Lisa and a couple of sites online are aimed at letting others use what you don’t want. There is a movement too of repair shops encouraging people to take goods and being taught to fix them. Sadly a lot of electronic goods have plastic casings and parts designed not to be fixed or too difficult to access.
Yes. I have a pair of noise cancelling headphones for on the plane, and the foam part that goes over my ears has shredded away. Can’t be repaired, and they were expensive!
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That is really annoying, Lisa, you would think the manufacturers would have made that part easily replaceable!
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It’s the same with everything…
A great blog this one Mairi, close to my heart. I am an almost non-existent shopper for clothing, can’t stand the awful chore and so wear my clothes out mostly, totally, also do not sew so many of them end up looking more holy than thou! 😉 After putting up with much too frequent defrosting of my 1970’s matching fridge and freezer I have been spoiled by my husband who has caved in (‘cos he didn’t want to do the defrosting job that I said I would no longer do!!) and ”allowed” me to buy 2017 model. Trouble is the old retro’s still work perfectly well so I aim to try to sell them, and if not, I think our local op-shop will take them for someone without any (one of the few shops I know of that still take electrical goods.) There is de-cluttering going on in Binginwarri! 🙂
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No roadside hard rubbish collection here in the country – we have to take ALL our rubbish to the tip, and pay for everything 😦 – except green waste and recycling so we are careful about what we buy and how we recycle. .
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Yes, Kaye, the hip pocket – maybe that would make people think twice about producing rubbish. When I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with friends they had to take all their rubbish by car to the tip too and when I was in Torbole, Italy you took your rubbish to central dumpsters and sorted the rubbish into ones for glass, paper, plastic etc. And recently in the UK both Colchester England and Glasgow Scotland (among other places) were trialling new garbage arrangements, separating food waste etc. rubbish collected on alternate weeks and sorted in the house before being put out for collection. Again, although teething problems, I think they are trying to change the culture and if it reduces the amount of waste it will be a success.
Thanks for reading Kaye and I know you have been an environmentalist for years! In fact, you inspired me to cultivate and plant native trees and shrubs to save water resources when I volunteered at Bradshaw Park. Your fridge and freezer sound like the combo we bought Mum in the 70s and I’m pretty sure she passed them onto someone too. They made stuff to last in the old days! (Although not sure how energy efficient some of the old electrical goods were/are, no ‘star’ rating in those days.
Oh my goodness. Decluttering did this ring my bells!!
I probably declutter every day in some way, not that it gets me very far.
My mother who was brought up in the 1920’s was taught to weave, knit, sew, embroider, cook, grow her own vegetables and survive on very meagre resources. As a consequence to this she never threw anything away, she was capable of repurposing everything.
My father also a child of a hard upbringing was perfect at decluttering. As career Soldier he didn’t need too much in his life other than looking forward to his next meal and surviving. One of his roles in the army was as a Quartermaster and of course, as a Quartermaster you are in charge of Army Stores and everything in it and all is itemised to the last detail and stored appropriately,
As a result, their first born, I am a very tidy hoarder!!
Mairi I could write forever on this subject……………………………………..
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Thanks so much for reading and responding Trish! I remember your stories from the ‘Memoir to Manuscript Class’ at Longbeach PLace. You are a wonderful writer so please do write more – your children and grandchildren will appreciate the stories and also your talented way of telling:) I could(and have) written a lot relating to how my parents experienced life – a bit like yours I expect, and the lessons learned.