One Woman’s Junk is Another’s Treasuretrove

I’ve just been struggling with the lids of the recycling bins outside.  There are separate green plastic wheeley bins for a random selection of refuse, and I do my best to be a good citizen; to sort and keep tin cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard separate, but in a small kitchen it can be a challenge to store it, so I’m forever taking bits and pieces out.  And the lids get me every time, falling back on my hand, no matter how speedy I think I’m being.

Every time I go out to those green bins  it reminds me that organised mandatory  recycling, under threat of penalty, as we are in London, is a feature of a wealthy, prosperous society.  People who live with less, have less to throw away and they use and reuse everything they have until it is impossible to use it any more; not because they prefer to be ‘green’ and ecologically responsible, but because they can’t afford to waste anything.

I like to think I keep waste to a minimum, but it remains a fact that if I threw nothing away I’d soon be crowded out of my home.  So I sort my rubbish, take things to charity shops and try not to acquire more stuff that needs ‘management’.

It’s  a couple of years since I went on a big trekking holiday, but when I was a regular on high altitude trips there was a routine that at the end of the trek everyone would leave a piece of equipment or clothing for the local support team.  When the group leader first suggested it, I always felt a bit embarrassed offering up something that, after a couple of weeks up a mountain, might not even be that clean, and was invariably told not to worry and hand it over.

At the flat I lived in in Moscow in the mid 1990s the communal rubbish bin was a huge battered green open topped skip with sides so high that some of the smaller residents had to stand on tiptoe to empty their buckets of waste over the side.  I soon learned that I was rare in lining my kitchen bin with a plastic bag; most people didn’t waste such a valuable item when all you needed to do was wash out the bin after you’d emptied it.

Only true waste went into the skip; anything that might have a future life was left lying beside it: small pieces of furniture, old bags, general bric a brac, and in no time it would be gone, spirited away by someone who had a use for it.

When I left the city I gave away all the fully functioning things I had acquired during my stay in that expat roundabout exchange of table lamps, fans and generally ‘useful until you find something better’ stuff that I’m sure goes on the world over.  But I was still left with a pile of wonky, broken things: a suitcase with a big hole in the side, shoes ruined by snow, a winter jacket that had frayed at the cuffs; I packed them all up together and left them by the bin and rushed back inside, fearing that someone would run after me to tell me off.  Of course no-one did, and when I went out again, a couple of hours later, it was all gone.

I sometimes wonder who took it, and what they did with it.

Leave a comment


  1. Jill

     /  August 23, 2011

    I love other people’s offloads, and have often found treasures by the side of the road. These include: a bird bath, beads, a teak dining room chair, an oak dresser, a noticeboard, and old picture frames. I have trained my daughter well, too: last week she went for a walk with some friends round our suburb, and started rooting around in a well-stocked dustbin that she noticed. When her friends asked what on earth she was doing pulling out an old cupboard door, she said, “You don’t know my mother – she’ll mosaic this!”
    My current laundry basket comes from one of the dustbins in our complex – I have no idea why it got thrown away, it’s in perfect nick.

    • Jill, That’s fantastic. I hope my bits and pieces benefited from such imaginative re-use. I’ve not taken anything out of a skip since I was a student, but I do keep things for years as there’s always another potential use for them, even if I don’t know what it is!

  2. Jill Goldberg

     /  August 23, 2011

    You HAVE to keep things, you never know what you’ll need unless you don’t have it any more. My garage is so full of stuff that I have never been able to park my car in it.

    • Haha Jill. Storage space is at a premium here, no garage, but I have very full cupboards. And thanks – you’ve inspired another post topic for the day after tomorrow!


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