As I noted in my previous post, I’ve been thinking about what it means to have less and to be more resourceful with what I have and with the ways in which I gain additional material goods. One of the ways I have added to my meager collection of furniture is from the simple act of walking down the street and finding goods. I moved here from Oregon, where there is a tradition of such street furniture. Items, usually in good condition, are placed on the street with a “free” sign. Sometimes a small price is asked for an item, and an envelope is placed nearby, with interested parties on the honor system. “Streeting,” as I call it, is a rather elegant solution to a number of problems, from excess belongings to a need to clean house or purge for an upcoming move. These goods are then picked up by people who can’t afford those goods or simply enjoy putting everything they find to use. The system is not only relatively efficient, I’ve seen things banish in a few minutes, but democratic, a sharing of wealth and goods. It is also environmentally responsible in a number of ways. By streeting an item, a juice pitcher for example, one not only avoids leaving trash around the home or in a landfill, but someone else is spared buying a new pitcher, with all the material/transport cost that new item equals.
Unfortunately, “streeting” has yet to become a part of life in this Alabama town. I’d like to say it’s because people here are resourceful in using everything they gain in a thoughtful and thorough-going manner, but this is not the case. Instead, there seems to be little sense of such care for items during use, and minimal concern about what happens to them next. Instead, I constantly find furniture and other items that have been destroyed, through chance or deliberately. These items are then left as trash near homes or street edges or simply abandoned, providing an obstacle to folks driving/walking in the neighborhood and sometimes a genuine hazard, particularly if the item has sharp edges, chemicals, plastics, etc.
When items are placed on the street, they are often purposely damaged, or there is no sign to say whether they are actually available, or if they work or not. I’ve picked up one microwave with no sign that proved to be broken and will have to be discarded, and one microwave, also with no sign (though I was lucky enough to see the owner, who assured me it worked), which has turned out to be great. In the case of that second microwave, it was a win-win: the owner didn’t have to worry about getting rid of his microwave or the waste that might ensue if it was smashed while outside or deal with trash collectors unwilling to take a heavy, bulky item. I got a free microwave and was able to avoid buying a new one, thus sparing both the waste of a perfectly good microwave in a landfill and the waste/transport of a perfectly new one created and sent to me.
Regretfully, this attitude towards goods and their future fits the pattern that I’ve often observed here: take care of one’s self; don’t give a toss about anyone else or about the community as a whole. To be fair, this attitude is not unique to this town or state. And, to dig deeper, this attitude is probably in large part due to the itinerant nature of much of this university town’s population, many of whose members live here for only part of the year, and who, on the whole, have no long-term investment in the place beyond the 4-5 years necessary to stay until graduation.
There’s also the youth of many of the members of this population, which I note because many local folks excuse the students for their less-than-mature or responsible behavior by claiming their youth. I acknowledge these points, and I try remind myself of them when I see giant piles of potentially useful pieces ruined by wanton, overt destruction and extended exposure to the elements, pieces that are then left to litter the landscape. Yes, the students are indeed young, but they are old enough, one would hope, to know better than to think that it’s a good idea to leave vast masses of glass, splintered wood, chemicals, and such littering the sidewalk, lawns, and streets. I would love to see them donate some of these goods to local charities rather than turning them into both an eyesore and a danger. After all, I’ve heard that the students speak with passion about their sense of pride in the local university and the university community: its sports, it ethos, its tradition. I just wish this pride could be displayed in better care of the community as a whole and in a fuller understanding of the environment of this town, this place in which we all live.