Dumpster diving: a photo essay

Hey, all you kids who think you invented dumpster diving. You didn’t. This woman did:

Photo: Property of the Klein family

Her name is Anna Klein, but the men in the rural Saskatchewan community where she spent her entire life called her Hurricane Annie. They called her that because she would storm into your life, make a giant mess upending everything and then storm out.

She is/was my grandmother. Here is a photo of us together:

Photo: Property of Heather Setka

Annie died from cancer when she was 77. It was probably the fifth or sixth time Annie had cancer. Let’s just say: nobody f**ked with Annie. So if she dug something out of the trash or rescued it from a landfill and then gave it to you, you took it. And you damn well liked it.

When Annie died, she left me this:

Photo: Heather Setka

It came from The Dump. Annie had an eye for things that weren’t necessarily looking their best, but could be beautiful. Or at least OK enough to adorn your living room. When I sit in this chair, I think of Annie.

Recently, something else reminded me of Annie too.

My daughter and I were coming back from a walk in the park when we came upon four chairs next to the dumpster in our condo complex parking lot. They were high chairs, perfect for my bar-style table. When I have a dinner party or a party party, I often find myself in need of two extra chairs.

“Should I take these?” I asked my daughter.

“Mommy! They’re in the garbage!”

“Sort of. Not really. They’re next to the garbage. I only need two though. Should I only take two?”

My daughter was mortified as I folded them up and whisked them away. Just as I was often mortified when I learned Annie had fished some grubby gem from the dump.

But look at this chair! It’s perfectly fine! It’s barely used!

Photo: Heather Setka

Since that fateful day when I crossed over from normal surburbanite to bonafide garbage picker, I’m noticing more people are leaving their goods out for others to find. My guess is it cuts down on the annoyance of kijiji (arranging pick-up times, responding to emails, haggling, etc.), but still quells the guilt of throwing out perfectly decent items that you don’t want anymore.  Just today, I walked down one back alley and saw this:

Photo: Heather Setka 

And this:

Photo: Heather Setka 

Clearly, these items were intended to be picked up by someone in need…of a place to sit or clean floors.

To date, my personal best score is this:

Photo: Heather Setka

It’s not really mine, but I was there when it was found. That’s my dear friend Becks and doesn’t she look fabulous in this coat. We had a brief moment where we didn’t know which one of us should take it home. It fits her way better, so she won. She keeps telling me how guilty she feels, but I’m just glad it found a good home.

Of course, you save money when you accept other people’s trash as your treasure. My chairs would’ve cost me $50 together. (I googled them.) It isn’t a lot of cash, but $50 saved is $50 earned – which is something Annie or your grandma might have said. (I factored inflation into this saying to update it. Plus, there’s no such thing as a penny anymore.)

Despite the financial benefits, there are risks and pitfalls to welcoming other people’s junk into your home. When I bragged at the office about Beck’s find, my co-worker was horrified.

“Have fun with those bedbugs,” he mused.

Oh, I never even thought of that.

There’s also the the issue of whether you need something or not. Don’t just take it because it’s there or it’s neat or cool. And if you see something like this…

Photo: Heather Setka

I’d say you should almost always pass it up.


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2 thoughts on “Dumpster diving: a photo essay

  1. Sha Sha says:

    Have I ever told you – You Rock! You’re becoming more and more like her every day. The older I get the more I realize that’s not a bad thing. When we were kids we were mortified by everything she did but really she was one tough and smart lady. Just like someone else I know.

  2. Colleen morgan says:

    Heather … I hope this is the same Heather I once taught at GSS and then at HTA. I was driving to Sackville, NB to pick up my daughter Hilary ( who is going into her third year in International Relations at Mount Allison University) and heard your piece re. Picking a banker. It was on CBC on Wed. May 30th. I was sure it was the same girl I had taught all those years ago. Great story! But more than anything great memories of my adventure in teaching in Western Canada! A lifetime ago! Hope all is well with you! Hope it was not too creepy to be creeped by an old teacher!

    Colleen Morgan

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