This First Person column is the experience of Meg Whitton, who lives in Simcoe County in southern Ontario. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
I was standing in front of a pile of broken wood. It was three storeys and filled with spilled dresser drawers, broken chairs and wooden pallets.
I love the dump. I love seeing what people throw out. I hate seeing what people throw out.
I was there to discard an old broom one Saturday when I spied two weathered Cedar Muskoka chairs. They were still intact, a little wobbly, but perfectly useful. I looked around. No one was watching, so I quickly stashed both in my hatchback. This was absolutely not allowed.
I decided they were perfect for my backyard. Proud and narcissistic, I bragged about my find on Twitter. A stranger replied that she dropped them off that morning because after 20 years at her cottage, they were done. My partner replaced some screws, added some glue, and that evening, by the fire pit, a glass of wine on the armrest, I didn’t think they felt spent at all. That cemented my love affair with the dump.
Several years later, I saw a part-time job posting there and jumped at the opportunity. That year I worked at the dump every Saturday from April to November while continuing to work full-time in media. It was a transfer station — temporary storage until garbage was taken to a landfill. As I later learned, Simcoe County had the second-highest landfill diversion rate in Ontario. I thought my job would mainly be directing people to bring their items to the right piles. Pressure-treated wood to the right. Mirrors farther on. Scrap metal beyond the brush pile. I was pleasantly surprised to find most people wanted to sort it properly, they just don’t know how.
What I was not expecting was for people to want to tell me about what they’re throwing out.
A man in a minivan unloaded thousands of boxes of faulty coasters while shaking his head. His brother-in-law borrowed money to make them but used inferior glue. A father and son brought cardboard boxes filled with sand to clear space for landscaping. Two sisters dropped off Tupperware containers of their late mother’s paints. I learned not to ask when someone was unloading a U-Haul of boxes. That usually meant a family member has died and their storage unit is being cleared out. Standing on the concrete disposal pad, often my role felt like I was there to bear witness.
I never stop being shocked about some of the almost-new items that were thrown out.
I met Freddy, who worked for a charity. They paid him to throw out unsellable “donations” — bags of dirty clothing, broken toys with missing pieces and items left in the rain. He brought a full van-load twice every Saturday. This angered me, but then I realized I’ve donated many pyjama “sets” that have lost their shirts because I feel so awful throwing them away. I make the charity throw out items I can’t bring myself to out of guilt.
Right now in the backseat of my car, there’s a three-foot-long red plastic Paw Patrol fire engine. After several years on our living room floor and a dozen or so play sessions, I’ve convinced our kids, ages five and seven, that it can go to another family.
Except I can’t find one that wants it.
Our local Salvation Army is no longer in the position to be able to accept kids’ toys and it hasn’t gotten any bites on our local free give-away sites. Every parent I’ve offered it to has laughed in my face — they have their own toys to give away.
A few years ago, when professional organizer Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix was teaching us to discard items that didn’t bring us joy or when magazines and other blogs offered purging tips, I noticed no one seemed to ever ask why we bought it in the first place.
As I prepare to drive to my former workplace to throw away a once $60 toy, I ask myself the same thing: why did I get it in the first place?
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