Category Archives: recycling

Broken umbrellas and other recycling adventures

When I went to empty my garbage last night, I saw that someone had left what seemed to be a broken umbrella on the floor of the trash room. It was pretty and pink with a flowery design. I picked it up and saw that it wasn’t really broken at all…there was nothing structurally wrong with it, a couple of the points had come unsewn, that’s all. So I took it back to my apartment and sewed it back together, and now I have a nice “new” umbrella.

People don’t really do much hand sewing any more. Also, we live in a “throw-away” culture, where it seems easier to get a new one (whatever it is) than try to fix it. Fortunately here in Brazil there are still quite a few enterprising folks who will fix just about anything, but the owner of that umbrella had probably never come within ten feet of a needle and thread.

I’ve always been a garbage picker. That’s what they used to call a “recycler” in the old days. I confess I’m relieved that the new term has taken over, because I always felt just a wee bit ashamed of the moniker “garbage picker.” I was good at it, though. In my book, I tell about times in my life when I had practically no money at all, and I developed quite a bit of ingenuity for finding wonderful things, or at least things that could be made wonderful with a little paint, glue, or a few stitches, in the trash.

I once lived in a cold water flat when I was really strapped for cash, but I managed to make the place quite livable with things I found on the street just before the weekly garbage pickup: a very nice, hardly worn fake Oriental carpet, an easy chair that looked quite nice after I made a slipcover for it, numerous kitchen and bathroom items, and so on. I never felt bad about reusing things. It just didn’t make sense to me that people threw things away that were still usable.

Sometimes people had the good sense to take the things they didn’t want any more to the Goodwill or the Salvation Army, and I used to take advantage of those places, too. I used to buy clothes for me and my kids, and lots of household items at low prices.

Nowadays, it’s not such a stigma to pick something up off the street and take it home. I lived on proper Beacon Hill in Boston for awhile, and people would leave the most amazing things out on the street. Every week before garbage pickup time there would be the usual crowd of collectors poking through the stuff and carting their booty home. Some people even came in cars and vans to pick up the larger items.

So now, when I think of how my friends used to tease me years ago and call me “bottom-of-the-barrel Amy,” I just smile…

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