and today we will learn how to waste

Here is a small not-yet-even-rough bit of text that will eventually find its way into the freegan book. I haven’t sourced anything in here yet, but believe you me, everything in here is source-able and will one day be filled with insane (from the books I mention) and interesting (from books about the history of trash) quotes. Enjoy. (Comments appreciated.)

“Declutter Your Life.” It is the title of one of three pages of books that I find on amazon when I search the keyword “declutter.” These are self-help manuals to cure the pack rat. They are manuals on how to throw things away.

Pre-1900s there were household manuals that focused on saving, re-using, scrapping, re-purposing. They advised their readers to save little bits of cloth and string for later projects. They gave tips on pack rat-ing, on never throwing anything away that could possibly be used. Now we have three pages of books hoping to reverse hundreds of years of household habit, to teach us how to exist in this, the age of hyper-consumption.

You might not think it, but charities like Goodwill played a huge role in teaching people how to throw things away. Their advertisements were demanding. If you didn’t give your extra things to Goodwill, you just weren’t that great of a person. It got people used to the idea of getting rid of their “extras” instead of holding onto them again until they once again could be useful. People could stomach this “throwing out” because they could think of it as a good deed. Once you get used to getting rid of extras for charity, its not that far of a step to being used to getting rid of them in general.

Migration into cities was another huge player in this shift. Instead of living on sprawling farms with plenty of basement and barn storage space, people were living in tiny little apartments where there was no room to hoard and save like there had been in the country.

And now we have manuals to teach us how to stop hoarding. Many of these books are based on the principle that people’s consumption is out of control and that their stuff is starting to own them. I can sympathize with that message. But the practical advice within these pages is always to throw things away. “You’re never really going to use that!” encourage these books’ pages in their “trash-it!” cheerleading. The ramifications of these books very existence is insane.

I would reckon that one reason that people tend to hoard things is because in a healthy world it would make sense. Use and eat every part of the animal you just killed because you don’t want to deplete the entire herd and you don’t want to waste more energy and time on hunting than you have to, to take one example. People also hoard things because they have lived in times of want and fear famine.

Hoarding may have made more sense a hundred plus years ago because most of the things around to be hoarded actually were useful. Food, fabric scraps, wood, metal wares. These days people have cupboards full of plastic bags and drawers full of twisty ties and rubber bands from bunches of broccoli and chives they get at the supermarket. And while they might come in handy once in a while, these things are in no way a boon to our lives.

Of course the de-cluttering books never address the root of the problem. They talk about feng shui. They talking about not needing to buy a bigger house because you don’t need so much stuff. They talk about how having too much stuff “holds you back.” Some go as far as to address the point that avoiding clutter means avoiding hyper-consumption. But I have not yet found one that recommends putting an end to the companies that are manufacturing and cluttering up our world with things like plastic bags and straws in the first place. After all, once you de-clutter your home of plastic bags, they don’t disappear. They just become clutter on somebody else’s land, preferably that owned by a landfill, far far away from where you live.

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