How TRASH Taught Me Self Love & Acceptance

My little rescue & teacher

My little rescue & teacher

Written By: Lina Acuna Banus  (website: https://littlelina805.wordpress.com )

Ahhhhh, trash-picking, dumpster-diving, free-curb alerts, alleys with miscellaneous derelict items: all my guilty pleasures!  I’ve never met a full dumpster or alley I didn’t like. As I jump in my trusty truck to begin, what I call alley-shopping, I feel the excitement bubbling in my belly as I drive around enthusiastically looking for a score.  “Oh, Come-on now!”, I think.   “Isn’t someone remodeling and throwing things out? Isn’t someone moving?  Didn’t some running-with-the-Jones’-family just get an unneeded new living room set, prompting them to toss out their allegedly outdated one?”  I continue thinking, getting only slightly discouraged.

Then it happens, as I knew it would: I score! Ohh Yeah, baby!  “What is it?” you ask?  I point and say:  “Look, see that old chair? Yeah, that one.  The one with the broken leg, torn seat, and worn-off paint.”   “That piece of junk?” you snort.   “You know, it’s in the trash for a reason and you should leave it there”,  You continue to say, erroneously believing you’re convincing me to leave it there.  But I stopped hearing you long ago.  I’m thinking: “Whoa, it’s beautiful, I definitely gotta rescue that cutie.”… and so it goes.

Huh? How did this compulsion to “rescue” trash seduce me?  Am I not an educated, well-paid, working professional?  Did I not work hard my entire life to deliberately insure I’d never have to “do without”; and to be more specific, so that i’d never have to trash-pick?  Sometimes I wonder: “What would my clients think if they caught me in their dumpster, when just yesterday I was ever so professionally helping them with their legal issues at my office?”  Yet, despite my pride, education, 401K, means and resources; here I am, compulsively driving down alleys, or down streets on trash-days looking for something to pull out of them. [Oh, by the way, please know that I do not call what I pull-out of bins or dumpster “trash”, but rather, I affectionately call  these items “my rescues”].

Other times, I’m not looking at all.  I’m simply going about my business when, bammm! My ever-vigilant peripheral vision catches something peeking outa an alley.   I think: “Darn it, I’m in heels and a dress and heading to my office – I’ll simply have to pass on investigating further”  However, like an alcoholic claiming to only want to peek into the bar, I placate the reasonable side of my brain with:  “Oh what the heck, I can at least look, I don’t have to pick-it up”; as i prematurely jump out of my truck before my reasonable mind has fully given me permission to.   I immediately think to myself: “Really? Someone had the heartless audacity to throw out this broken dresser, with all the hardware missing, and whimsically (to me, at least) tilting to one side?  I don’t see anything wrong with it, what’s wrong with people these days!”  Then I huff and puff and struggle to load it onto my truck unsuccessfully trying not to dirty my work dress or scuff my heels.

You think I’m nuts, right? I am, but for the purposes of this article let’s ignore that for now.   Anyway, I would like to explain the euphoric attraction, and yes, dare I say it, even affection I feel for an item which the average-Joe would consider “junk” or “trash”.   Truth-be-told, for a while I couldn’t explain this compulsion to myself, let alone explain it others without sounding like a pathetic-cheapskate grasping for an excuse to explain an odd fetish of stalking innocent trash cans & alleys.  Then, suddenly & unexpectedly, the answer came to me after I “rehabbed” and brought “back-to-life” a  recent rescue (a very small, broken, sun-splintered side table).  Once I pieced it back together, stabilized it, fixed its splinters, and  gave it a lovely modern finish (a chic black & white ombre, if you must know); I posted it for sale on Craigslist (as I do most of my rescues to give them a new lease on life).   However, when someone called to buy it, I disturbingly found that I had grown emotionally attached to my little rescued table; and, well, darn it, now I didn’t want to sell it!  “Geez, now i’m really losing it”, I thought, trying to figure out how this inanimate little table came to endear itself to me. Looking at it now that it was all nice, upright, shinny, and functional the realization hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks:  that damaged, broken, rejected, tossed-out, unwanted, no-longer-loved little table was ME!  Wait, hear me out…

At that moment I realized that it’s not the item itself which compelled me to “rescue” it, but rather it was the representation in my mind’s eye of the life-cycle that that item must have endured.  I emotionally thought: “Wow, at one time this was a lovely little table.  Someone deliberately hunted for just this perfect table and no other.  They purchased it, lived with it, polished it, trusted it to hold up their valuables, used it, valued it, even took it with them when they moved. Yes, this sad little table had a story, it had lived a life of purpose by serving others -inanimate and small as it was.”   With new-found clarity, I saw the symbolic connection and thus bond between me and that little side table.  Namely, now, after years of loyal and dedicated service to someone or something, it was unceremoniously tossed out.  Its worth in the eyes of its owner fully gone now that it lost its luster, gained a few dings, dents, and splinters, and now that it became a little unstable.  That little table metaphorically personified the way, throughout my life, I too had served so many people, causes, and things that I dearly loved and planned to have in my life for a long time, if not forever; and how instead, they too, unceremoniously tossed me out like yesterdays newspaper once I was no longer of value to them, their current needs, or ideals.

Further, my little table and I shared in common, not only that we had been dumped, but the sad manner in which it was done. I found my poor little table upside down in a dirty alley; the owner clearly unwilling to give it some metaphoric dignity or a second-chance-at-life by perhaps donating it, refurbishing it, sending out a curb alert, or giving it to a friend, etc. No, instead they took their foot (so I indignantly imagined) and gave it one final smash-down as if to make sure it would be viewed as unattractive to anyone else who may have otherwise found value or charm in it. Again, reminiscent of not only that I had been devalued and junked in the sight, heart, and esteem of others, but that it was oftentimes done so callously and without giving me a chance to refurbish myself and find a new sense of purpose now that I was unwanted by them or it.  I recalled how many times I’d been dumped: dumped by a parent, dumped by friends, dumped by relatives, loves, husband, bosses, my religion, business partners, medical institutions an so on…   The offense is not in their parting from me, but rather in the lack of concern, love, compassion, empathy, feeling, and inhumane spirit with which they often did it!  That is the tragic part.  That is the part that makes one feel  like disposable trash (like my little table), because one is being treated as if one is! One is treated as if there is nothing unique in us, nothing salvageable in our character,  as if we are easily and quickly replaceable, as if ones personal value is only temporary and transitory instead of permanent.  You know, just the way one feels about: trash!  Ah, no wonder I was relating so well to my rescued “trash”!

As my epiphany continued, I had another thought about my little table (by now my endeared and unsold little rescue).   If it could speak, I would have asked it: “How did you come to be so damaged? You were not manufactured this way, how did you become this way?”.  I feel its answer may have something in common with me too, and that it would reply: “I was made for a good purpose and to be of service to others, but I ended-up in a destructive home and environment.  Also, no one took the time to admire my well crafted design and how serviceable, functional, and multipurpose I am.  No one polished or dusted me for a long time, and negligently left me in the glaring sun to blister and crack.  I am a little table, and when someone overburdened me with too much to carry, no one would rescue me, which is how I got this limp.  Eventually, I was forgotten, ignored, replaced, and ultimately trashed… until you rescued me”.

Get it now?  Being of an emotional (versus rational) character and personality, I rescue trash and junk for the sole reason that in reality it is: NOT TRASH AT ALL!  If it looks like trash,  that is only because its owner through negligence, roughness, over-use, and lack of care made it so, but with a little care and attention it can be all that it once was and so much more… it can be a treasure!  My little table’s destiny and mine are also the same: we both found a rescuer and someone to treasure us! Someone who gave us value, purpose, a second chance to serve others, and live with dignity and respect.  I was rescued by those whom have loved, cherished, and protected me; and those who made me feel safe, wanted, irreplaceable, and permanently valuable, despite the dings & dents I’ve picked-up along the way.   Thus, I too, have been rehabbed from my metaphoric dings, dents, brokenness, and limps with the “tools” of love, compassion, empathy, and the good esteem of others; as my little table was with screws, sand paper, paint, and a person unwilling to believe it was truly trash.

My optimistic, glass-is-half-full outlook on life believes there is wisdom, teachings and lessons we can learn from trash; namely: If inanimate items can be transformed from unwanted trash into a valuable desired objects; how much more potential do thinking, feeling, creative, intelligent, LIVING beings have to achieve love, value, esteem, and permanent purpose in their lives?  Thus, thank you “trash”, for helping me understand the concept of self-value, acceptance, purpose, and love; not only for myself but for others.

P.S.  If you took nothing else from this, please recycle, upcycle, re-purpose, curb alert, gift, or donate old items to friends, family, thrift stores, charities.  You never know, trash may teach you a thing or two!    Link to some of my other little rescues: http://www.pinterest.com/msrehabaddict/trash-to-home-decor/

Alley-Shopping partner: My Truck

Alley-Shopping partner: My Truck