Not so long ago, Matt and I were walking to the bus and passed in quick succession at the side of the road: a pile of surfboards; a battered mattress; a sign for a “lost pet” that happened to be a nonpoisonous python. (Aren’t all pythons nonpoisonous?) Putting aside the oddity of the missing-pet-snake poster (not a cat, not a dog, not a parakeet… hello, Australia!), it was the pile of surfboards that got me.
On our way home, the same day we walked down that road to the bus, the pile of surfboards was gone – despite the weird condition they were in, every single one had been taken (perhaps by the same person, who knows?). Those boards were as long gone as that snake, finally in its natural element.
It turns out that Australia has something of a “freecycle” culture: People leave stuff out to just take, usually with the expectation that, eventually, the local council government will pick it up to take to the trash (council pickup). But if it’s in good enough condition, it’s free for the taking. We walked past a pile the other evening and scored a not-so-flat basketball, two lovely plates, an apron, and a pretty pink-flowered sheet (with which I covered one of the hideous couches in our dive-y apartment). The surfboards had been a temptation, but they looked really trashed. Plus I don’t know how to surf.
And then the next day, a pile near some houses at the end of our street caught my attention on the way home: a horrid plastic covered couch, another in fake black leather; a side chest with a funky drawer; folding chairs with rattan bottoms; and the prize: a beautiful wood chair, lacking a back cushion, but with the bottom one present. Sometimes, things aren’t free, so I checked with a young woman working in the yard, who confirmed these items were waiting to be picked up by the city.
I picked up the chair and walked it up the hill to our house, wiped it down with a sponge, and was enjoying the look of it in place of the horrid barrel chair that is now hidden in an extra bedroom. Aesthetic pleasure is important, and I like old solid wood furniture. You can tell this one had a once-elevated/finer past, with the remnants of a woven cloth bottom replaced by a sheet of particle board. The foam innards of the cushion crumbled into fine bits when I unzipped the cover. But I still want to restore it and take it home with me. I’m going to have to resist the temptation.
We human beings are an acquisitive lot. We like stuff, to hoard it and collect it, and free is sometimes too good to pass up, no matter the amount or condition of the stuff. Sometimes we luck out, sometimes we don’t (even with new things for which we pay — sometimes a bargain is not such a great deal in the end, like cheap furniture or clothing that falls apart even after gentle use).
And there’s the rub: free stuff is tempting. I’ve been a casual dumpster diver for years, and scored some excellent stuff: a cheap IKEA hall mirror, some fine hangers, and more. Matt got a free Freitag bag once (those things aren’t cheap!), left by a neighbor that moved out and left it next to the dumpster. He’s still using it nearly every day, several years later. But as often as not, I might pick up something that needs a lot of work to make it acceptable, work that I might not ever end up doing, like that chair. So I end up with a piece junk sitting around, until I put it out again to be free.
This week marks a few rounds of council pickups, in various neighborhoods. Matt’s colleague said that this is when Brisbane starts to look like a developing country, with trash on every street, uncollected. There are some jewels in the trash, however, and the council pickup people will find it and sell it at their two shops that sell stuff in good condition. I was wondering if the laundry machine we saw today might make the cut; after the rains, none of those couches and chairs lining the road will (I hope!).
I’ve trying not to collect anything more — used or new — while we are here. Eventually I’ll have to pack it all up and take it home with me!