On Dumping Stuff

Last weekend we took a load of stuff to the dump. Technically it’s called a municipal waste transfer station. You pull up, back up actually, to the sloping edge of a long deep rectangular trench. The trench is really an open-topped tractor trailer parked one level below. You throw your stuff in. When the trailer gets full, they close the top and haul it away somewhere — to a real dump I guess — and slide in a fresh trailer. They weigh your vehicle on the way in and then again on the way out and charge you a fee for the difference. Not pretty but very efficient.

We loaded up our SUV with stuff; old stuff, broken down stuff, worn out, disused stuff. There was an old chair and an old nightstand, some old pillows and a bag of old clothes too ratty for Goodwill. There were a couple tables we’d used when we first arrived in Seattle which had been disassembled and consigned to the garage for over a decade. A thick wooden desktop that we’d salvaged and saved for years because all it needed was some sanding, a little stain and some new legs and it would make a fabulous desk for one of the kids, or maybe even a kitchen table when they moved into their own apartment. A hollow core door, spattered with paint, that had been my own makeshift desk at university and which we’d been saving for the last twenty years because … why?

We piled in a couple of IKEA bed frames we bought for our kids when they were little, some pictures we’d taken down a few years ago when we had the house repainted and never put back up, and an old vacuum cleaner which everyone hated because it was so heavy and awkward but which actually did a pretty decent job sucking up the dirt until it too finally gave up the ghost.

We drove it all to the dump.

We weighed in, backed up to the edge of the precipice and began unloading, unceremoniously tossing stuff into the pit below. The place stank. Like garbage. I found it hard not to become sentimental. Each of these things had been useful at one time, a part of our lives and our memories; the kids’ first beds, the nightstand from our bedroom. Now, old and discarded, they were being tossed aside. A hint of our own mortality I suppose.

It didn’t seem to matter what we threw in, everything hit bottom with the sound of breaking glass. Scrap wood — smash! Metal table legs — smash! Pillows — smash! I felt guilty about the waste. Never mind that we’d already hung onto these things for years and years hoping our kids or a neighbor might use some of it someday. Couldn’t we have tried harder to find someone else to take this stuff? Advertised on Craig’s List perhaps? Or kept them for just a little longer? You never know, someone might turn up. Maybe when our kids have kids of their own? Did we even need to buy these things in the first place? Couldn’t we have made do with less?

The vacuum cleaner was the last to go, and it seemed to resist falling into the pit. The canister body rolled down first, slowly, reluctantly, pulling the coiled vacuum hose along with it, and then finally, like Gandalf being dragged by the Balrog into the abyss at Khazad-dûm, the powered carpet cleaning attachment slipped over the edge, and was gone.

It’s so easy to succumb to the tyranny of things, to become trapped in fealty to your own possessions. Once in a while it’s important to remind yourself that you are the owner and not the owned. And the surest sign of ownership is giving something away. Or in this case, throwing it away.

After everything had disappeared into the chasm what I felt most was relief. An unburdening. A more bearable lightness of being. When we got home, the house felt roomier and airier and a little less cluttered.

I looked around and realized we’d missed a few things. There’ll be plenty more for our next trip to the dump.

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