An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~ G. K. Chesterton, On Running after One's Hat, 1908

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Best Trash Can Ever

I often think about my relationship to stuff.   I'm not a consumptionist, but, despite my best efforts, I am a materialist. I love my stuff and hate to let it go.  I like to think my stuff loves me right back, which is no more crazy than you thinking your dog would rescue you from a fire or your cat is plotting to take over the world. I have no illusions about my cats. Stuff, though, is so endlessly fascinating.

Matt and I recently watched Objectified, a documentary that, as the title suggests, is supposed to be about our relationship to the things we own. It depicts instead the relationship of designers to the things they've designed. I'm not sure what the title should have been. Maybe "Designers on Designing: Worried about Your Comfort and the Environment -- Sort of."  The focus of the film is design process and philosophy. A light sustainability theme runs through and writer Rob Walker, whose work really does look at that relationship to the things we own, provides a counterpoint. 

At least two of the designers discussed how designed objects can and should get better with time. A briefcase, one pointed out, becomes more beloved once the shine literally wears off.

My briefcase and a small Poe
My own briefcase is a designer item that had found its way to TJ Max because of a slight imperfection. It is gorgeous and the intial scratch made it more so in a waba-sabi kind of way. The scratches I've put on it since have only made me love it more.  Some of my happiest moments are flitting to work on my scooter with it slung across my back.

 My friend Carl once lent a pristine leather briefcase to his mother until it was appropriately battered. I enjoy breaking in my own stuff and creating a history, but I sympathize with Carl because I remember being incredibly embarrased in middle school -- well, all the time --- but in particular, by new and sparkling white tennis shoes. If only they could have come pre-battered, like jeans in the 90s. (Later, as college student, I wore loafers so beaten that I adapted a shuffling walk to keep them on my feet and jeans so legitimately threadbare that the orange tights I wore with them were a style choice. I loved 90s grunge -- it meant I didn't have to throw out beloved clothes, part with my beloved stuff.)

The documentary showed a design team trying to come up with a better toothbrush and that lead me to my new toothbrush, the handle of which is made of recycled U.S. currency.  Time for a new brush?  I keep the ergonomic handle and replace the head. My teeth are not only clean, but also righteous.

We, being the righteous recyclers, reusers and composters that we are, don't throw much out beyond the occasional disposable toothbrush head, but trash happens -- even to righteous people such as ourselves. It is here that I will put in a plug for the the best trash can ever.

Or, close to here. First, I will vent.

Trash cans have come a long way since I was a kid.  We want our homes to be comfortable and now that  the kitchen is the center of our universe, a dirty plastic bin with a swinging lid has no place in our pleasant environs. Trash cans are now part of the decor: hipster trashcans, retro trash cans, traditional trash cans, which for some reason, are wicker. Perhaps wicker evokes our colonial roots? If I ever meet someone with a wicker trash can, I'll ask.

My friends are modern and cool, but not self-concious or hipster about it, so almost everyone I know has a variation on the stainless steel column with a foot pedal. These are things of beauty.

Ephemeral beauty. Which is odd. For a garbage bin.

Simplehuman is probably the brand of choice for these things. My first was a knock-off. My parents bought it for me at the Knock-off Store because they are practical people.  Knock-off Can was solidly built and worked well for about six months. Then, the plastic pedal broke and left a sharp metal stick in its place. Being my parent's daughter, I fixed the problem with duct tape, which did very little for my pleasant environs, but increased my DIY cred half a notch.

A fully notched DIYer would fashion another pedal with no more than tweezers and a discarded tie rack.   I have a collection of tweezers, but lacked the skills and vision. And, I'd just Freecycled my last tie rack.

Enough playing around, I thought.  To Target. My next trashcan was a brand-name objet'd art with a rounded triangle footprint that hearkened to both the past and the future. Art deco?  Perhaps postmodern.  No footpedal interrupted its smooth design. I lightly tapped the lid;  it gently floated to up like a butterfly lighting on my shoulder, giving me a moment to contemplate the trash held in my hands and my place in the world. With this beauty in my kitchen corner, I was just as likely to think of old-style chrome glam as the meditave quiet of a birch grove.

Sure, I didn't actually want to comtemplate my trash, and the chrome-colored cannister showed more fingerprints than a dusted crime scene, but I could ignore that. I just wouldn't touch the sides and being forced to contemplate my waste gave me more reason to recycle.  I could not, however, ignore the tiny plastic engineering marvel that created the pneumatic effect ... because it broke within six months. The entire lid was useless. To keep the can meant I would see (and smell) my trash.  I do eat meat occasionally, so Knock-off Can came back for a while. I refreshed the duct tape.

But, it didn't last. The duct tape was failing;  my right foot was developing a callous.  Knock-off can was relegated to the project room where it would serve a dual function of garbage receptacle and future project.

Contemplating trash: it's now a choice
When Matt moved in, we realized we had a problem.  This time I did the research and and we shelled out some bucks. The results:  The best trash can ever could handle the grossest of the gross. It could handle medical waste, adolescent angst and the physical manifestation of the latter. It would look right at home in a school nurse's office -- because, well, it was designed for a one. We bought this model because it didn't occur to me to look for a prison supplier. (I'm not comparing our love to incarceration or our house to a jail.  I'm just saying that stuff built for institutions is built to last.).

The best trash can ever has no tiny plastic parts. It has a simple straightforward design that instills faith. And, love.

And, so I have now I've been introduced to online school supplier catalogs.  Lecterns and activity tables. Adjustable media carts and tiny chairs. Stuff built to take the abuse of a thousand furniture-eating demon-children and the mistreatment of underappreciated civil servants. Stuff built to last forever. *Sigh*


  1. Ummmmmmm. Nice essay. We once owned a stainless steel monstrosity that served the dual purpose of turning on the lights when you opened the lid remotely using the food pad. Until the foot pad broke, that is.

  2. A woman finally learned how to love things, so things learned how to love her too as she pressed herself to their shining sides, their porous surfaces. She smoothed along walls until walls smoothed along her too, a joy, a climax, this flesh against plaster, the sweet suck of consenting molecules.

    Sensitive men and women became followers, wrapping themselves in violet, pasting her image over their fast hearts, pressing against walls until walls came to appreciate differences in molecules. This became a worship. They became a love. A church. A cult. A way of being.

    But, of course, it had to be: the woman's love kept growing until she was loved by trees and appliances, from toasters to natural obstacles, until her ceiling shook loose to send kisses, sheets wound tight betwixt her legs, and floorboards broke free of their nails, straining their lengths over her sleeping.

    She awoke and drove out of town alone. In love, rocks flew through her car windows, then whole hillsides slid, loosening with desire. Her car shattered its shaft to embrace her, but she ran from the wreckage, calling all the sweet things as she waited in a field of strangely complacent daisies.

    She spoke of love until losing her breath, and the things trilled to feel that loss too, at last, sighing in thingness. She fell down, and the things fell down around her. She cried "Christ!" and the things cried "Christ!" in their thing-hearts until everything living and unliving wonderfully collided.

    Cathleen Calbert, Bad Judgment: Poems,
    Sarabande Books, Copyright 1999

    (a long-time favorite poem of mine)

  3. Ummmmmmm. Nice essay. We once owned a stainless steel monstrosity that served the dual purpose of turning on the lights when you opened the lid remotely using the food pad. Until the foot pad broke, that is.