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Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to Kill Desire 2: Dumpster Diving

No, I am not a Dumpster diver, though I think it is probably a valuable practice ecologically and economically. My goal here is not to champion the practice, but to bring your attention to a wonderful writer. A wonderful writer who wrote a wonderful essay On Dumpster Diving.

The writer is Lars Eighner. The book is Travels with Lizbeth. This book attracted a lot of attention when it came out in the early 90s. Eighner was homeless for several years and the book chronicles this time. Until recently, I thought that this was one of the many books that is soon forgotten after publication. I see so many almost new books in thrift stores, which is where I got my copy of Travels: novels and non-fiction works only a few years old. No one wants them even for $1.00 or less. So much work! So many hopes and dreams! So many good writers!

As it turns out, Eighner's essay has found a place in American culture. One of my colleagues informed me that it is included in many anthologies used in college writing courses. A quick romp through the internet confirmed this; there are numerous sites offering papers to plagiarize for your college course. You can even find a Marxist analysis.

I like the way that Eighner discovers in Dumpster diving a sense of abundance, indeed, of over-abundance. This is a useful reminder for me. I get the same sense at thrift stores, which, for me, serve paradoxically both to protect against and to promote accumulation. Here is the end of Eighner's essay, which is informative, analytical, and meditative:

I find from the experience of scavenging two rather deep lessons. The first is to take what you can use and let the rest go by. . . . I was shocked to realize that some things are not worth acquiring, but now I think it is so. Some material things are white elephants that eat up the possessor's substance. The second lesson is the transience of material being.

Anyway, I find my desire to grab for the gaudy bauble has been largely sated. I think this is an attitude I share with the very wealthy--we both know there is plenty more where what we have came from. Between us are the rat-race millions who nightly scavenge the cable channels looking for they know not what.

I am sorry for them.

Isn't that great, Dear Readers? Do you think these are valid lessons?


Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Every time I dispose of something, say a glass bottle with a screw on lid, I think what a treasure it could be to someone in another time or place, yet it is at best just something to be recycled to me.

It is a wonder, if stuff is so great, why do we throw so much of it away after working so hard to get it?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Cubicle--You are a lot better at this than I am. I am good in theory, but not in practice.

Duchesse said...

I loved this quote, it reminded me of Churchill saying there are three classes: scared to death, billed to death and bored to death. Whether I walk through Goodwill or a ritzy auction house, I have the same thought: too much stuff, and you just end up getting rid of 90% of it.

Shelley said...

When I shop at my local green market for fruit and veg, buying everything and more than we can reasonably eat for a couple of weeks (which forces us to have very healthy meals), the bill comes to around £12-15; £20 if I really splurge or am buying to feed guests. When the check out girl tells me the total I always feel a wave of abundance rush over me. I smile as I hand her the money, telling her I'm not so worried about my old age...

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley--That's a beautiful story! See the post I wrote today if you have a chance--makes a similar point.