by Katherine Perry, 89.7 WGBH
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
"Dumppicking, perhaps once considered a rather undignified way to furnish a home, is now a sport for affluent suburbanites..."
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[2 min 16 sec]
I come from a family of “salers.” Yard-salers. You know, thriftstore regulars and flea market connoisseurs. At one time, buying other people's cheap cast-offs felt like a good deal. That time is gone. Now a good deal means getting other people old stuff—for free. My family's one-stop shopping destination is now the town dump.
And they are not alone. Dumppicking, perhaps once considered a rather undignified way to furnish a home, is now a sport for affluent suburbanites- A sign that our culture, which traditionally likes things new and shiny may now see the value of things that come with their own histories. Reusing and recycling has moved beyond soda cans, and hand-me-downs are no longer a stamp of neediness. For those who could afford to always be surrounded by that new whatever smell, old is the new new.
Two notable examples are the Wellesley and Duxbury dumps, or more politely, transfer stations. These towns are known for gated mansions and restrictive zoning, and every weekend thousands of residents come out and competitively scrounge through other people's trash. But we're not talking about a scavenger hunt through banana peels. Wellesley officials refer to visitors as shoppers, a sign in Duxbury announces you are in the "Duxbury Mall." In Wellesley items are organized into departments by volunteers who patrol the area looking to diffuse potentially violent disputes over good finds.
So what is it people are expecting to find in a dump? Well, you can find the things you would expect- old rakes, monopoly sets, a graveyard of vhs tapes. But it's the items that suggest a colorful history, now forsaken, that make the dump a weekend destination: An 84-pound jar of pennies, a box of wedding memorabilia, with the groom figurine's head smashed, and a bong, with accompanying bong fodder. And there are the suburban dump-picking legends- the designer chair, picked and sold for 25 thousand dollars. The faded painting taken to the Antique Roadshow that set thesavvy shopper up for an early retirement.
It's easy to pass this off as greed or secondhand voyeurism—but I think that's ungenerous. Most takers are also givers, contributing their own artifacts for collective reuse. They watch their old treasures start a new life, while they give someone else's a second chance. And for a culture known for it's love of consuming and discarding, a bit of dumppicking is good sign.