Another little incident to be filed under “Daily Debacles.”

For years, I would almost never buy any article of clothing, piece of furniture, book, or plant that was new. I scavenged the streets of LA, shopped at Goodwill, even foraged for food. Not from Dumpsters—even I wouldn’t go that far—but produce from the sidewalk, for example, was absolutely fair game.

I’ve made a lot of progress in this area but old habits die hard. Blame a set of Depression-era parents, one whose own parents came over on the boat from Ireland, a working-class father with eight kids, and the very real fact that a self-employed “creative writer”—who’s Catholic no less—is not in this culture poised to become a “high earner.”

Anyway, so just before the holidays I realized that for six years my kitchen trashcan has been too small. Round, aluminum—I think the thing was actually meant for the bathroom. When I bought it (new!), from The Container Store, I was setting up shop in my then-new apartment in Pasadena and was no doubt cowed by the initial outlay and trying to economize.

Supposedly I could step on a little lever and the cover would open but that feature had gone by the wayside long ago. I didn’t so much mind that as the fact that any trash bag of sufficient heftiness was about three times too big so the edges were always hanging over. Also I was always kind of missing or slopping over the fairly small opening so was constantly wiping up around. Et cetera.

With my newly-expanded consciousness, however, last week I realized out of the blue, Hey, I could buy a NEW trash can. A bigger trash can. A trash can that is actually meant for a kitchen!

So I shopped around and got a very nice number from Simple Home or Basic Brain or some outfit like that. It’s the right, convenient size, the garbage bag fits, the lever works—my life has been transformed!

Still, there was the matter of the old trash can, which technically still had quite a bit of life in it.

In LA, you just put any old thing you don’t want on the sidewalk and within minutes it’s been whisked away by some lucky scavenger. The neighborhood I live in here in Tucson isn’t exactly hoity-toity, but people just don’t seem to leave things out and the owner, who lives in back, I thought might frown on such a practice.

I thought to move it to the bathroom where it belongs but it was too big to fit in between the toilet and sink.

I keep a running Goodwill pile—but would even Goodwill want a used kitchen trash can? Probably not—so with some misgiving, I decided to put my old item out with the garbage. The yardman, however, had just pruned the mesquite trees and filled the bin to the brim. So I left my little dented silver aluminum can to the side, meaning to put in the bin come Monday, after the weekly garbage truck came.

Seeing it out there a few times during the week, though—I just couldn’t do it. Well? I waffled. Paul, the handyman, was coming Thursday to install a couple of door sweeps. He’d mentioned that he lived in an apartment complex and that he was friends with the manger…maybe someone over there could use it.

So I hauled it back to the yard, got out my ammonia and scrub brush, and gave the thing a thorough cleaning. It was pretty clean to begin with, but I even took an old toothbrush to the tricky part where the top hinges on. It really looked pretty darn good.

I kept thinking of a book by Ryszard Kapuscinski called Empire of the Sun about sub-Saharan Africa. He had a passage about how people would own one thing, literally one thing. Like one guy would have a shirt, another a pickaxe. And they’d pool resources if someone, say, got a job. Why, the right person would be glad to have my trash bin!

To me, the offer of anything free gives rise to a massive endorphin rush. So offering a free item, especially one I’d put a little thought and work into, to someone else….Gosh! —would Paul even think I was flirting! I felt a teeny bit giddy when he knocked at the door, tools in tow.

We walked around the house a bit to re-establish which two doors needed a sweep (he’d been over the week before to case things out). And then, gesturing to my little offering with a mixture of shyness and pride, I said, “Hey could you by chance use a kitchen bin? It’s in pretty good shape!”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I realized I was offering the poor guy my old trash can. He looked at me, looked at the trashcan, and looked back again. “Unh, that’s okay,” he replied evenly. “I’m pretty set right now for wastebaskets.”

I cringed back to my office lair, pulsing with shame while he worked. He was finished in half an hour. I thanked him profusely.  

And after he left, there was the shined-up old trash bin, still sitting in the corner of the hallway. I just couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. This morning I took it down cellar and gave it a little pat.

Goodwill, for sure. They can do with it what they want.


  1. Joyce Bock says: Reply

    You and William Carlos Williams must be kindred spirits. He says…
    “So much depends
    a red wheel barrow
    glazed with rain
    beside the white
    Both of you have such
    awareness of what makes each moment sing.
    Meanwhile I have the exact same garbage can sitting in the kitchen collecting scraps in it’s hinges.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Ha, oh the stories our kitchen cans could tell! So glad you could relate, Joyce!

  2. I tried to comment a second ago and I’m not sure if it went through… Have you ever heard of the buy nothing project? It is perfect for situations just like this! I myself have actually picked up a used waste basket before and was very pleased to have it. Sounds like just your kind of thing! http://Www.buynothingproject.org

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Teresa, I got both comments-(am just posting this one)–I have to approve them first which is why there’s sometimes a lag. Ha I have not heard of the buy nothing project, help! Will check it out, though these days I’ve finally figured out that the time I spend “economizing” can reach a point of diminishing returns…I love knowing about this, though–have also used nextdoor mostly to give away huge amounts of plants and when I moved from CA to AZ this year, a bunch of dishes and furniture…I just hate things going to waste so these projects are priceless…thanks a bunch.

  3. You and I are cut from the same cloth, Heather!!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Rose, apparently there are many of us! Wishing you a beloved-object-filled 2022!

  4. Anne Mallampalli says: Reply

    I just love how you write. You always make me smile and nod. I get it.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Anne: the morning after I’d offered the handyman my old wastebasket I thought the incident over and started laughing so hard I almost choked. And then I started writing it in my head…it’s really almost my favorite thing, to describe an incident in which I’m the butt of the joke…then I was going to take a picture of the trashcan and I was like oh please, enough…anyway, it’s down in the washer-dryer room I’m sure gathering itsef for the next leg of its journey–on we go to 2022!

  5. Brett Castleberry says: Reply

    I love this! My wife says it reminds her of me. The little trash can that nobody wanted. Poor little orphan. So you cleaned it up and put it in storage. Perfect!

    I have this superstitious idea that personal possessions, (esp. clothing), have to be left for their aura acquired from me to fade or dissolve before they can be potentially used by someone else. Something I read once.

    Our silverware is a mixture of new, shiny, sleek silverware, (by “new”, I mean 30 years old), and old, cheap, clunky silverware, {R.’s parents “old” set that she had when I met her). Of course like using the old!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, yes, Brett, there is something about the spirit or aura with which an object that has been part of our daily life has GOT to be imbued…I mean you can go overboard with that line of thinking, and sometimes it really is time to let things go…but our “things” are part of the whole incaranate, tactile, memory-laden, spirit-filled world. Totally get the mixture of silverware, and the preference for the old..I’m starting to take down my Christmas decorations and I could practically write a book about that collection, which includes cards dating back decades…Anyway, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has this particular, uh, predilection…Happy New Year!


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