Why We Save Garbage


My first thought: “Oh, no no no. You don’t deserve this.” And I bent down, pulled it off of the branch, and cradled it in the palm of my hand.

My second thought: “I will save you.” And I zipped it into my coat pocket.

My next thought: “What the hell was that?” I’d just picked up trash from a dirty Brooklyn sidewalk and put it in my pocket. Worse: if my dog likes peeing on those trees, I’d bet the other dogs in the neighborhood do, too, which made it a probable urine-soaked piece of trash. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away.

Brooke Borel has a post on The Last Word on Nothing (a really terrific blog maintained by science writers), about why we develop feelings for garbage (like, actual things people have thrown away—not terrible people who have treated you not-so-well). Borel says the main reason she saved the garbage she found was because it had human features, and when you see something that looks like a human, you develop empathy for it. Basically, this is The Carrie Diaries, but for Hoarders.

Photo: Brooke Borel

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3 Comments / Post A Comment

chic noir (#713)

I don’t pick up much garbage on the streets but I will pick up money, even a penny. I also have a thing for reading other folks discarded grocery lists and love letters.

My grandfather collected hospital food menus during his stay, and would hide them in his sleeve if he suspected people would try to take them away. You can take the hoarder out of the hoard, but you can’t take the hoard out of the hoarder?

Sad stuff man.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

I have to disagree with the reasoning “when you see something that looks like a human, you develop empathy for it.”
In the case of those collectible porcelain dolls; the more human-like they look, the more creeped out I am. 100% do not want to take that home with me.
That teeny-tiny birdy that’s pictured, though? That’s most welcome in my pocket.

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