By Paula Ganzi Licata
IT’S called a container in the rubbish removal industry, perhaps better known as a Dumpster to the rest of us. And although an unlikely gift, a summer Dumpster rental is what I gave my husband for Valentine’s Day. Nothing says ”I love you” like a 10-yarder.
Robert is an accumulator: piles of magazines, broken luggage, outdated televisions, ancient audio equipment, empty boxes, pieces of plasterboard, planks of wood. Until now, it seemed that a stick of dynamite was the appropriate antidote. So when he casually mentioned that the convenient placement of a super-sized receptacle would inspire him to purge, I heard ”Help me.”
”I love to throw things out,” said Barbara Humes, the bookkeeper at County Carting in Oceanside, as we chatted about organizing.
”Me too,” I said. ”It must be gender-specific. Women love to clean and purge and men, they—-”
”They’re afraid of dying,” Mrs. Humes concluded.
Hmm. Robert hesitated to commit to the container. Not until the brink of summer did he accept my gift, insisting he had a four-yarder need.
”It’s about the size of what you’d see behind a restaurant,” Mrs. Humes said. For $175, we had seven days to schlep from house to curb with the unnecessary items of our lives.
The night before we started dumping, I watched an episode of HGTV’s ”Mission: Organization.” A professional organizer explained to a couple that their garbage can is often their best tool.
With neat and tidy visions dancing in my head, I woke early Saturday, anxious to begin.
We started in the garage. Last summer it had hit new heights, or depths, of being out of control. The thought of fetching extra deck chairs from there contributed to a lackluster barbecue season; our bikes remained buried beneath mystery piles. I swung open the barn doors and spiders scattered across mounds of papers in plastic mail bins from the postal service.
With me in my shmatte clothes and Robert in his sweats, we had just settled in for a long weekend’s work. But would we be talking by Sunday night? Would the Dumpster lead to divorce?
The first item discarded was a never-used typewriter case Robert got at a tag sale because it might come in handy.
Our only rule: we both had to O.K. the toss. But Robert’s reluctances — cloaked in skewed logic – made that difficult.
I held up an empty Oreo cookie tin, a snowman with Oreo cookies for buttons and the year 1996 inscribed. ”Anything dated is valuable,” he replied.
”Remember this spoon rest?” Robert asked, holding an item from our first apartment.
”Yes,” I said, and eased it out of his hand.
”We should keep these plastic potting containers.”
”This old dish rack might be useful for something.”
”You’re relentless!” he snapped.
The next morning we attacked the back room. In my designing dreams, I refer to it as the reading room, but its purpose is vague. There’s a pullout sofa, but we rarely have sleepover guests. Other than two tables and Robert’s coffee-table books (some still sealed in plastic), there is — was — a great deal of space, a magnet for Robert’s magazines.
There were piles and piles, years upon years of subscriptions: Petersen’s Photographic, American Photo, Popular Photographer, Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, Travel & Leisure. 2001, 1996, 1993 …
Similar to the way a cut tree reveals its age by the rings in its stump, the past decade came to life through the teasers on the covers: ”The Prison Letters of Timothy McVeigh,” ”Clinton Eyes a Second Term.” Some were unopened in plastic wrappers. Many warned, Last Issue! Far too often Robert insisted, ”That’s archival,” creating some pulp friction between us. But by day’s end 18 bags were dumped.
On Sunday we had our first Dumpster diver. A car stopped, a woman jumped out and grabbed the floor-standing Acme adjustable dress form sticking out of the Dumpster. ”That’s how I got it,” Robert said. (Neither of us sews.)
The basement was next to be excavated. Kitschy telephones, including a Coca-Cola model (the 1980’s were calling), broken answering machines, a large fish bowl, old audio receivers, empty boxes from generations of compact disc players and videocassette recorders, old cellphone batteries, plus scads of Styrofoam molds were just some of the items exhumed. He even unearthed a few eight-track cassettes.
The container was ours for a week. We filled it in 48 hours.
Monday morning I walked into the garage. The floor was visible to the back wall. Boxes were stacked, tools hung, shelves accessible. We had defined an area for my gardening paraphernalia and moved our bicycles to prime real estate near the door. There were still items I deemed Dumpster-worthy (two air-conditioning boxes succumbed to the ”what if we need to return it” argument) and others whose value I acknowledged – Robert’s childhood pail and shovel warranted their own shelf lording their status over his Mighty Casey train on the floor destined for an eBay listing.
Our anniversary was a week later. Robert’s gift to me? He had our bikes tuned up. We’ve since been riding — together — as much as possible. On his solo trips he inevitably encounters tag sales, a clutterer’s kryptonite.
But I’m not worried now. Nothing says spring cleaning like a six-yarder.