I write about trash. Yup; I do. It’s the thing that makes me the happiest. When I was a kid, I saved containers that smelled good, like cinnamon bottles and other spices, and kept them in my closet. When I felt sad, I’d get them out, sit on the ground, and smell them. Smell is powerful.
When I’m stressed, I go thrifting. It calms me. Recently, I went out and bought fifty t-shirts to make grocery bags. Later that same day, I was digging in the copy room’s recycling bin at school looking for envelopes. That was fine, except that someone walked in on me, and I realized how I must have looked, rummaging through the garbage in a dark room.
As a counseling and theology student, I am constantly working with difficult subjects. The nature of God; the nature of persons. It’s heavy stuff, and I don’t always do well with it. Sometimes it makes me want to curl up in a ball to talk about abuse and familial problems. At times, I am acutely aware of my own inability to fix the world. I can look at a problem and know that I cannot fix it. It’s really hard to do this, to admit that I am simply unable to do everything in the world that needs doing. But at other times, I fail, and start to believe that I can and must fix everything. I see aluminum cans and plastic bottles in the trash, and I reach in to grab them so I can put them in the recycling bin. I do this at school and at home. I want to save everything. I want to make everything right. It drives me crazy to see the things that others do not see. I wish I couldn’t see the cans, or the eggshells in the garbage that could go in my compost bin, but I do.
There are all kinds of psychological reasons for my obsessions, and sometimes I am self-aware enough to choose to channel these obsessions into good healthy behaviors. Sometimes I fail, and I feel ashamed. Sometimes I am able to forgive myself, and sometimes, I am consumed by guilt and self-loathing, hating my neurotic need to fix, fix, fix.
My thrifting is a sign of my hopefulness, that all things can be made new again, that what is trashed does not have to be gone forever or forgotten. Thrifting is my method of environmentalism, of contributing to a system without waste. It is the way that I can contribute to charities, both small and large, whatever the cause. I can give to people in need without a lot of pain on my part. There’s mutuality there, and I don’t feel a bit guilty about it.
In my area, we have thrift stores that support veterans and the homeless, and that give jobs to individuals in the community. When I buy a breadmaker, I’m not just buying a used appliance. I’m giving someone a job. I’m helping a vet with medical care. I’m saving the used appliance from the landfill. And if I stick to the whole cycle, I will actually make bread in that breadmaker and contribute to the better health of my family, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I don’t imagine that I am a saint. By no means. Just today my father told me that I’d be a great person to organize homeless ministries in a large city. I shuddered at the thought. See, thrifting is something I can do, and that I enjoy doing. It isn’t painful for me, because I’ve chosen to live my life in this way. Instead of money, I spend my time, in searching, and cleaning, and fixing, and sometimes in not having the thing that I want. I sacrifice some things in service of the larger mission, the present and future Kingdom.
The coming Kingdom is not capitalist. It isn’t communist either, for that matter. Maybe it’s an –ism we haven’t thought of yet, or perhaps it’s out there in some forms, but we haven’t named it yet. Let’s commit to figuring it out, figuring out how we can have the things we need (and want) without contributing to a system that takes away the needs and wants of others. Is it possible? I think so.
Don’t trash yourself.-MDZ
Megan is a counseling and theology student at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. When she’s not writing, editing, or researching, she’s walking her dogs, frying tofu, or fixing her ’79 VW Rabbit.