In our neighborhood, spring and fall are heralded by piles of things that appear outside homes overnight in anticipation of the big seasonal trash pickup. One morning years ago, I awoke to the clanging of aluminum tubing striking a metal surface. We’d left a cache of it outside the night before, stuffed into a trash barrel like unruly stalks of celery, one of dozens of items we’d hauled to the curb from the dark recesses of our basement.
Outside, one man was methodically examining the goods we’d stockpiled while another was making the clanging sound as he tossed those tubes into a well-used pickup. Seeing these early birds find something they could use among our junk was a real jumpstart to my day. All over town that week, people started to visit these roadside stashes to have a look. Nobody seemed self-conscious about it, and some were downright helpful. One woman pointed out a little cabinet she had set out that’s been a part of our kitchen ever since. This exchange just sprang up by itself, as if we’d all been waiting for the opportunity.
As the piles grew, I discovered one morning that our son had grown out of his only white shirt, the one we’d bought just two months before, the required attire for his school concerts. My wallet yawned empty when I looked inside. Desperate, I phoned a fourteen-year-old friend of the family for help. Not only was I able to borrow a shirt, but also give this young helper a ride downtown to check out the steadily mounting piles of free loot. This was turning into my kind of grassroots economy.
As we drove our son to his concert, he realized, “Hey! You didn’t even have to spend money to get this shirt! I bet there are lots of ways not to spend money.” I actively encouraged a new hobby of seeing how many such alternatives he could identify. Indeed, God, Who counsels that every hair of our heads is accounted for, urges stewardship of all things, including material goods. Worldly things benefit us most when we acquire and use them thoughtfully, so that they don’t “own” us. If ever we needed such stewardship, it’s now. As acres of storage lockers spring up to store what we no longer have space for, and frequently forget to claim, our consuming culture now capitalizes on providing space for what we perhaps never needed in the first place. Even sitting forgotten and unused, those goods are still consuming energy.
Some cultures have long held simple but effective solutions for renewing, recycling, and conserving resources. A friend described an example of creative stewardship she witnessed on a visit with the Cowichan band of Native people in British Columbia. They introduced her to a long-established tradition called a potlatch, an event to which participants bring belongings they wish to share or no longer need. She described a convivial affair with lots of music and food, and those of all ages going home with useful things, with few having to cart many of their own giveaway items home.
They don’t have curbside big-trash pickup—nor, indeed, any trash pickup at all. But they get together like this every once in a while to enjoy each other’s company and pool resources. Sounds like mighty good stewardship to me.
From Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details: http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1366640997&sr=8-1
“Treehugger” artwork courtesy Tobey A. Ring.