Curbside Archeology

May 30, 2009 at 8:48 am | Posted in Adventures | 1 Comment

Spring term is over at the local university, so we strolled around the neighborhoods on both sides of campus yesterday to see what was being thrown out. It’s like this every May: in the days and weeks after the term ends, there’s a vast exodus as thousands of students pull up stakes and pour out of town. Looking at their left-behinds — the Dumpsters outside their dorms, frat/sorority houses and other dwellings; the stuff they set out on curbs with “free” signs — is like anthropology. Or archeology. Who were these people, what did they have and what did they use and what do they deem not worthy of taking along when they leave?

The scavenger friend who runs Ghost Town Farm and who preceded us on a similar jaunt marveled at the comparatively low quality of this year’s leavings. IKEA furniture, she noted, seemed to dominate. And she was right. Not just IKEA furniture but mostly broken and/or dismembered IKEA furniture: desks, dressers, tables, shelves, shoved whole into Dumpsters and/or splintered and battered and bashed into bits. I never thought of IKEA this way before, having always rather admired its clean lines and clever color schemes, but from the looks of this year’s student “middens” an archeologist might surmise that IKEA furniture was made to be temporary, that it was purposely made to be disposable, that it’s the furniture version of those throwaway bamboo chopsticks that come free with Chinese takeout. Until not so long ago, students used to buy heavy, hard-to-break midcentury behemoths from thrift stores and yard sales, or they acquired such pieces free from former tenants. These days, rather than seek out old used furniture, students apparently buy their furniture brand-new … and then, as with those chopsticks, it gets chucked into the trash.

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