Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Treasure Hunting

Ever since writing about the relative ease of our modern world, I’ve begun noticing, with pride, all the little things I work at. Anyone who has watched an episode of Antiques Road Show or driven down a freeway and counted the number of Storage places has probably, at least vaguely, concluded that we as Americans have a lot of crap. I remember being told when I was younger that I should “figure out what to collect,” because everybody collected something. My mother collected glass salt containers for a while, and little glass antique dolls. My grandma had bread plates, and my grandpa has Santas, everything eagle, and anything Longhorn related. For my dad it's old books and for my brother…just about anything eccentrically historical…although he has a collection of car air fresheners solely because of me.
Following that advice, I had a number of my own collections. I collected posters, which I plastered all over the walls and ceiling of my room. I collected antique alcohol bottles (so I would have something to look for when the family went antiquing), incense, CD’s, snow globes and music boxes, and Elvis memorabilia. And Chevelle memorabilia, although they were just coming about, and I kind of created their memorabilia. I had all of these things, and packed most of them up when my parents made the big move to “downsize” while I was in college. It wasn’t until this last year, before my big move in the u-hall, that I really put thought into how silly it all is.

Maybe it was all those episodes of Antiques Road Show I would watch with my parents, but it became evident to me that a lot of people had a lot of stuff, and most of it, despite being potentially worth money, was completely useless. With that realization, and a couple years of practicing moving only the things I “needed,” I realized that the boxes of snow globes and Elvis items weren’t going to help me live the life I desire. In fact, all they would do is weigh me down (literally). So I took advantage of the time I had for the hassle, and sold almost everything I could that wouldn’t be useful for me in the new house. After all, I didn’t collect snow globes because I cherished them. Yes, most of them had significant sentimental value attributed to who gave them to me or where I got them, but those memories will live on without the item…or at least with pictures of the item. What really spurned these piles of belongings was a want to discover, or to treasure hunt (at last, she gets to the point of this long-winded blog).

When I go grocery shopping, I find myself hunting down the items on sale, trying to combine coupons with deals, or reinvent my salad plan with the vegetables from the discount box. This is my new way of treasure hunting. When I desire an appliance, like a new blender, or a liquid measuring cup… I know that I can live without it because I have already, so I put it on my “thrift wishes list” and poke around the local thrift stores whenever I pass by them. We have one that’s in walking distance from my office, and it’s not uncommon for me to go in there about once a week, scan the usual places and buy a small piece of fabric and a just-right-sized Tupperware, or a seasonal CD and a new sunhat.
Another favorite place for treasure hunting: book stores, and libraries especially. I have the layout of my library down pat, and make a trip there at least once a week. After scanning the books up front on display, I meander to the DVD's to see if anything catches my eye, then pass by the seasonal display and the audio books, looking briefly as I walk to the used magazines. My library does this great thing where they allow people to donate old magazines, and other people to take them. This is where I find my collage gems. Then I head over to my favorite aisle of non-fiction, containing the 500's and any and everything sciencey. Each week I'm set up to find at least one fun discovery. And it's all free! 

I enjoy the thrill of this type of treasure hunting so much that I’m always surprised to see aisles and aisles of brand new items at conventional stores. I do realize that we can’t all buy second hand, because there wouldn’t be any first hand items to donate…but I also realize that a LOT more of us could switch to thrifting, and there would still be plenty. These days I collect jobs, money, and bulk food items, the way I did those other things growing up. I get more of a thrill watching the number in my bank account rise than I did squeezing a new snow globe on my shelf.

I just read a fascinating book called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, about a boy (William Kamkwamba) in Africa who can’t afford schooling after a tragic famine swept the country, and resorts to tinkering with scraps and self-teaching from the library. I think the theme of the book could be a quote from an African blogger:

“Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using Creativity they overcome African’s challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth. "

William's Windmill

 At my book club discussion of the book, we talked a lot about the inventiveness of the author, due to the lack of resources in his country at that time. But what they lacked in rain and political accountability, they possessed in junk at the scrap yard.

William’s story is a tale of treasure hunting in the most rewarding way. How many people search stores to find another piece to their collection, and nobody hears about it…save a few close friends or relatives. But William’s search through his scrap yard for a motor…a wire… auto grease…turned him into an international hero with a New York Best Seller. I’m not saying that rigging a half working toaster that you bought at a thrift store with some scraps you’d otherwise throw away is book worthy (although I’d certainly blog about such an adventure), but it’s that sort of creativity, ingenuity and rebellion against buying a new toaster that is going to feel truly fulfilling.

We also talked a bit about how to make this sort of scrappiness acceptable here in America. A recent workshop that has taken our environmental educator community by storm is making totes out of drip tape that would otherwise be piled in landfills. Being crafty, especially with recycled material, is trending right now, but I’m hoping it takes even more of a surge. In the meantime, I’m going to continue collecting my mesh bags and twist ties for an up-cycled idea I’m excited to test out.

No comments:

Post a Comment