September 20, 2014

It’s Just Stuff: Lessons From Living in a Dumpster. ~ Krista Matheny

Author's Own. Krista Matheny

I looked into the dumpster I’d slept in the previous night.

My stuff was missing.

There were two choices: freak out or keep calm.

I chose the latter.

The information in my little iPad was the most important item, and even that could be replaced.

Jeff, proud dumpster owner and environmental professor, later asked if that had scared me. His nuclear yellow pants and matching bow tie would make any student pay attention in class.

He’d tucked my bags under the hardwood floor storage to keep the dumpster feng shui balanced. Dumpster feng shui is all about balance. Make the 33 square feet look pristine and take stress off destroying the planet.

Jeff was living off of one percent of what the average American home uses in natural resources.

I smiled.

“It was just stuff.”

Of course, I was speaking to a man who had (literally) trashed his previous life.

All his material possessions were tucked in three square dumpster feet. This included a few changes of clothing, magnets for dumpster walls, a solar lamp and the brightest collection of socks I’ve ever seen. He planned to sell his car in order to buy a truck to tow his home/living classroom around in Austin Texas.

I did not expect to meet Jeff and his dumpster.

They, in a way, found me through couchsurfer, a travel website where travelers can connect with residents, have a place to sleep and share experiences.

Couchsurfers are a special breed of folk. It’s like traveling on a rodeo circuit—it might suddenly veer left or right or buck you off.

The key to couch surfing is to be aware, expect nothing and have gratitude.

The person who was to host me didn’t return my calls or texts. The internet was limited. A new host was equally limited. Tabulations on how to manage a night alone in an unfamiliar city whirled in my mind.

However, I also had Jeff’s number. He kindly followed the unwritten traveler code of “Holy hell help!,” saved my ass with his dumpster and showed me a life changing experience.

When Jeff told me a lot of surfers had bailed last minute but promised the dumpster was on a safe college campus, locked on the inside and had a security camera on it, I sat back surprised.

I never even considered safety. My only concern was having a place to sleep. I suppose that when it comes down to the most basic needs, trusting that a fellow traveler has your back is priceless.

A premise of Jeff’s experiment is to show how to live small, yet comfortably, in a space that supports the planet.

In 2050, it is projected that Earth will have 10 billion people to support. Learning to live smaller now is a good idea.

Jeff (aka Professor Dumpster) inhabits his dump home six days a week. I found myself giving him the night off and getting a serious lesson in anti-consumerism.

Do you need your baggage?

Do you need your stuff?

When I looked down and saw those missing bags, I finally realized that for a few moments, I was actually without stuff.

All I had been taught was how to have the big house, car, closet jammed with clothing, knick-knacks, photos, mountains of books. It was all just stuff. It had nothing to do with me nor was it pivotal to the needs of a human being.

Most of what I needed was encompassed in these tiny metal walls: a place to rest, a roof and four walls.

We really don’t need a lot of room to have a room. It’s pretty gosh darn amazing.

Now, nine bags of clothing and two boxes of books have gone out to a local donation thrift store that uses their proceeds to feed the homeless.

More stuff is leaving my possession to hopefully help those less fortunate.

The why is simple. I don’t need it.

I was taught to live in a world where what is “necessary” isn’t really necessary.

Now, it’s time to learn how to be with what truly is necessary.



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Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Author’s Own



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