Chuck It

One of the benefits of living alone is that you can do things exactly as you please. For example, when I had my own apartment, I ate salads out of mixing bowls, never installed an air conditioner and refused to use a top sheet. I know other people who turned the dishwasher into a filing cabinet, kept salt in a sugar bowl and stored clean clothes in the washing machine. None of that is a problem until later, usually much later, when you’ve lived alone so long that you no longer realize that “your way” is actually totally absurd.

I recently ran into this issue with Ice Bath. Back in June, when I was visiting him on his home turf for the second time, I made the mistake of asking where he keeps his recycling.

“What is it – glass?” he asked. Before I could even answer, he whisked the empty wine bottle off the counter and placed it in a kitchen cabinet. I only caught of glimpse of what was inside, but it seemed to be filled with hundreds of other bottles.

“Wait a minute,” I said, opening the cabinet door again to reveal row after row of wine bottles. “Are those full or empty?”

“Oh they’re empty,” he shrugged.

It was an answer that raised more questions. Like, why is he saving all these empty bottles? How long has this been going on? Does he have a raging Pinterest addiction that I don’t know about?

With all the casualness I could muster, I asked, “Do you need those for something?”

“No,” he replied. “I just keep meaning to return them for the deposit, but whenever I go to the shop, I forget.”

That’s a simple enough mistake, I guess. I mean, who among us hasn’t consistently stockpiled trash for four consecutive years in the hopes of one day collecting a few nickels?



A month later, when Ice Bath and I were on vacation in Ireland doing all sorts of couple-y things like cliff walking in our matching t-shirts and sharing a single box of fish-n-chips, I suggested that he clean out his liquor cabinet to make room for some of my belongings.

“I can keep my shoes in there,” I said. “Or maybe I’ll get some baskets and put my clothes in there.”

Johan looked properly disgusted. “You’d keep your clothes in there?”

“Why not?” I countered. “It’s a cabinet. Once you take all the garbage out, it’ll be just fine.”

I know that sounds terrible, but believe me, if you’ve ever gone apartment hunting in New York City, then you’ve said that line at least once before and you’ve probably followed through on it too.

“OK,” he agreed. “I’ll get rid of the bottles. I keep meaning to do it, but I just never had a reason.”

Had I been wiser, I would have asked Johan to commit to a timeframe for clearing out his cabinets. But I did not and when I returned to Helsinki two weeks later, I was disappointed to see that his bottle collection remained. Unwilling to be a total nag and ask him about it again, I decided to fix the problem myself.

For the next few days, whenever I left the apartment, I took a bag of 15 wine bottles down to the recycling bin. I was about 100 bottles down when I decided to search for another bag so that I could double my load. This is about the part of the story where you wonder if, in looking for a plastic bag in Johan’s kitchen, I find a second cabinet of empty glass bottles. I did not. I found a cabinet full of aluminum cans. And later, after a bit more searching, a few stray plastic containers behind the garbage can.

As if on cue, I got a text from Johan, explaining that he was stuck at work.

“Take your time,” I texted back. “I have plenty to do.”

He probably thought I was referring to a paper I was writing or some other project I’m working on for which I am paid in denominations much larger than the nickel. But in reality I was talking about taking four years’ worth of recycling and a 20-cup Mr. Coffee that Johan’s friend left in the apartment when they were celebrating their 30th birthday down to the recycling bin. Then, because I am nothing if not efficient, I removed all the shelves, washed them and then filled them with my shoes, toiletries and other assorted bullshit I’ve been lugging around the world. It took all of 90 minutes and it felt glorious.

Maybe I was out of line to do all that. In fact, somewhere around the tenth load, I even considered that Ice Bath might not take too kindly to my removing his belongings while he was working extra hours. Perhaps he would take one look at his stark empty kitchen cabinets and tell me to go chuck myself. I decided that was a risk I was willing to take. After all, the things that I was throwing out were all real, honest-to-goodness trash. If a man takes issue with me for taking out the garbage, then I probably have bigger things to worry about.


Turns out I did not have much to worry about, other than my boyfriend’s latent hoarder tendencies.

“I’m not mad,” he explained. “Embarrassed, maybe, but not mad.” After reading this post, he might be a little bit of both, which would be totally understandable. Broadcasting one’s garbage collection via personal blog is no way to treat someone you love.

The sad part is, I didn’t intend to write a post about Johan’s kitchen dump. I just wanted to use the anecdote as a way to start a story about how it’s nice to have a place to put my things, even if I still don’t think of Helsinki as “home.” I wanted to write about how that may change in the future, but it’s hard for me to imagine because America will always be my home, even when I have a residency permit and a stack of immigration paperwork that proves otherwise.

And then I watched the news about DACA and it just didn’t feel right to whine about giving up my home when 800,000 people might be forced out of the only one they’ve ever known. My heart breaks for the people who are facing deportation through no real fault of their own. And my blood boils for them too – that they had faith in a system that, in return, has no respect for them.

No matter where you stand on this issue, I hope we can agree on this much: America should be treating the people who lived and worked in our country with more consideration and thoughtfulness than I showed four years’ worth of recycling. The decision is cruel and inhumane and despicable and every other ten cent word you can think of to use in place of “wrong.”

I know nothing in politics is simple, but it sometimes it feels like it should be. Personally, if I had to clean house, I’d start at the top. And I’d have the whole goddamn place shipshape in 90 minutes.



  1. Couldn’t agree more. My husband is a keeper of things. He even has his grade school papers, and they are sacrosanct. I intend to outlive him, if only for the pleasure of cleaning up his sacrosanct places.

    You were a brave soul, tackling those stashes. One man’s stash is often someone else’s garbage, as we well know.

    I hear you on the DACA thing; makes me wonder just how far back that reaches. We are all, unless we’re full blooded Indians, immigrants and the children of same. Where does one draw the line?

    • Ha! Well papers I could see having sentimental value. I wouldn’t touch those – especially in a house that it is not at all mine, much as it would drive me crazy to have such clutter about.

      As for DACA, it seems it all depends on who’s drawing the line. I don’t know that we’ll ever have a perfect solution, but I can tell you this much: this one isn’t good enough. As we head into day 2/3 of the news cycle, even Trump himself seems to sense that, which is encouraging!

      • I try to tread lightly here, since he grew up in this house, and his mother saved every damn work paper he ever brought home, heck, he didnt even know they were there until I showed him and now they are part of The Shrine. Lol.

        There is nothing about Trump that is encouraging and much that’s terrifying. It’s really hard to figure out WHAT he senses. Sometimes it feels like he thinks he’s the only car on the road, and he’s all over the place on that two-way highway…

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