Tales of the City: my empties

I happened to be staring out of my bedroom window earlier when I spotted a well dressed lady rummaging through the wheelie bins on our back lane.

I was bemused.

We live in a nice part of town and so this was definitely not “normal behaviour” for a local resident to be engaging in.

Pretty filthy work I surmised, but was somehow able to justify this this as reasonable on the assumption that she was probably just a homeless person or a drug addict.

My second thoughts turned to self preservation.

Had I snipped up that expired credit card sufficiently?

Was my date of birth on anything?

The realisation and dread that my lazy attitude towards shredding could mean that my identity and savings could now be in the hands of a scoundrel kicked in.

My third thoughts were of anger.

Who the heck did she think she was going through “my stuff?”

Even if it was just garbage….

My fourth thoughts were of concern for material things.

Maybe she wasn’t on the steal. Had she lost something precious? Had her engagement ring dropped off when she was putting the bins out? Or that all important treasure map scribbled on the corner of a newspaper?

All I know for sure is that this lady was frantic. I mean really rummaging like her life depended on it. And maybe it did.

Yet still I did nothing.

But make negative assumptions.

And stare.

Rightly or wrongly (and I’m still not sure), I just let her get on with it.

She hadn’t spotted me and so I moved away from the window to protect her dignity.

Or was it my shame.

I had made assumptions about her and I was starting to feel embarrassed for myself.

As I walked away, I started wondering about what my rubbish bags would lead her to assume about me.

What am I

I stood on the pedal and looked into my bins: empty makeup palettes, wine bottle, contact lens blisters, receipts, gourmet food packaging, clothes labels…

My empties tell the story of privilege, family life, comfort, full bellies and clinking glasses.

As readers of this blog, you probably gather little snippets of my “metaphorical” rubbish and form opinions about what I might be like.

I wondered if I present in person the same as I do online, or whether I’m different in the flesh to how people imagine me to look or be.

I wondered if people are disappointed, pleasantly surprised, or completely indifferent in terms of the facts about my lifestyle as presented in black and white.

I wondered what this woman would think of me if I went down to see her.

Would she assume that I was just coming to shoo her away the same way I assumed she was up to no good.

As it happens, one of my reasons excuses for not going downstairs was that I was physically unable to leave the flat at that moment.

Admittedly, if I could have gone down, I probably wouldn’t have done.

This is most likely due to the general societal fear of becoming that Good Samaritan found bleeding to death on the street.

This bothers me.

My assumptions and fears about this woman raking through my bin bother me.

I wondered whether someone would come to my assistance irrespective of unwelcome societal assumptions about what being homeless, drug addled, or missing something (whether physically or in mind) means.

I wonder about this lady still.

What do your empties say about you? Would you have gone down?



23 thoughts on “Tales of the City: my empties”

  1. Very nice post! We do make presumptions constantly and we all put our preservation mode on first (not unjustifiably I would add). I would not have gone down. The woman seemed to have enough problems to have to explain herself to me too. If she was well dressed as you said then most likely she lost something. Either way I am not sure that confrontation would have helped šŸ™‚


  2. I am that lady you speak of! Neither drug addict, hungry, nor homeless, I am looking for a nice set of (4) brand new water filters I threw away in the trash by mistake an hour ago! Too short to reach up and over the trash container, I bring my shopping cart with a folding stepladder. I am frantic to recover my shopping bag thrown in the far corner which I am unable to reach! I am not interested in your empties. I am frantic to recover what I purchased earlier today for $14.99! Sometimes we assume people are interested in US when they are not, lol.


  3. I would not have gone down to talk to her, but I would have felt alarmed. This post is interesting. We do reveal so much about ourselves by what we throw away. I thought too about the digital age and how so many details of our lives are being recorded and analyzed. Who knows how all that data will be used in the future?


  4. Gosh, this makes me wanted to check my bins now, no kidding!

    Thank you for putting such a nice tales – presumption and expectations towards other people can be a heart-killer, or maybe a self-reflect to ourselves.

    p/s: same contact lenses that I had for years now (-.-)


    1. Hopefully I haven’t made you too paranoid šŸ˜‰

      Thanks for your lovely words of encouragement. Much appreciated! Best wishes, and commiserations about sharing the blight of contact lens wearing with me!


  5. In Los Angeles it is not unusual for people to pick through your trash to find bottles and cans that can be recycled. It is dirty work but you can take them to be recycled and be given cold hard cash for your efforts.

    That being said I have wondered what sort of story my trash would tell if you went through it. Last week we had a birthday party for my daughter so you would have heard a different tale than on other days.

    Come after I move in or move out and the story changes again.


    1. Interesting. It’s not such a common sight around here. Yes, I sometimes wonder if any of the neighbours have deep dark secrets that could be revealed through their rubbish. It’s funny enough watching the lady next door creep out when she thinks no one is watching to recycle her wine bottle collection šŸ˜‰


  6. Before identity theft was ever a problem, I stashed paper with account numbers, etc. in boxes. Every time I moved, I had to drag those boxes with me. When I finally purchased a shredder, I had over twenty years worth of credit card bills and other personal papers to shred. No, I am not a hoarder. I think I am a bit of a cynic. I am definitely a shredder. I no longer have to stash personal papers in boxes.

    What does my trash bin say about me? I use too many paper towels. I have dogs. My husband drinks bourbon, orange juice, soy and coconut milk. We eat organic foods. You can tell from the ones that are already packaged upon purchase. Too many things that I buy are packaged in plastic. I recycle. That means I have two trash bins.

    I don’t think I would have reacted any differently than you did to the woman in the bins. I just don’t think I could have written about it so eloquently. Unfortunately, we do have to worry about whether it is safe to be a good Samaritan. These are the times we live in. Very nice post. šŸ™‚


    1. Thanks Robin šŸ˜‰ its interesting to ponder about this I think. For example, as I just said to Jack above, another neighbour enjoys her wine but she is so embarrassed about what people might think about her taking out a box of empty bottles to the bottle bin that she creeps out when she thinks no-one is watching. This is a different angle altogether – being worried about being judged. I have no idea if she has a problem or just likes a social drink but her behaviour intrigues me. I suspect my rubbish bags would be pretty boring/gross right now – diaper central!! It’s fun being eternally nosy šŸ˜‰ thanks for reading and the great feedback!


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