Cardboard Anthropologist

I’m going nuts in the garden this year. My yard is so big and so messy, there’s no end of projects. On my days off, especially, I’m spending hours at it. (Not that that’s all I’m doing–yesterday I drafted three-plus new chapters on my current novel.)

One of my projects is sheet mulching a couple of beds in preparation for new plantings next year. To sheet mulch an area, you cover it with layers of cardboard, weeds, compost, manure, leaves, straw, and basically whatever you’ve got handy. I had enough cardboard for the first bed in my own basement and garage, but then I was out.

So on recycle day yesterday I went around the block looking for more. Our recycling gets picked up every other week, so it’s not like it has a lot of time to build up. I thought I’d have to walk all around the neighborhood, and also check the dumpsters of the public housing. Nope. I found enough cardboard just going around my own block to cover every lawn in my yard, if I wanted to. It took five trips with the kids’ old red wagon, and two trips carrying stuff by hand, just to get it all home. One woman who saw me even called down from her window, “Looking for cardboard?” When I said yes, she ran down to bring me more, bubbling over with gratitude.

So what is all this stuff? The biggest and best pieces come from home furnishings: a huge box from Art.com, packaging from a set of patio furniture, something called a French-style desk. At one house, where they were throwing out a whirlpool bath, there was a lot of packaging from mobility devices like a disabled person might use. One place just had stacks and stacks of flattened cardboard of all sorts, held together with cellophane tape. Several people had food boxes, like those big ones they use to transport produce. Of course there were lots of Amazon.com boxes too, but most of those were small, bookish things I couldn’t use.

My theory is that the way people move around these days, especially in my neighborhood, has been a boon to the cardboard industry. You need a bunch of boxes to move, and then for years afterward you’re collecting furniture and other large items to fill the place up. Since the average house, I’ve read, sells every seven years, it’s likely that by the time you have your house furnished, you’re ready to move again.

And yeah, there was a ton of furniture out there too, even though it wasn’t large item day: a recliner, a bed, a bookshelf, that whirlpool bath–enough stuff to half-furnish a small apartment. I couldn’t use any of it, except for a nice big flowerpot which I snagged.

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