“Excuse me, but what are you doing?” As I said it, I knew I’d become the kind of awful adult who asks disapproving questions to which they already know the answer. I’d been watching a man and a woman going through my bins; the answer to the question was evidently “we’re going through your bins”. But the woman just briefly held my gaze and then carried on rummaging. Deprived of the answer I sought, I meekly retreated indoors and watched them through net curtains like a middle-class a***hole.
I was cross, but I wasn’t sure why. Everything they were sifting was surplus to my requirements. An old toothpaste tube. A knackered hairdryer, which I wouldn’t have used even if it was working, on account of having barely any hair. An old pair of trousers with a gaping hole in the crotch that had become impractical verging on obscene. I wanted nothing in that bin, and also knew that when council workers turned up on Monday morning to empty it I wouldn’t be standing out there in my pants demanding to know what the hell they’re doing with my stuff. But this felt different, and as I watched them move onto next door’s bins I mentally composed approximately half of a letter to the Daily Mail.
Later I found out that this couple have been doing it for years.
“They’re not very friendly,” a neighbour informed me – although if my day consisted of examining old trousers while angry people ask me what I’m doing, I probably wouldn’t be very friendly either. On their third or fourth visit, I realised my discomfort was a privacy thing; I wondered what the contents of my bin might reveal about me. A discarded matchpot shows that I briefly considered painting a wall in a hue called “Teal Tension”. Indian takeaway cartons reveal my habit of over-ordering. Blister packs of Loratadine give crucial medical information about my hayfever. Granted, this isn’t sufficient to steal my identity, although if they’d bothered looking in the adjacent recycling bin they’d have probably found enough information to empty my bank account and travel to Costa Rica on a forged passport. So eventually, I wised up and calmed down. This was OK. By not accosting them, I help them to scrape by, and simultaneously give myself a lesson in not being such a git. Win-win.