Part 3. The Clean-up
Once we got permission to clean up, we simply went over and dove in.
No firm plan, no set schedule. We have about 18 hours of daylight in mid-June so helpers could carry on long before, or after, the regular work day as their schedules and inclination suited them. When people came by and offered to help, we exchanged names and wrote down emails. That kept us engaged and connected. If there was an issue, like we need a truck, whoever was on the list that would be the best one to handle it would do so. Ours is a small town, someone had a connection at the dump, someone else with the city, someone else with a tree service, tow company. These emails were also a way to document what we were doing. Which is a good thing to do.
Some things that come in handy on the first day
Gloves: heavy rubber ones like fishermen wear and leather gloves if you come across sharps.
Big bags: Contractor bags are super heavy garbage bags. The coffee roaster in town gives away burlap bags the coffee comes in. They’re about as big as contractor bags and free. They don’t hold liquids though so if it’s smelly goo, use contractor bags.
Rakes, shovels, garbage cans.
Eventually you’ll want a truck. If the neighbors have pick-up trucks, that’s great. otherwise you may want to wait until you’ve collected a big load and rent a 16 foot box truck with a lift.
The first decision I made was that I wasn’t going to take anything we found in the yard for myself. That way no one could reasonably accuse me of doing it for personal gain. Another decision was to keep as much stuff out of the landfill as possible.
A third decision was how to organize everything for disposal.
Should we rent dumpsters?
Short answer for me was, ‘No.’ Renting a couple big dumpsters would be the fastest easiest way but it’s by far the most expensive. There are different fees for different sizes. Ours would have been the biggest they had. You pay to have those things dropped off. You pay for the time you keep it on site. You pay for the stuff you throw in it by weight. You pay for swampers at the dump (I think the minimum was 3), at however much per hour, to go through and sort it. Using dumpsters can run into the thousands. Besides, if you’ve got a dumpster handy it’s tempting to just chuck in stuff someone could use that doesn’t need to sit in the land fill for the next few hundred years. I thought we could do it ourselves for under a thousand. So, how creative can disposal be?
The first thing we did was to sort stuff by category—in sections—out by the street with FREE signs. People love free stuff. Word got around. People would say something like, “My sister just called me. She saw the sign from the bus. Are you giving these books away?” A lot of the books smelled musty so they couldn’t have been donated to the Friends of the Library bookstore but if someone wanted to read them. Sure. Hundreds of pounds of stuff just went off without us doing anything more than saying, “Help yourself.”
Turns out Don Roman had an obsession with tourist pamphlets and post office boxes. He’d left cubic yards of them around the yard in plastic totes and boxes under the eaves. They were water damaged and unusable. He’d also left literally hundreds of large, distinctive, empty, gray and brown beer bottles. That stuff went right out to recycling.
Hazardous Materials – toxic
There was all manner of hazardous materials. Grease, oil, gas, acid, solvents, and so on. As mentioned in part 2, those went to household hazardous waste-recycling thanks to our friends with the Subaru (5 trips). You want to make sure they’re in leak-proof containers that won’t tip over before you put them in the car. Maybe leave a window open while you driving. Household Haz-Waste in our town usually has a limit of 100 pounds per household per week but since this was a special case they let us bring the whole enchilada in one day. There were also a dozen or so car batteries in the yard that several people driving by took home.
As a promotion to get people to recycle, the recycling plant had been passing out stamp cards for years. You could use a card for one free dump run if it had 20 stamps. A lot of us in the neighborhood had full cards so we combined them and dumped 8 pick-up loads for free.
One of the neighbors took a truck load to metal recycling. We paid for that but it was just a few dollars.
In addition to the toxic things already noted, we found a couple dozen rusty animal leg-hold traps piled in the side yard and some live ammunition in a tool chest. With the traps I broke my rule about not throwing away things that are still useable. I threw them all in the garbage. My neighbor who knows about firearms wasn’t able to identify the ammunition. Called the local gun shop to see if they’d take it. They did and identified it. I don’t remember what type it was. Something esoteric, though. This brings up a point. Your shy and retiring hoarder might be armed. Indeed, helping mine clear an access path through his basement the following year so he could replace a water heater, there was a back pack down there with a what looked like a WW2 vintage pistol and lots of ammunition. I expect it belonged to his dad. Another reason to be respectful.
Years ago the city passed an ordinance that you have to use a particular type of bear proof garbage can. Like I said above, that’s because Fish and Game or the cops don’t want to shoot garbage bears. (once bears get used to eating garbage they don’t stop, even if you relocate them they come back—a fed bear is a dead bear as they say). The cans are big and people usually don’t fill them up. So, on garbage day, people all over the neighborhood were packing their cans with garbage from Dave’s. We got rid of hundreds of pounds that way.
There’s a woman in town who advertises on Craigslist that she’ll pick up bicycles, which she repairs and sells. There were at least half a dozen bikes, some fixable, some good for parts, at Dave’s. I sent her an email. She took them all.
Trying to cut down the number of tires we had to get rid of, we put them on Craigslist, too. There were several useable sets that people took all four tires. Some people took a single. Walking by the tires shortly after we set them out, I said to my neighbor, “Hey look, four gone already.” He shook his head and cocked it to the middle of the yard where Don Roman was looking through stuff we’d already picked up. Roman had taken four of the tires back to the side of the house. It had been a long day. The time had come for Don and I to have what we used to call, a man-to-man talk. I didn’t swear or raise my voice but my hackles were up as I carried those four tires back to the street.
Don said, “Those are my tires.”
Me: “Get them out of there then.”
Don: “Those are Mercedes Benz tires.”
Me: “Well put them on your Mercedes Benz and get them out of here.”
Don: “Okay, I’ll move them.”
Me: “Now. And another thing, Don. Nothing we put on the street is going back in the yard. Dave’s at risk for losing his house, more than a little because of you. We’re trying to help him, and here you show up making a mess. The party’s over.” He moved the tires.
We had a similar conversation later in the week. After that, he came to the house late and left early moving fast to avoid the neighbors.
A freezer too gross for the dump
After pulling a few cubic yards of stuff away from the house we came to a large chest freezer, unplugged, loaded with food that had long-since turned into the foulest goo you can imagine. Well, maybe not imagine. At least there wasn’t a dead body in there. Smelled like it, though. We pegged Don Roman as the source. In addition, he’d left coolers and backpacks of long expired food around the yard. Going bad to worse, he tried to blame it on Old Dave. The expiration dates on the food were years past when the old fellow died so we had no patience with that nonsense. I thought about cleaning the freezer out myself for maybe three or four seconds and decided this was a haz-mat job.
True story: during this project two different people, on different days, told me I was doing the Lord’s work. Yup, an angel in deep cover, that’s me. Based on that, when I went looking for a cleaning service that did haz-mat, I called Rose at ‘Touched By Angels’ cleaning service. She’s the real angel. She took the job. I was happy to pay the bill and added a substantial tip. She and her crew rocked it. It didn’t even stink. A good thing too.
Dead freezers and refrigerators get shipped out of our town on a barge so maybe they’re more particular here than in some places. When one of the neighbors brought the freezer out to the dump in his truck, the lady at the weigh station asked him, “Is that from Dave’s house?” (Like I said, this is a small town.) When he said it was she told him they’d heard about it and they wouldn’t take it. He told her “It’s okay. We had it professionally cleaned. Check it out.” So she did. And she accepted it. Whew!
Old Dave was a fine mechanic with a lifetime’s collection of tools. I like woodworking tools. Don’t much about mechanic tools but knew there were some good ones and there were lots of them in junk cars in the yard, spilling out of the garage, in tool chests against the house. I’d asked Dave about them. He’d said he wanted his dad’s tools that were in the garage so they stayed. With the others, it would be disrespectful to the old man’s memory to toss any so, I called the high school shop teacher to see if he had any promising students who might want tools. Two young guys came over and they were so excited. They were going to a mechanic school down south after graduation and knew what all the tools were. They left with what I hope will provide them many years of service in their careers.
Later in the afternoon this loud gasper truck with no muffler screeches to a stop at about a 45 degree angle to the curb. Guy in a wife beater T-shirt hops out. He was a rough looking man with prison and a lot of fights written on him. “Hey, got any tools?” He took a bunch of gas cans, some batteries, sockets, some things I didn’t recognize. His cute girlfriend stayed on her cell phone in the cab the whole time. I asked the guy if he was looking for anything in particular. “What I really need,” he said, “is a floor jack.” “Right this way, man.” I showed him one that had been left jacked under one of the cars for a couple years. His eyes lit up. “Free? Really?” “Yeah, if you can get it out of there.” I thought it might be frozen up from sitting so long. He went at it like an Olympic judo contender. Didn’t even take him a minute. He picked up that heavy thing like it was nothing. “Hey baby!” he yells to the girl, “I just saved three hundred bucks!”
Within two days pretty much all the tools had found new homes.
And the remaining tires ?
To his credit, Dave and a friend loaded a few dozen into a truck and took them to the dump. Neighbors did the same with the rest.
to be continued: next up: Junk Cars