One thing that’s always bugged me about my LinkedIn profile is the glaring empty space under the Volunteer section. I’ve always been impressed with others when I see their volunteering experience. “Wow,” I’d think to myself. “That’s a lot of time they must have dedicated to that. If I had more time, maybe I’d do something like that,” I’d lie to myself.
The truth is, I’ve always had the time but I never had the drive. I would get so set in my routines that the idea of changing them seemed impossible. But when things started opening up again, and with my band-aid peeled off my arm, I was finally ready to try new things.
When I first heard about Trash Club on campus, I thought two things: “What an incredible name for a club” and “That sounds awesome. Where can I sign up?”
Well, it turns out I heard about them right at the end of the semester just as they took a brief hiatus, so I couldn’t scratch my instant gratification itch I so crave. Or so I thought.
With a little bit of wishful thinking, I went online and bought 2 of those grabber claws because my impatient brain wanted to get started right away, and of course I would be able to convince someone to go with me. And then, armed with a pair of gloves and a kitchen garbage bag, I decided to do some primary research on what “Trashing” is all about. (I have no idea if “Trashing” is a term or not, but I kinda like it, so I’m using it. It’s fetch.)
Woah. There is a lot of trash out there if you’re looking for it. Even if you’re not.
My first time was out near a hot spring by Lowman. I saw a lot of trash on the way in, but I naively thought it’d be smart of me to wait to pick it up on the way out. That was the first lesson I learned about Trashing—when you see it, pick it up. Because you will likely miss it on your way back, and then you have to leave knowing that you left that soggy sandwich wrapper just laying there.
It was a decent enough haul for a first-timer. On the way out, I learned Lesson 2. If you’re out Trashing somewhere and you find some used toilet paper (come on people, we’re better than that), before you do the noble deed of picking it up, make sure you don’t have to sit in a hot car for two hours before you can throw it in a dumpster.
My second Trashing excursion was similar, but armed with my prior two lessons, I felt more prepared. I even convinced someone to go with me! But alas, I was still a newbie.
Lesson 3: Always bring spare trash bags. “One bag will be enough, we’re just going on a small hike.” Hah! If you go on a hike less travelled, you’re in for some garbage hauling.
That’s got to be it, right? No more lessons? Wrong. After following all of my other guidelines, I realized that my bag was getting pretty heavy, but I still had to walk a mile back to the starting point. On my way back, I had to be more selective on the garbage I picked up. Very lightweight things only! Lesson 4: Don’t pick up more than you can carry back, or don’t go too far from the drop-off point.
That’s when I learned Lesson 5. As we continued walking, some of the shards of metal and glass I picked up were protruding from the bag and starting to rip it. Worst. Case. Scenario. Luckily it never ripped all the way. But unluckily the sharp things in the bag would sometimes stab and scrape against my legs, causing me to bleed. Don’t pick up sharp objects unless you can safely store them.
Ok. After finishing my own research, I thought I was prepared enough to join the Trash Club during their next event.
I met with them outside of the Boise Centre to pick up garbage all around downtown. I brought my own trash grabbers, but I decided to leave them in the car because I didn’t want them thinking I was some professional or something.
I got paired with Paul Venable, who started the club. He said he came from a city that had a big trash problem and he really didn’t want that to happen to Boise, so he wanted to help make sure it doesn’t.
It turned out they already knew Lesson 5, so I could tell I was with some pros.
I learned one more thing that day, and that’s that everyone has a different reason for doing community service work.
For me, it selfishly started as a way to bolster my resume. But it turned into a kind of hobby that I can do when I’m already out doing things I enjoy. It makes me feel pretty good too, knowing I’m helping the environment and making the area around me look better.
For someone else at Trash Club, it wasn’t about Trashing specifically, it was the service work that they enjoy doing.
One couple came to the Trash Club event because they found it on a website that lists volunteering events, and they like to do that on the weekends.
One Trash Club member jokingly said that he likes how other people watch him pick up trash and then think that he must be a really good person. There might be something to that. A lot of people were thanking us while we were downtown.
Whatever the reasons are, it’s valuable. It feels valuable. And sometimes when it can feel thankless – as it sometimes might – remember that it’s valuable to the community. And remind yourself that if the community was watching every time you bent over to pick up a cigarette butt, you can bet they’d be thinking, “they must be a really good person,” and they’d be right.
You can learn more about the Trash Club – or any other club that sounds interesting to you, like Trash Club did to me – at the Involvement Fair. It’s a buffet of options to get involved, meet people and try new things.
P.S. A month ago, I went to a family reunion in the redwoods. It was awesome. I brought my Trashing gear just in case the redwoods needed some cleaning up (someone must be on top of it, cause they didn’t). I did pick up some trash around our campground though, here and there.
Well, the other day I got a text from my sister with a photo attached. It read, “Sebastian wanted to pick up garbage in our neighborhood, just like Uncle Mike!”
And that’s when I learned Lesson 6. My nephew is adorable, and you never know how much your actions can influence others.