Need a Paperclip or Pen? Check the Closest Parking Lot
by Rebecca Rockefeller
The other day, we needed a paper clip for a packet of school forms. We searched through the jam-packed kitchen drawer that serves as our all-purpose storage area for anything we can cram in there, to no avail. We found a lot of things – the dogs’ vaccination tags, AAA batteries, a compass, a light stick, a headless toy deer, to-go menus for restaurants that we never eat at – but not a single paper clip.
“Hey!” cheered my daughter, “We just need to go to the parking lot and look for one!”
And sure enough, when we stopped by the large grocery parking lot later that day, we found a metal paper clip. Not just any paper clip; this one was more than fully functional, it even had some decorative etching – A fancy paper clip.
Paperclips are one of the many things we see every time we’re walking across our local parking lots – We’ve had similar luck with elastic hair bands and barrettes (we run those through the washing machine in a net bag before wearing them!), pens, pencils, and other helpful bits and bobs that are still perfectly functional once they’ve been washed off. Truly, you cannot tell the difference between a paperclip or pen from the store and one from a parking lot or sidewalk. I know, this may remind you of a particular Portlandia episode, but there really is good stuff out there, no digging through a dumpster required.
This paperclip search and rescue made me realize that, in my kids’ minds, the first stop for any necessary or desired item is not a store. Since setting about to seriously reduce our family’s plastic footprint, we’ve made a lot of changes. We’re lucky to live where we can grow a lot of our produce and get fresh eggs from our backyard hens, and we get almost everything else through barter potlucks, Freecycle, and the generosity of friends (hello, local hand-me-down kids’ clothing network). We forage in local woods and marshes for mushrooms and nettles and other wild greens. The girls’ favorite toys at the moment are the ones rescued from the Rotary Auction dumpster (see the short film here). And now we get our office supplies from local parking lots.
It’s a bad news/good news sort of thing:
(BAD) We’ve reached this point where there is so much durable waste in our environment, not just corralled in landfills or recycling centers, that (GOOD) you can find almost everything you need, if you only look. Our earth now supplies not just food and shelter, but modern office supplies and more.
My kids will be the first to tell you that shopping this way is a lot more fun than any trip to the store – It’s a free treasure hunt, complete with the rush of adrenaline that comes with the thrill of discovery. Onward, parking lot foragers and dumpster divers!