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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, June 22 2021 @ 03:42 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, June 22 2021 @ 03:42 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

Scavengers proud to mine discards for treasure

I often get inquisitive looks when I tell people I picked up the chandelier in my bedroom from the side of the road. Or that the old Zenith console radio in my living room was destined for a landfill, had I not been able to persuade a relative with a pickup truck to retrieve it from a stranger's curbside.

Oh, and that vintage cookie jar on top of the fridge? It didn't come from Grandma.A friend and I somehow spotted it in a pile of discarded items when we were combing the streets of my town during a recent clean-up weekend.

That's right, I'm a scavenger ... of sorts.

My thirst for seeing what treasures I can drag home twice a year during these townwide cleanups is well-known among friends. I usually start making the rounds early, as the piles begin to amass at the foot of driveways, well before the Monday collection.

I love it.

OK, I'll admit that part of me feels a little shameless when I pull my car to a slow crawl in front of someone's home for a closer look at the "goods." What if they're looking out the window? Do I dare get out and grab it?

Somehow the thrill of the hunt overrides those qualms. It ignites a fire in me that's just about as exciting as discovering two ornate antique chairs sunken into the earthen floor of an old chicken coop as it's being cleaned out after years of accumulating household items. Or realizing that an old baseball bat I found in a friend's attic, left behind by previous owners, might actually be worth a little money.

Some of you surely understand this uncanny passion for old junk, for tattered items that somehow speak to you.

For me, I think it all stems from a nagging insistence deep inside that useful items should not be wasted.

It's not so much that I'm concerned about saving space at the landfill, really. Is it that I feel these objects deserve a second chance at life?

I guess so.

Terry Herold of Peoria, Ill., knows the feeling.

Over the years she's reclaimed numerous items from the streets and garbage bins in her neighborhood: a corner cabinet, a few sets of shutters, an old enamel dishpan.

"The thing that I treasure most is knowing this stuff has been used by someone else," Herold explained. "I don't look at it as a piece of junk. It's something someone has used over the years and loved. That's what connects me to a piece ... that someone else has loved it.

"Now it's my turn."


Rather than intently scouting the streets, Herold has casually happened upon most of her trash-to-treasure finds. Many have come from neighbors in the throes of remodeling.

Herold, who regularly walks her neighborhood for exercise, tells a story about two pairs of shutters that hung on a house just down the street. "I've always loved shutters," she said, and she particularly admired the sailboat cutouts in these.

Once she was walking when she discovered they had been replaced with aluminum shutters. "When I saw that they were not on the house, I freaked ... like they're my shutters," she said.

She saw the owner and couldn't resist asking where they were. She offered to buy the old shutters, but the owner insisted she just take them for free. After being stripped of paint and refinished, the shutters are now framing the windows inside Herold's living room.

Another set of gray, weathered shutters - this time rescued from a garage next door - serve as a backdrop for her reading chair in the corner of a spare bedroom.

Maybe her most significant find was a built-in corner cabinet. Herold noticed it when her neighbors set it out on the curb after it was ripped out a wall in their kitchen, but she was a little leery about asking for it at first. When she did, they said it was hers for the taking.

She restored the wood finish and added wallpaper inside the cabinet, to accent the pieces she displays on the shelves.

Herold also treasures her small finds, such as the round enamel dishpan, white with a black rim, that she noticed in a trash pile during one of her walks.

"Someone had put some wonderful rose decals on it," she said, but it was clear the pan's most recent use was for changing the oil of a car.

"I took the pan out of the garbage and stuck it in a bush, because I didn't want anyone to see it," she said with a giggle. "I picked it up on my way back home. Now it's hanging on a wall in my downstairs bath."


Rose Marie Bantz of Peoria is always hunting for something new for her garden. She doesn't take things from the side of the road - "I'm just kind of gutless, I guess" - but she combs garage sales and thrift stores for interesting objects to display.

"It's kind of like a treasure hunt. You never know when some interesting thing will pop up," she said. "I might only find something once a month or not all summer."

Bantz recently constructed a "flower tower" made with an old floor lamp. She removed the light, put the base in a large pot and filled it with potting soil, then dropped a smaller pot down the lamp's pole, tilted it and filled it with soil, and so on until pots were stacked seven high. She had seen something like this in someone else's yard. They had purchased it, but she thought she could make one herself.

"I myself am not creative," she said, "but I can see something and I can copy it."

Bantz also incorporates unusual sculpture into her garden using found items. A spiraling metal gear, which her son retrieved from a recycle area at a DuPont Oil factory in Virginia, has a place there. And her sister made her some unusual wall art by mounting old stove burners on a painted board. It hangs by her back door.

"I have a really whimsy garden. I change things a lot. I see something and put it in there, and I might throw it away next year or give it away to the Salvation Army," Bantz said. "If I have a bare spot here or a bare spot there, I'll stick something in."

Or, she might just move it around. Bantz said she loves the herb garden on wheels she created in an old blue child's wagon - the one thing she did take from her neighbors' garbage. "If it gets too much sun you can move it to the shade."

Bantz says her treasures add interest and creative life to her garden. They're great conversation starters. Plus, she said, hunting for them is an enjoyable hobby.

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