Martha’s in the Trash Again

I grew up in a small town to the North of Boston, Massachusetts. When I was very young, it was the epitome of a quiet New England town with hundreds of years of history. My family lived next door to Martha and Dick T., a delightful couple who were somewhat older than my parent. Martha and Dick embodied all of the ideals that had come in to play in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They were frugal, even austere, Puritans and many books could be written about all of the different ways that Martha found to make money and to save money.

Martha never held a job, but she was always working. Martha and Dick lived in a house built in 1740 with a large yard and lovely gardens. Her semi-annual yard sales were legendary. She sold everything from antiques that seemed like they had been in her basement forever to homemade preserves and other handmade items. Eventually she outgrew her yard sales and opened a craft shop in her antique barn.

She grew plants in her basement under fluorescent lights and sold them at plant sales throughout the spring. In the summer she sold potted houseplants. In the fall she sold bulbs that people could save until the spring gardening season began again.

And Martha loved a rebate. She would advertize her rebate success every time she chatted with my mother or father across the rock wall between our properties. In the early 1970’s, as far as I can tell, rebating was still relatively new. Martha embraced it and took pride in it while my parents just thought she was crazy to be going to so much effort to save fifty cents here or a dollar there.

Martha took her rebating to extremes. At first, she asked all of her neighbors to clip certain proofs of purchase for her. Back then, the one rebate per household concept had not taken hold and Martha would routinely find a way to enjoy a rebate five, ten or even twenty times – without every needing to produce a sales receipt. I do not know how she managed that, but she did!

After a few months of Martha’s rebating, she stopped asking neighbors to give her receipts. Instead she took matters into her own hands. I vividly recall one summer morning. I know it was a Monday because Monday was the day our town collected our trash. Trash is relevant to this story because Martha was in our trash that day.

That Monday and every Monday after that for about a year, Martha would rummage through the trash in front of every house on our street. When she found a proof of purchase that she could use, she would toss the discarded container into a trash bag of her own. By the time she had finished with our street, she looked a bit like a homeless Mrs. Claus!

My mother would go on and on for what seemed like hours every time she saw Martha in our trash. She felt that it was a gross invasion of our privacy, and really disgusting, too! Even at a young age, I was always practical so I suggested that perhaps Mom should tell Martha that she did not want Martha going through our trash. Of course, Mom felt that would be impossible because then she would look like she had something to hide or that she was spying on Martha. (After having this discussion a couple of times, I found a way to make myself invisible on Mondays when I was not in school, since I really did not see the point of any further debate)

In any event, Martha continued to pursue her rebates for about a year and continued to rummage through everyone’s trash for about the same amount of time. I suppose she gave it up when sales receipts were needed to obtain a rebate. Perhaps she just moved on to her next idea (which may have been boarding pets, if memory serves), but eventually she did stop. About three years later, Mom even stopped complaining about Martha’s gross invasions of our privacy…

What would you do to save money or to earn extra cash? Do you think it is OK to rummage through a neighbor’s garbage if you can make some money out of it? After all, your neighbors don’t want it. Then again, would you be concerned about what your neighbors might say? Would it disgust you to do so? Even if you would not follow Martha’s example and rummage through all of the trash on your street, what is the most questionable thing you have ever done to save some money?

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7 Responses to Martha’s in the Trash Again

  1. Myrna Garren says:

    I was homeless about 10 years ago. After I moved into subsidized housing I acquired almost all of my furniture from junk pile and curbs. I looked off an on about 10 years since then and pretty well got all of my household items. In 2006 I retired and moved to where I live now. They have junk day 2 times a year so I don’t do it any more. I did get a sofa from an apartment that empty, but the junk pile is non-existant here. I go to yard sales now.

  2. ashleyd says:

    i work for a commercial real estate company. every time a tenant moves out of a space i’m the first one there to dig through the left overs… i use what i can, sell the rest!

  3. ~Dawn says:

    Now a days I would see it as an invasion of privacy, but that is because times have changed AND we don’t know our neighbors as well as we used to. Plus I don’t have anything to hide.

    I don’t recall doing anything questionable to save money, maybe taking home some white-out or tape from the office so I didn’t have to buy it at the store. But that is all I recall at this time.

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  5. Jan says:

    This is questionable because it could have compromised my safety and perhaps that of others – when I was compulsively saving aluminum cans I would often jump out of the car at a stop light and grab any and all smashed roadside cans before the light turned green again. I only did this if I were the passenger. I had to give it up because my sweetheart threatened to drive off and leave me if I kept doing it.

  6. Linda says:

    I don’t know for sure, but I have heard that once the trash bin is on the curb, it is public domain. That is how those paparazzi guys get info on the stars without going to jail.

    If anyone knows for sure, it would be cool to find out. I shred everything with my name on it just to be on the safe side.

  7. Ann says:

    Where I used to live, they had spring cleanup every year and, by the time the garbage people came to pick things up, at least half had already been acquired by someone converting trash to treasure! I also had a old friend that used to go to yard sales, pick things up cheap, clean them up and sell them on E-Bay at a tidy profit.

    In this economy, it’s not as easy to do those things, but I have a feeling that my friend at least partially paid her kids’ (she was a divorced single mother) college education through her “recycling” program!

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