Fans of South Park will recall Terrance and Philip, the flatulent Canadian comedy duo who fancy themselves amateur treasure hunters in their spare time. That is, whenever they are bored and/or not blasting trouser-coughs in each other’s face, they stand around and “look for treasure,” which is little more than peeking under the nearest rock, or behind a bush, or under their own feet. I can identify with these rapscallions – not necessarily in their uproarious amusement with flatulence (OK, I do), but in their love of that unexpected find, or what they – and I – call ‘treasure’.
When I was a wee lad back in Canada I used to love to treasure hunt. I still have boxes of old coins, shiny metal bits, sparkly rocks that I was convinced were diamonds, and other bric-a-brac that caught my attention whilst out playing. I once found a $20 bill and thought myself the richest kid on the block. Since that time my ‘hunting’ has evolved somewhat – pouring through antique shops, used article stores, online marketplaces and such. I don’t have a particular focus – e.g. art or silverware or porcelain figurines – and I don’t necessarily buy whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes, though, something will catch my eye, something unique, with an unknown but intimate history, something that I just need to have.
What is even more satisfying is the completely unexpected find; stumbling across something that is just too awesome to pass up, when there was no intent or expectation involved – like finding a $20 bill on the street. This is a rare occurrence, of course, which only makes it all the more exciting when it happens. I haven’t come across much sidewalk flotsam during my time in Stockholm, outside of a few random coins and a single mitten that now hangs on the tree outside our apartment. I have, however, discovered one area that is often teeming with discarded awesomeness: our garbage room.
Last year I came up for a quick visit after Jill had moved in, and one fine morning found a perfectly functioning Singer sewing machine, cast metal with ornate gold inlay, on an oak table with a working treadle and still holding a needle and thread. Using the engraved serial number we were able to date it to 1905. Since that time we’ve collected an Ikea armchair, a 5′x3′ mirror, two hand-carved and ornately painted end tables, Christmas lights, ceramic pots, a hand-carved upholstered chair, 5 signed pieces of art, a key rack, computer speakers (with a bangin’ subwoofer), a digital camera, a computer bag, and several other bits and pieces that escape my memory. These required no digging through refuse or ‘dumpster diving’; they were left out, to be hauled away by either garbage collectors or some lucky person who could find a use for what otherwise would become landfill. Some are definitely valuable – like the sewing machine and the artwork – while others are simply functional, aesthetically appealing, or a useful substitute for what we’d have bought on our own. We’ve thusly termed the garbage room the Treasure Room, and are actually disappointed when we come back empty handed.
Of course, we live in Östermalm, a fairly well-heeled area of Stockholm; it follows, then, that the quality of discarded household items would be fairly high. Truth be told, our apartment is the size of a closet, and we don’t own one of the Audis or Beemers or Subarus parked out front. We’re working stiffs with bus passes, on a budget and rather frugal with our kronor. To periodically stumble upon a beautiful, interesting, or simply useful knickknack that some kind soul has left for our discovery is an exciting thing, one that sends us scampering back to our apartment with our new-found treasure and the inevitable question of “now where the hell are we going to put THIS?” And it makes me wonder about all of the other buildings on our street, or those behind us, or those within walking distance; if we’ve found all of this in our Treasure Room, what other finds lie hidden only a few steps away?
Early on I was incredibly impressed with Stockholm’s approach to ‘garbage’ – its separation of paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, coloured and clear glass, etc. Our garbage room alone has about 10 different bins for every conceivable form of refuse. But what I really like, of course, is that some of it never ends up being hauled away by burly folks in cover-alls and dumped in the countryside. Some of it ends up in someone else’s house, refurbished, re-used, and re-loved. I’m still waiting for the day that someone leaves the keys to one of the aforementioned Audis or Beemers; or even a simple pedal bike (hint hint). Until then, though, I keep hunting – and hoping – for treasure.