Dumpster thriving
September 17, 2014 12:32 AM   Subscribe

A heavily-illiustrated article on Jeff Wilson ("Professor Dumpster") and the evolution of his thirty-six square feet of open-air accommodation: Living Simply in a Dumpster
(previously)
posted by Joe in Australia (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's heartening to know people are on this ever increasing problem and doing something about it.

Also I don't really understand the third phase, "pop up second story" or the "folding balcony." Anyone have any guesses how that works with normal materials given the size and structural constraints of the house?
posted by digitalprimate at 12:57 AM on September 17, 2014


This dumpster would make a pretty good guesthouse for a converted shipping container.
posted by univac at 1:10 AM on September 17, 2014 [10 favorites]


Given the imbalance in trade, wouldn't shipping containers make more sense? Are there really that many surplus dumspters?
posted by pompomtom at 1:13 AM on September 17, 2014


He might have started with a dumpster, but judging from the plans, he's aiming for a rather normal small house.
posted by Tanjit at 1:16 AM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't see small houses making that much sense, either. Still a lot of wasted energy and area. But when you've got a few thousand people living in large buildings with rooms that size, all of a sudden this will be less romantical and more tensions will arise...
posted by pseudocode at 1:44 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't he save on air-conditioning by digging a hole in the ground and lowering the dumpster into it?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:02 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Sounds like work.
posted by pompomtom at 2:28 AM on September 17, 2014


Dumpsters are not cheap - ~$2500-3000 for a simple "bathtub" model to considerably more for enclosed and specialized ones. There's no shortage of demand, and a healthy resale market. There are cheaper options that would allow you to take advantage of centuries of design strategies for dealing with high heat without resorting to air conditioning.

This is a stunt.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:47 AM on September 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Of course this is a stunt: single, youngish professional with enough money to enable him to move back into a proper house any time he wants and replace everything he sold is telling people without those options that this is a perfectly good way to live and they should be satisfied with it?
posted by MartinWisse at 3:54 AM on September 17, 2014 [20 favorites]


“What if everybody had to go to some sort of laundromat?” Wilson posited. “How would that shift how we have to, or get to, interact with others? I know I have met a much wider circle of people just from going to laundromats and wandering around outside of the dumpster..."
like woah, dude. laundromats. who knew.

This is a stunt.

and an ugly one. see, living in a dumpster isn't so bad. we could all use to live with a little less, right?
posted by ennui.bz at 3:55 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


Is there a name for the phenomenon of thinking that if only everyone lived, acted and thought the way I did, the world would be a better place?

I see this occur time and again, sometimes from the most unlikely of places, like Pokemon fan fiction boards and people who live in dumpsters.
posted by nerdler at 4:07 AM on September 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is a bit too small for most people. I wouldn't mind living in something slightly bigger than this or, even better, in a shipping container home. Whenever posts like this happen I always see comments about how this is a danger that will lead us all to being forced to live in tiny spaces. I don't think that's the case. I think that the rise of these articles and stuff shows that there's a demand for small apartments and places. I rent a room and I have all the space I need to live and to work however I'd love if a shower and toilet/sink were in my room. I've been to tiny hotel rooms which I wished were my home because everything was efficient and within reach. I'd gladly move into a container home if the location and insulation and price is right. I don't want most of my money going towards rent when most of the space that the high rent pays for won't be used.
posted by I-baLL at 4:08 AM on September 17, 2014


I agree that it's a bit of a stunt, but mostly because he's confined (!) himself to a Dumpster's dimensions: 6' by 6'. Almost all tiny homes would be larger than that. I like the way that he shows you the home's evolution, because it puts a meaningful constraint on the home's design that wouldn't be possible if he had an entirely free hand. So yes, it's a bit of a stunt, but it's an educational one - he's developing his design and demonstrating its practicality, as well as whatever shortcomings it has. I couldn't live in a 6' by 6' space myself, but if it were 8' by 8' ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:42 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but close quarter, small footprint living is already a problem with many (manufactured and bespoke) solutions. This is "sexy" because of the dumpster aspect, but that's the real stunty and impractical part of it.

I do admit to liking looking at people's plan for their close quarters.
posted by OmieWise at 5:09 AM on September 17, 2014


This would be pretty cool in a sort of 1960s science fiction utopia setting - think of it, a future earth dotted with arcologies, interesting farming initiatives and artists, hermits and vacationers in their little dumpster houses. It is concerning when a young rich white guy with a community platform (and with tenure, I assume based on his position) starts his sustainability moralizing with "we can all live with a little less". Many, many people do live with a little less, both here and globally. Actually, the whole "let's live in a dumpster" thing reminded me on first reading of nothing so much as life in a refugee camp - metal shelter that gets really hot and doesn't have windows and is super-tiny. Lots of people live this kind of life, it's just that they're mostly the kind of displaced people that no one really pays attention to. And they don't end up in something that looks like it belongs in Dwell, either.

I know many people who use laundromats - and it sucks to have to hall laundry for your kids and yourself over there and then sit around for two hours. Those people, of course, are poor.

And I know from a friend's experience that living in a tiny, semi-legit free-standing structure in a neighborhood with crime can be scary and noisy at night.

I wish that people would tackle the conditions of possibility for this kind of thing before doing stunts. Conditions of possibility include clean and safe surroundings (so you can live in a small, freestanding space and feel safe instead of like you're being housed by FEMA; ready access to childcare and child-friendly spaces so that your kids have somewhere to go; the kind of job where you don't need a lot of clothes or other stuff; enough money that you know that if you do need clothes or something bulky, you can buy it so you don't need to save stuff for a rainy day...I wish people would focus their efforts on getting everyone to the place where they can access a low-impact way of life rather than just doing this sort of thing - it's like those food stamp challenges but frankly much worse, because it's just a little sustainability hobby for the rich. "See, I can live with four shirts, so why are you whining about how all you can afford is a few Walmart tee shirts? I don't have any My Little Ponies or a chef's knife or my grandmother's armoire or sneakers like all the kids wear, and all my photos are in the cloud and I'm perfectly happy - you don't need money to be happy, right?"

I just keep seeing this being scaled up as some kind of horrible trailer park but with fewer amenities - everything incredibly noisy and crowded with no privacy or safety. It seems like tiny houses would be fantastic enablers of emotional abuse, because if you're a kid you are always around your abuser and barely have a door to shut. And nowhere to go to get away from the television.

I surmise that one of the next initiatives for control of the poors by the elite will be herding folks into this sort of setting under the guise of greenness.

It would be interesting to look for leadership to people who already live this kind of life - like, what if one asked some people from refugee camps or trailer parks or the favela what they think would make small, close-packed housing more tolerable and sustainable? There are already leaders, organizers and inventors in those places.
posted by Frowner at 5:17 AM on September 17, 2014 [18 favorites]


Dude, you can live in a dumpster and all, but it doesn't mean you have to put your shoes on the friggin bed. Yick.
posted by nevercalm at 5:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but close quarter, small footprint living is already a problem with many (manufactured and bespoke) solutions. This is "sexy" because of the dumpster aspect, but that's the real stunty and impractical part of it.

Yeah. If he were living in a trailer--even a tiny one--this wouldn't be in Atlantic Cities or here on Metafilter. He'd just be doing what millions of people already do.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 5:38 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


This solution works for him. And that's it, so... FAIL. I saw the air conditioner bit, and shook my head. I don't even have an air conditioner, and I have a decent sized 1-bedroom flat. Do you know how much ConEd charges a month to run an air conditioner between May and September? What about people who can't swing a $300/month electric bill? How does that reduce the footprint again, if everyone needs an air conditioner?

That's just one reason this couldn't be replicated, in say, Medicine Hat. Or Dubai. Or Pyongyang. I'm surprised that, as a professor, he's not even seemed to consider what people who simply live in a different climate would have to do, much less people in different cultures, financial situations, or levels of industrial development would have to do to adapt such a mode of life. Plus, you need some space surrounding your house to grow food. Can you raise healthy kids in a 6x6? People need some semblance of a space of their own even in the shared space of a family home.
posted by droplet at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Good experimental housing shows paths towards better providing high quality housing options for all people -- families, people with disabilities, students, etc -- who may not be served well currently. This stunt does none of that.

I surmise that one of the next initiatives for control of the poors by the elite will be herding folks into this sort of setting under the guise of greenness.

The pressure from the small house and experimental dwelling people is always for changes or variances in the building codes (because as depicted here, his dumpster house fails code big time in phases one, two, and three). My cynical guess is that any regulatory relaxations will immediately be captured by slumlords so as to offer crappy and high-profit rental housing to the poor without having to deal with those pesky ADA and other requirements. I agree that greenness can be used for this regulatory capture as well, and the first manifestation will probably be a return of SRO-style barracks with a single shared toilet down the hall ("Water saving!" "Community building!" "LEED certified building with green parking!").

And I apologize to any members here who wear them, but the moment in the article when it became obvious that this guy is on the insufferable side was this:

he now owns four pairs of pants, four shirts, three pairs of shoes, three hats, and, in keeping with his hipsteresque aesthetic, “eight or nine” bow ties.

I remain open minded, but I have not yet met a bow tie wearer who was awesome. People joke about fedoras, but in my experience bow ties are both more common and more predictable.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on September 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yeah. If he were living in a trailer--even a tiny one--this wouldn't be in Atlantic Cities or here on Metafilter. He'd just be doing what millions of people already do.

From the comments:

Yeah, these things always sound like rich people class-washing mobile homes to be presented as their "discovery", like a Goop post about making a bed. Plus, the "happiness/satisfaction" angle comes off as implying how the less privileged must be content. It reminds me of the 70s, when a guy would do the housework for an afternoon, then tell his wife how easy her life was and why was she complaining.

Some Googling suggests the commenter, alice20c, may have coined "class-washing". It's the best label I've seen for the current plague of smug appropriation of things-working-class-people-have-always-done by the formerly (or soon-to-be formerly) middle class.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:19 AM on September 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


Don't miss the main point. It's a teaching tool, a way to get people talking and thinking. Starting with a dumpster (as opposed to building a pretty little box) helps to attract your attention (professor lives in dumpster).
posted by pracowity at 6:21 AM on September 17, 2014


I wish that people would tackle the conditions of possibility for this kind of thing before doing stunts.

That would diminish the number of stunts considerably. Anyway, if I lived in a dumpster I would listen to nothing but Dumptruck.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:24 AM on September 17, 2014


For someone who only has four shirts, he surely picked bad ones, looking at the animgif.

I'm just sad that you can't create a good portmanteau out of "dumpster" and "hipster".
posted by pseudocode at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Don't miss the main point. It's a teaching tool, a way to get people talking and thinking.

That's actually my main gripe here. It makes it seem like this is a unique circumstance, when it is anything but. If you want to teach and be a good teacher, you should acknowledge your antecedents and maybe talk about why talking about them isn't as sexy seeming as talking about a dumpster.

When you think about it, this is horribly offensive. A) the equation with very small space living with being in a trash can is shitty; B) the failure to acknowledge how and why people actually have to live in tiny spaces makes this an ahistorical stunt.
posted by OmieWise at 6:29 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is there a name for the phenomenon of thinking that if only everyone lived, acted and thought the way I did, the world would be a better place?

Human nature?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:53 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remain open minded, but I have not yet met a bow tie wearer who was awesome

I refute it thus. *kicks Paul F Tompkins*
posted by forgetful snow at 7:03 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is there a name for the phenomenon of thinking that if only everyone lived, acted and thought the way I did, the world would be a better place?

I don't know about the phenomenon, but for the practitioners one is reminded of Khazanov's characterization of other scholars of nomadic pastoralism as "anthropological butterfly collectors".
posted by mr. digits at 7:35 AM on September 17, 2014


and it sucks to have to hall laundry for your kids and yourself over there and then sit around for two hours.

That's actually a nice point about laundromats is that the work is done in parallel. 2 hours and laundry is done. It used to take my mom one whole day to wash a family worth of laundry in one washer and dryer.

The disadvantage though, is that you are at the whim of whatever was washed beforehand, and laundromat washers aren't known for being the best on your clothes.

And living out of a 6x6 area ? My whole family did that growing up - it was called "camping".
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2014


I'm just sad that you can't create a good portmanteau out of "dumpster" and "hipster

Dipster.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:39 AM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


That's actually a nice point about laundromats is that the work is done in parallel. 2 hours and laundry is done

Up to a point. You still have to first wash, then dry your clothes. You're also forgetting travelling time to and from the laundrette.

But the main problem is that you can't do anything else but be at the laundrette while the washing is done, while at home you can get other work or household chores done.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:42 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is dumb. Dumpsters don't scale. Apartments scale. Small apartments scale. The future is in Singapore.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:44 AM on September 17, 2014


MetaFilter: "sexy" because of the dumpster aspect
posted by ODiV at 7:48 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Living in a tiny space built out of cast-off materials, with few material possessions and no amenities is called most of the goddamn third world, plus all those first-worlders who live in the proverbial van down by the river. Most of the third world has been managing to figure out how to do it on their own very well for far less than $10,000 per unit, thankoutverymuch. Here in the US, I think it makes more sense to live in a van down by the river--I think an old Econoline would actually give you more floor space in the cargo area, plus two seats--one for you and one for your guest!
posted by drlith at 7:55 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I was younger, I actually got a kick out of going to the laundromat - I could carry a week's worth of clothes and towels using a big backpack and a bag, and I would just bike over. I'd spend 1.5 hours reading and idly people-watching and then head home. Neither my job nor my classes required fancy clothes, so as long as I folded everything and then unpacked it right away, I didn't even have to iron. It was pretty sweet. And that was because I wasn't short of cash, didn't have a family and had very few responsibilities!

Eve Kosofsky Sedwick - rest to her bones! - started off one of her pieces with a series of aphorisms, the first of which is "people are different from each other". Some of her work otherwise baffles me, but I find myself returning to this bit again and again, because it's a truism that is rarely thought through. People are different from each other - both because of intersectionality (ie, I'm not the same as a Latina immigrant small business owner) and because of stuff that is just impossible to reduce to standardized narrative. (Why am I miserable if I don't have paper books when I have friends of my own generation and background who are exhilarated to switch everything over to a Kindle? We could get psychoanalytic, but that's not helpful for policy.) People are different. Moralizing narratives about housing are really risky, because they suggest that this is not especially important and because they tend to privilege a technocratic elite and that elite's customs and beliefs.
posted by Frowner at 8:00 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, looking into what he has stowed beneath the floorboards, I am now imagining him having conversations late at night with Wilson.
"You still awake? Me too."
posted by drlith at 8:02 AM on September 17, 2014


I've seen pieces on this guy before, and it's interesting to me that they leave out certain details.

For one thing, Hutson-Tillotson is a historically black college, smack in the middle of prime development land in East Austin, located next to the first public housing project for African Americans in the US. I rode a bus past it last night, on my way home from a hipster bar that used to be a predominantly black juke joint, and had a nice conversation with two guys who had been high school classmates in the neighborhoods we were riding through. "This used to be black town honey,no offense," one of them told me, pointing out where his friends had lived back in the day, and the little hipster taco stand that used to be a Church's Chicken. You'll notice the dumpster has an address - 900 Chicon. Up until even last year, the corner of 12th and Chicon, two bus stops down, was THE major drug corner in that part of Austin, until last year a joint effort between the police and neighborhood residents seems to have cleaned the place up, though someone keeps breaking into the new bagel bakery down the street. A little further over east, there was a big controversy earlier this year about urban farms, which boiled down to hip urban farmers loving the cheap land and proximity to the city and their neighbors, many of whom were minority and longtime residents, being upset that they were living next to essentially commercial farms (a friend wrote an op-ed about that one here.)

So anyway, that's just a few dispatches from the community where this whole dumpster-as-house project is taking place (I'm not even going to start on the grant flats zoning that's turning into an issue in the city council elections). And I guess it doesn't need that that context, it can just be another little clickbait "look at what someone did!" artcle, except he BRINGS IT UP. He talks about walking around East Austin and really feeling like part of the neighborhood, laundromats et all. And as someone who also spends a lot of time meandering around east Austin, this project is nothing without hearing about what the neighbors think about it, and which elementary school is going to get the completed dumpster, is it one of the ones whose enrollment is dropping dramatically because of the rising price of housing and its effect on families and where they can live? When you live in a tiny space like this, when you are more dependent on resources outside your home to thrive, how can you NOT be drawn into these problems, and how do you define your place within them?

I also spend maybe a leeetle too much time thinking about this. Anyway, maybe he didn't want to get too heavy with fancy magazine man, but I hope to hell he's bringing it up with his students.
posted by theweasel at 8:11 AM on September 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


“What if everybody had to go to some sort of laundromat?” Wilson posited.

Is he, like, a magical professor who was never any kind of grad student?

We'd all do our laundry way less and wear a lot more clothes hurriedly pulled from the dirty clothes pile because we forgot that last night was going to be the only night for a week that we actually had the 4-hour stretch of time available to haul everything to the laundromat before it closed... is what I hear might happen. But we may never know.

posted by augustimagination at 1:37 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm just sad that you can't create a good portmanteau out of "dumpster" and "hipster".

Ill just stick with "dipshit".
posted by lkc at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was hoping he'd get into what he's keeping in his office and how he's handling meals.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:29 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Humpster.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:47 AM on September 18, 2014


When I was younger, I actually got a kick out of going to the laundromat - I could carry a week's worth of clothes and towels using a big backpack and a bag, and I would just bike over. I'd spend 1.5 hours reading and idly people-watching and then head home. Neither my job nor my classes required fancy clothes, so as long as I folded everything and then unpacked it right away, I didn't even have to iron. It was pretty sweet. And that was because I wasn't short of cash, didn't have a family and had very few responsibilities!

Absolutely. His ode to laundromats was particularly tone-deaf (though of course that may have been partly a function of how he was quoted). I didn't mind going to the laundromat in college, or using the central laundry area in the graduate school apartments for exactly the reasons you list. As a working adult, not so much. At home I have a washer/dryer, but I am stuck using laundromats when away for work and it sucks ass. You can't multitask, so you need a solid block of time (and with an allowance for more time in case the dryer malfunctions and doesn't put out any heat), plus change, plus detergent.

Not one person is there because they want to be there or because they want to "interact with others." They are there because they are too poor to have their own washer/dryer, or like me are temporarily without access for whatever reason. And the machines chew up your clothes, so not only are you paying way more per load than you would at home, you are also paying the cost of wear and tear. Maybe he's going to one of those hipster laundromats with local beer and good music, but the vast majority are just loud, hot rooms full of stressed out people.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:32 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just chuck me directly into a coffin and call it a day.
posted by liliillliil at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2014


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