Letting go and Letting IN the World–an interview with Professor Dumpster.
Jeff Wilson piqued my interest when I came upon an article in The Atlantic, last year.
Who moves from a 3,000-square foot home to a 500-square foot apartment, and then down to a 36-square foot dumpster?
What’s surprising? He’s an environmental science professor at Huston-Tillotson University (HTU) AND a dean!
I had to meet him when I flew into Austin for a board meeting earlier this month.
What’s his story?
He’s the test variable in his own research, exploring the boundaries of conventional living options.
Can one live in a space of 36-square feet?
The first half of the year, he endured sparse amenities, sponge baths at a sink in one of the university’s bathrooms, and sub-freezing nights. The second half of the year, he added some creature comforts with air conditioning and a futon bed.
As a professor, he inspires by example. His students remain curious about sustainability in their own lives. He welcomes teachers to spend a night through his Dumpster Project “Home” School residency program. (Scroll to “Education Programs” in the PDF that opens.) His DumpterProject.org even offers educational opportunities for 5th and 7th grade science—helping young people understand sustainability of water, food, and energy.
What unfolded was quite unexpected.
We met for breakfast on a rainy morning at a small neighborhood restaurant two miles east of the Capitol.
Donning a professorial corduroy sport coat over a plaid shirt with bowtie, and heavy black-framed glasses topped with a Stetson will catch anyone’s attention! That adventurous mix caught mine.
He is letting go.
He picked up the tab for breakfast. I objected since I had invited him to meet with me. He explained that’s what the money is for—to let it go. Although, he’s not giving away money, he is testing many of the conventions of day-to-day living we often take for granted.
He just sold his car the evening before we met, choosing to get around town on an electric bicycle or on foot.
After breakfast, we walked to the University to see the Dumpster. I looked inside and took a few pictures. (It had just been painted.) We went to his office to continue our discussion.
What is he trying to prove?
He’s asked this question, frequently. Anytime, anyone endeavors to do something that defies convention, amateur psychologists gather to decode the pioneer’s psyche by delving into the past.
Was it something from his childhood?
I was curious about his childhood. He recalls trying to arrange Legos in ways that reflect principles of feng shui. He remembers most horizontal surfaces filled with stuff. In STUFFology 101, there’s a reference to tilting horizontal surfaces to prevent the accumulation of POOP (Piles of Overwhelming Paperwork).
A past relationship?
He was married once, but his ex-wife’s and his relationship went their separate ways, amicably.
After a stint with Ernst & Young, he quit, because in the real world, it seems no matter how stellar one’s results, there’s always a leader wants things done a certain way.
Sometimes, people do things for reasons we’re unable to understand.
He’s not trying to change our behavior.
“I don’t want anyone to do anything.” He doesn’t expect the world’s population to live in dumpsters. Although, a dumpster would be desirable shelter for billions who live in poverty.
He’s not even trying to prove a point.
“I’m just doing my own thing.” He’s stretching the boundaries of how we choose to live while exploring sustainable options. He’s conducting “radical personal experiments that have the potential to make a ripple in society.” He’s “inspired by people who sell their home, buy an RV, and travel. It’s a freeing feeling.”
Why a Dumpster?
“The dumpster is a metaphor for the dichotomy between our sacred space (where we live) and the waste we throw away. The crap we don’t want disappears when we toss it in a dumpster.” Bringing together such disparate elements “serves as a symbol and a surprise.”
His goal is to explore “how to build a beautiful home for the price of a car payment in the middle of a city.”
His research is inspiring. His experiments are lessons in letting go while letting in the world of adventure through sustainable living. He inspires a growing community of us with greater awareness of the cumulative global impact of our feature-rich lifestyles.
By letting go of things we often think are necessary, he has created a life of freedom, flexibility, and fun. For example, he and his girlfriend/writer, Clara Bensen, completed several trips to different countries around the world without any baggage. Read more on his Wikipedia page.
I hope he doesn’t let go of the gift of STUFFology 101: Get Your Mind out of the Clutter, I was happy to sign for him.
For an overview of Professor Dumpster’s work, click to view this six-minute video.