I’m not a neat freak, as my friends will attest. However, I feel compelled to pick up trash and junk I see in public areas. At my university, I’ll often get strange looks as a walk to the nearest trash can carrying various bits of trash. I used to get even stranger looks when I would be seen running through the park, carrying bottles, cans and the occasional blender (really). I suspect that people either thought I was crazy (“that guy is nuts…I think it is that trash-madness that we studied in my psychology class”) or homeless (“that poor man, running around gathering bottles so he can buy pants and a shirt”).
One area I end up cleaning up fairly often is the pool in my home owners’ association. Although I do pay dues to take care of it, I also feel an extra bit of ownership because I spent days last summer pressure washing the deck and patching cracks in the concrete. In the past, I’ve cleaned up the usual stuff-bottles, cans, cigarette butts and such. Today, however, I had a new experience. When I went to the pool, I saw a soaked diaper lying on the deck. Fortunately, it had not been “used”, so cleaning it up was not as bad as it could have been. Someone had also thrown the life savers in the pool, so I fished those out-along with some shredded rope.
As I was cleaning up the pool, I wondered a bit about why people make such messes and do not clean then up.
In areas open to the general public, I suspect that people often treat the areas poorly because they figure that they won’t be back to that area anytime soon. But, the pool is only accessible to the people in my association (or folks who come here and climb the fence) and people will presumably return to use it.
I’ve got three main hypotheses as to why people make a mess of areas like the pool. The first is that some people are just accustomed to having someone else clean up after them. While this is generally seen as a kid’s trait, adults also exhibit this-especially when it comes to shared areas. People who leave stuff no doubt often think that someone else will take care of it. Of course, I suppose that I contribute to this-I don’t want to be walking on butts and cans when going to the pool, so I clean up after these people. I could leave it there in the hopes that the people who make the messes would eventually clean up, but I don’t think I could endure it longer than they can.
My second hypothesis is that some people are just oblivious to messes and filth. I’ve seen people who live in what could be described as filth pits. Oddly enough, these have often been educated, intelligent people who lived that way out of choice rather than because they were too poor to afford repairs or too overworked to have time to clean. So, perhaps some folks just treat the world the way they treat their own homes. Along these lines, I have also noticed that a lot of trash consists of beer cans/bottles and cigarette butts. My guess is that someone who treats her own body like a trash can will treat the rest of the world the same way.
My third hypothesis is that some folks simply do not think about what they do-they just do it. So, when someone finishes a beer, he throws the can down. When the cigarette is done, she just flicks it to the deck. When the diaper is removed, he just tosses it to the ground. There is no thought about the consequences.
People can change their behavior. For example, after some folks started leaving beer bottles around the pool, the treasurer of the association had a little talk with them and the bottle count dropped significantly. Of course, anyone with even a tiny bit of sense should have realized that a concrete deck by a pool is not the place to have glass bottles.
While leaving trash and junk around a pool is a small thing, it does reflect a damaging attitude towards the world in general. It shows a lack of concern for others and that is a fundamental cause of problems in the world.