Stories in the Trash 🚮

Why I find digging through old stuff on Goodwill to be one of my best tools for researching story ideas. Even online.


Often, I find myself digging in very strange places to find different ideas for writing. One of those places, before the pandemic, was Goodwill.

Often, Goodwill has a tendency of surfacing things that might have been useless to the original owner but somehow carry value as historic artifacts.

Think of it kind of like that ancient restaurant they recently discovered around Pompeii, except with a far more recent spin.

Since I can’t actually go to a physical Goodwill location right now because I’m not really going anywhere, I’ve taken to looking much more closely at ShopGoodwill, an eBay-style auction site that has a similar charitable focus to the local Goodwill locations. Often, I find incredibly bizarre objects in this research, or perhaps bizarre combinations of objects, along the lines of this recent discovery of an 84-copy batch of an NBA game from 12 years ago:

Most of the time, I get sucked in by the Apple stuff, but occasionally it has led me to discoveries such as one I made last week involving a full-on switchboard system that must date back at least 70 years:

(It falls into a common category for me: Cat would kill me if I actually bought it.)

I think what rules about Goodwill is that it highlights the dichotomy between trash and treasure—often the presumption is that it must mean one or the other, but sometimes the in-between can offer a little bit of both.

One potential dream story idea of mine is to find an old vinyl record of some unknown performer, research where he came from, why he made the record, and what happened in the years since. There are famous examples of this, and a whole record label dedicated to ideas like this.

I think, though, that the secret to making stuff like this work is to start looking. Often, being inventive about digging holes is the starting point to finding a great story.

And for me, mostly stuck in my home, that means scrolling endlessly through ShopGoodwill.

Time limit given ⏲: 15 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 3 minutes, 14 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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