Trash Talk: Create a top-secret hiding space for your unsightly recyclables

What kind of trash can best represents your personality? Take this free, totally-not-affiliated-with-the-NSA quiz!


Is your trash can personality a stainless steel, solar-powered, internet-of-things-enabled bullet with a trash-motion-sensor that automatically yawns open at the detection of an incoming banana peel or poopy diaper? Or maybe, like me, you’re just an old wicker laundry hamper with a plastic bag in it?

Our actual kitchen trash can is a wicker laundry basket with a plastic bag in it. 

Even though my garbage cans* fall on the bucolic end of the style spectrum, I quietly envy friends who tuck their slim bins neatly under the sink, their shame masked behind cabinet doors.

The pinnacle of success in life: When your guests, guided by neither sight nor smell, have to ask you, “Where’s the trash can?”

We have a small kitchen, by contemporary (read = obese) American standards, and a disturbing percentage of our floor space (not even counting our mouthspace) is devoted to waste collection.**

In our last apartment, I built this freestanding two-bin recycling center from an alley-scavenged cabinet, which I improved with fresh paint, decorative yellow slats, and fun-shaped holes in the top.*** It’s found a cozy nook in an otherwise barren back corner of the Babushka House kitchen.

Unfortunately, this quiet corner is about as far as you can get from the sink, definitely beyond reasonable “tossing distance” from where many of our recyclables—especially the shattering ones—are processed. Then one day, this mysterious silver bin appeared next to the sink, ready to accept our dripping wet cans of beans and Old Style until they could be transported to the alley.

Seriously, where did this trash can come from?

Problem solved, sort of. Except one day I just couldn’t look at an open bin of half-cleaned**** sardine tins and pickle jars ***** next to the sink anymore. I’d come too far in life for such humiliation. But where could we hide this bin within easy sink-tossing****** distance?  Oh look here, this cabinet isn’t doing anything except storing this 400-pound (181.437 kg) stand mixer which could probably live on the back porch with the leaky roof and lead paint.

Our mysterious silver bin fits perfectly!  But we don’t want to have to OPEN and CLOSE the cabinet door EVERY SINGLE TIME we need to toss a jelly jar.  What if we just took the door off?

Ooof, even uglier than before. If reading this blog has taught you anything, it’s that the solution to at least 18% of household problems is to cut a hole in something.

PRO-TIP: If your can doesn’t fit in your cabinet, just walk out to the alley (or wherever people abandon perfectly good stuff in your society) and grab another one. Seriously, I’ve never actually bought a trash can new at the store; once you start looking for plastic bins you’ll notice them everywhere, like Birkenstocks™ or squirrels or mobile phone stores. Here’s a photo I snapped two nights ago in “poo alley,”******* a name we’ve affectionately given to the alley we cut through to get to the subway station. 

And the next day I found another free trash can, inside an even bigger trash can! This shiny blue fellow comes with a set of golf clubs and a mostly-full cannister of Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60™ Muscle Powder.  Wow, the neighborhood really is changing.

Back to the cabinet. Since I still don’t have a proper workshop in this house, I set up a wobbly and completely unsafe work “table” out of a stool and a milk crate, which can be easily harvested from the alley at a moment’s notice.

After clamping the door to the milk crate, use a round object like a bowl or lid to draw a circle. Make sure the outline is slightly bigger than the biggest recylable you plan to shove through it. Open your fridge and really be honest with yourself and your three-gallon jar of pickles.

Drill a pilot hole at the top of your circle (you get to decide what the “top” is) big enough to insert a jigsaw blade.


See if you can remember how to use your jigsaw without looking at the instructions again. Add some scrap wood and a couple of bricks as ballast to the end of the door, insert the jigsaw blade in the pilot hole, and cut your circle.

Obviously I can’t take a selfie while safely handling a jigsaw, though that would be pretty sweet.

Next, sand the inner hole smooth and give the whole door a fresh coat of white spray paint, paying extra attention to the inside of your new hole.


Place the freshly-punctured door back on its hinges with the trash can still inside. Take a green permanent marker (yes, it has to be green) and trace the outline of the hole onto your trash can.

Grab a hacksaw, assume a comfortable “power” position and chew a hole into the side of the trash can, roughly following your outline.

I’m living proof that you don’t have to be smooth or pretty to be useful, and in the case of this can, nobody can see it anyway.

Triumphantly place the bin into the cabinet, step back, and notice that the freshly-painted door is 37% whiter than the other two.

It’s important to include your kids in the project by letting them drop the inaugural can of diced tomatoes.

Creating lasting family memories.

If there are young boys in the house between 3 and 4 feet tall, gently remind them that—despite its tempting height and size—this hole is not for peeing into, because human urine is not recyclable and we wouldn’t want to contaminate the stream. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be the internet without a before and after, for dramatic effect:

life changing.

* For my friends in the Commonwealth, this is a “dust bin,” which always seemed a rather dainty euphemism for what really goes in there, in the same family of euphemisms as Feminine Napkin, Personal Freshener or Foundation Garment.
** After waste storage, the next largest use of kitchen space is our collection of exotic cooking oils that double as hair products.
***  The Upcycled Recycling Center was featured on the website of Bob Vila, who is the Martha Stewart of Home Improvement, minus the brand empire and felony conviction, plus a cozy beard.
**** Since I’m an optimist, I like to say that the sardine can is half-clean instead of half-dirty. Or if we’re being totally honest, ¾ dirty.
***** I’m living proof that sodium is good for you. Really, I’ve got the blood pressure of a cheetah, which I assume is the gold standard of mammal blood pressure because cheetahs are famous for their cardiovascular health.
****** I’ve watched enough episodes of the BBC smash hit Doc Martin to know what a “tosser” is. It’s sort of like a wanker. Now if someone can explain to me what a wanker is, we’ll be all set.
******* I won’t tell you why we call it Poo Alley, but if you’re lucky, some day after a couple of Old Styles, Scott will tell you about what happened to that aquarium that froze over last winter in Poo Alley.


6 thoughts on “Trash Talk: Create a top-secret hiding space for your unsightly recyclables

  1. Do you really, REALLY want to know what a wanker is…? Perhaps you should know, so that when your 4ft male offspring is at a more experimental age, you can point out that *other* kinds of, um, contribution in that hole will be equally unwelcome. Good solution, but I agree about that little sticky-outy corner. That is surely going to catch on stuff and prevent clean insertion 🙂


  2. what a treat to see this! But lemme tell ya, having a trash bin that people have to ask for isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Actually, that’s a lie. I love our introverted bins!


  3. LOVE. bravo. I would like to direct you to the use of the word “informal,” as seen on Great British Baking Show, utilized by the very definition of loveliness herself, Mary Berry, when she is espying a hot mess of a baked item. “Well, that’s a bit informal isn’t it?” she says to a crumbling gingerbread church looming over underbaked and toppled shortbread gravestones thrown atop a moldy looking frosting green.


  4. A) I silently cheered when I saw you were going to cut the garbage can, too.
    B) Little boys. Yes. I had the same thought.
    C) Have you traded Estelle for a child who is, like, 2 feet taller than the last time she was on the blog?! Or does a high-sodium diet also make kids grow faster/taller?


    • Yes, Estelle has grown several inches over the past few months. I chalk it up to all the times I’ve had to comb her hair out for lice. The act of constant hair pulling stretches the body upward. Also, peanut butter. So so so much peanut butter.


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