The Best of Andy Rooney

There are certain things in our lives we all use, but which should not have much attention called to themselves.

An example is the wastebasket. Wastebaskets play an increasingly important part in our lives as the proliferation of paper threatens to bury us before we can throw it out, but a wastebasket is a strictly utilitarian object.

Any attempt to make it a work of art is an unnatural act. Why, then, have floral designs on wastebaskets become so popular?

The wastebasket should be the least conspicuous item in the room, yet any department store you visit has space devoted to the sale of lavishly decorated wastebaskets that do everything but glow in the dark. The wastebaskets I remember best must have been in a school I went to, or perhaps the same model was used in several schools.

They were made of light metal, painted dark green.

They stood about 18 inches high.

The top was round and about a foot in diameter.

The basket was tapered so the bottom was perhaps 10 inches in diameter. The opening was just the right size. It was big enough to give you a chance of hitting it when you balled up a piece of paper and tossed it from 10 feet away, but small enough to be unobtrusive.

It held a day's supply of the classroom debris of about 25 wasteful students, and no one ever thought much about it.

That's the way a wastebasket should be -- inconspicuous. A wastebasket, in addition to being unadorned, should be round.

No one needs a funny-shaped wastebasket. For one thing, it's too easy to miss. Wastebaskets I dislike even more than ones with flowers painted on them are those made of Lucite or clear plastic.

A wastebasket should be opaque. It's bad enough to have to look down at it from the top without having to look at all the junk stuffed in it from anywhere in the room, as though the thing were a goldfish bowl.

We need more wastebaskets. We need one in every room where formerly two or three around the house was ample, but we don't need smaller, cuter, designer wastebaskets.

The small, wicker wastebasket beside my chair in the living room isn't nearly big enough for the junk mail, fliers and catalogs that come every day.

If there were room in our living room, I ought to have a compost heap next to my chair. As far as I know, no one has invented a disposable wastebasket.

It need not be ugly, but it could be made of the same kind of paper we throw in it. Instead of doing the dirty and tedious job of emptying the wastebasket, with those inevitably unpleasant bits of debris stuck to the bottom, we could just toss the whole thing.

A good wastebasket is a satisfying piece of equipment. It's not a work of art and no amount of artistry applied to one will make it a work of art. As many as a hundred times a day, I enjoy the small pleasure of discarding something -- putting it out of my life.

There are few minor sensations more satisfying than dropping something you no longer want into a wastebasket, and I resent anyone minimizing my pleasure by making the wastebasket look like something other than what it is.

(This classic Rooney column was originally published April 17, 1990.)

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