Among its numerous side effects, the Coronavirus pandemic reworked neighborhood sociality. In the suburban corner of North Carolina where I’ve spent most of this period, the breakdown of global supply chains first inspired waves of activity. First came a flurry of homemade mask creation (so many sewing machines – who knew!), along with a stream of tips on where to purchase suddenly rare goods posted to the neighborhood listserv.
As the lock-down persisted, many residents turned to long deferred home projects, including clearing out their ample closets. Material surplus that previously might have found its way to thrift shops or garage sales now featured regularly on the list. A steady stream of announcements heralded objects appearing curbside, freely available to anyone who wanted them.
Over the past year, an impressive array of items emerged briefly into public view, only to vanish again with astonishing speed into a new home. Even while downsizing, some people clearly kept accumulating. A regular tide of objects went out and then went back in. Judging from an archive of posts, the first part of the flow stemmed largely from energetic mothers excavating family households; the gender dynamics of the second part remained less clear. In this classically middle-class, largely white neighborhood of an American college town, the result was an ongoing spectacle of ad hoc recycling, without any specific plan or the support of a dedicated site (e.g. https://www.freecycle.org). Flotsam from the deep currents of household consumption continued to circulate during a period of reduced shopping, powered by the novelty of rediscovery and potential future use.
Peter Redfield is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.
Bo Thai (Boonyarit Daraphant) is a Los Angeles-based artist originally from Thailand. His work ranges from the visual to poetry and fashion. He is inspired by surrealism, anime, mindfulness, and his experience as an undocumented immigrant in the US.