Written by Andrea McLean


“My bin and I have a lot in common”

When it comes to dealing with life’s irritants, Andrea McLean excels at keeping a lid on it. But, she wonders, is it time to clear out all the toxic rubbish?

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I’ve got one of those fancy bins. It’s stainless steel, tall and thin, with a black click-top lid. It’s a catwalk model of a bin; aloof, cold and attractive enough to stand on its own, rather than hidden under the sink.

I can open it with my elbow when my hands are full of stuff, whereupon it makes a reassuring cluh-clink and rises with slow confidence, like a butler opening a door and enquiring: “You rang?”

I use it countless times a day, and I take it for granted as it stands in my kitchen, taking all the rubbish I throw at it, swallowing it all up, allowing me to slam it shut and walk away without a backwards glance. I don’t think about it, it’s just there – until it starts to stink.

Then the black lid can’t quite shut unless I push down on all the stuff inside, and with that final load, the one that can’t be squashed and compacted, the stinky bin demands to be noticed. It demands change, and I have to pull out the heavy, over-stuffed bag inside and get rid of it.

That’s when the stink hits me; the fetid smell of discarded daily detritus, stuff that is now starting to reek…

I also have a sleek, shiny car, one that zips along nicely, keeping me safe from the outside world as I weave through life’s obstacles, both literal and figurative. I was in it today and, not for the first time, shouted at someone.

It was one of those driving irritations where a man zoomed towards me on the wrong side of the road, even though I had right of way, and he didn’t acknowledge me when I had to brake hard to let him pass. I honked my horn and said words that should not be heard by impressionable children or your parents (thankfully neither were with me).

The car in question screeched to a halt, and the man stared at me in his rear-view mirror. He looked cross. I was cross too, but he looked like he could actually do something about it, rather than do what I do, which is to squash it down until it shows itself like it did today, with an angry honk and some choice expletives, from the safety of a soundproof metal box heading away from the person I’m furious with.

“I do wonder what life would be like if I could actually say what was bothering me at the time, rather than stuffing it with the other irritants in my internal Room 101.”

You see, every day my anger is pushed down and kept in, manifesting itself in Walter Mitty-like daydreams of witty retorts, yelling rude words, or occasionally punching someone really hard on the nose.

Because I don’t actually do anything, it all goes on in my head: the raging, the clenched mutterings, the stomach-churning ulcer-inducing thoughts of violence don’t actually come to anything.

I once got so angry with a man for sniffing loudly and continuously on the train to work that I whipped off my headphones, stopped my meditation app with a huffy tap of my finger, and thrust a tissue under the offending drippy nose hissing, “Here you go! You sound like you need this!” like a passive-aggressive Mary Poppins.

The irony of white-hot anger seeping through my meditative state was not lost on me. All the deep breathing in the world won’t help me stay calm if someone won’t stop sniffing within earshot.

I do wonder what life would be like if I could actually say what was bothering me at the time, rather than stuffing it with the other irritants in my internal Room 101. If I was able to say out loud, clearly and without flinching, what I really thought.

Passive aggression is my forte, you see, because I don’t have the nerve to be properly assertive. That would take actual bravery, and the risk of someone shouting at me, or worse, giving me the thump that I would dearly love to give them. I am so consumed with pent-up fury that sometimes it leaks out of me like a stink.

When I thought about the man who stared at me after I honked my horn at him, I realised today that my sleek, competent bin and I have a lot in common. I look shiny and capable on the outside, but click on my lid and I’m a decaying buffet of petty grudges and bite-sized irritants, mixed together with putrid dollops of fear and self-doubt.

Some of these are legitimate issues that deserve their place in this pit of emotion; past experiences that were horrible enough to warrant their odorous funk. They have been dealt with the best way I am capable of; stuffed down to the bottom so that no one else can see or smell them, with all the smaller irritants on top.

“I’d rather have a little clear out every now and then, and put a nice clean liner on top of the blackened, bonded-to-the-sides rot.”

I know the best thing to do would be to take myself to the tip, and dump the lot of it, but that would involve looking at what’s inside. I’d have to see these things that I’ve stuffed away; look at them as they pour out one by one, and examine them in their now decomposed state, which will make me remember them when they were fresh.

My passive aggression, it seems, extends to myself, not just to others. I don’t want to deal with what is really going on inside, because that would mean facing the stinking mess head-on, and I am afraid that it’s stronger than me.

Is that OK? Probably not, but here’s the rub: life is good right now. It is sweet. Do I tackle something I cannot see, and only occasionally feel, just to know that my bin is clean? I deal with my life as it is now, try to be present in each moment, and enjoy the good while I am experiencing it rather than pulling focus onto the bad. For me, that involves pushing unpleasantness down, and dealing with it later, on bin day.

I’d rather have a little clear out every now and then, and put a nice clean liner on top of the blackened, bonded-to-the-sides rot. Those are the bits that are harder to get off; they would need time and scrubbing until I’m sweaty (and wished I hadn’t started, because no one notices those bits anyway).

I know they are there, but don’t we all have them? Those tiny rotten parts of ourselves that have stuck to the sides, and have turned black and hard over the years?

Of course it depends on what those clumps started out as; they are not all created equally, and some issues that we have dealt with in our lives will need soaking for years in the gentle soapy water of therapy, and wiped until they are cleaned away. Others are just part of life, the problems, frustrations and annoyances that come with existing in the world.

It doesn’t matter who we are, we have rubbish thrown at us by life every day. Some people keep that rubbish in a bucket under the sink, others put it straight into a wheelie bin outside. My bin stands tall for all to see: it is sleek and competent, but open it up and it stinks like any other.


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Written by Andrea McLean

I am a 45 year-old mum of a newly teenaged boy and a fearless eight year-old daughter. I am happiest in my pyjamas watching telly and eating biscuits. My alter ego is a TV presenter who dresses well and looks like she knows what she’s doing.