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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Preparing for a move is an occasion bound to promote reflection, nostalgia and maybe a little melancholy.
So it has been of late for Jeff "Professor Dumpster" Wilson, a dean and associate professor of biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University. He and his helpers have done a lot of work on his home for the last year, and now it must be said: He's going to miss that trash container. He confessed he teared up Tuesday night, his last in the dumpster.
"The last few nights have been really sweet," he said at the end of last week in the dumpster, which has a window air-conditioning unit, storage under a false floor, a sliding roof with a weather station that takes measurements every five minutes, and not much else.
"Identitywise, am I still Professor Dumpster if I'm not living in a dumpster? I don't know if this is what my mom wanted for her first-born son," Wilson said.
The Dumpster Project, led by Wilson, has focused not only on sustainability and education outreach, but also the challenges and opportunities born out of living in a used — albeit thoroughly scrubbed and fumigated — 36-square-foot trash bin that's been on campus and around town. After an initial phase of what was little more than camping in a dumpster, the place now has a few comforts, including a small electric heater and art on the walls. He painted the interior a sort of eggshell color to give the illusion of more space.
"The hypothesis we started with was that one can have a pretty good life in and on a lot less," Wilson told the Austin American-Statesman. "Stuff is noise."
The hypothesis we started with was that one can have a pretty good life in and on a lot less. Stuff is noise.
–Jeff "Professor Dumpster" Wilson
Wilson evicted himself at a reception on campus Wednesday afternoon, and the plan now is for the dumpster to become more of a hub for education. The Dumpster Project "Home" School will have curriculum on sustainability. Educators will be staying in the dumpster, according to Amanda Masino, who also teaches biology at Huston-Tillotson, and students will be given a "semiridiculous challenge: Turn the dumpster into a house. What happens when you don't have constant temperature? Where do you get water? How do you treat it?"
"It's better doing it like this than talking about it in a dry way," Masino said.
Wilson figures he spent maybe 250 nights in the can. Other nights he was traveling, with his daughter or staying with his girlfriend.
"Usually when it was my place or hers, the answer was pretty definite," he said.
When he wasn't there, it was usually occupied by students or visitors drawn to his goofy stunt with a serious purpose.
"It pushes your limits," he said. "It totally blew up the idea of what a home is. In this climate, having central air and heat is more necessary than having a kitchen. But it would have been nice to have a toilet. The main complaint from students was a weak Wi-Fi signal — allegedly to do their homework."
"My dream," he said, "is to get Google Fiber in the dumpster."
Although he'll always be attached to the Dumpster Project, Wilson is turning to a new endeavor: spending 99 nights in a variety of homes all over Austin, whether it be at new City Council Member Greg Casar's place, a nursing home, a shotgun house on the east side, a McMansion to the west, a spot in the clouds at the Austonian and even — OK, it's an outside shot — the Governor's Mansion.
The new project, called 99 Nights ATX, will continue his exploration of the contemporary notion of house and home in Austin, in conventional and unconventional spaces — not to mention determine where he's going to live next. It helps that he has just a handful of shirts and a few pairs of shoes — enough to fit in a bag as he schleps around town, usually on his bike.
"We want a comprehensive view of the stories people tell themselves about home," he said. "Housing is probably the biggest issue in Austin."
The project's website is taking nominations for housing outside of Wilson's circle of friends and associates.
It'll for sure be another adventure, but it'll be hard to top the dumpster.
"I've lived in 23 places in my life," Wilson said. "This is the smallest. I know my community and my environment better. I got to know my neighbors."
One thing that may or may not change is the signoff on his email:
"At your disposal, Jeff."
"I may or may not keep that, but I will be litter-ally at people's disposal," he said.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com
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