Hidden away in a garage in New York City sits a museum of the human experience. Among its over 45,000 specimens sit letters from the White House, walls of Furbies, carefully organized doorknobs, bins of family photographs, and thousand-dollar teddy bears. So, what connects these seemingly random items?

These items didn’t begin their journey to the collection through an auction house but through the garbage of New York City residents!

Collected over the course of 34 years, this museum puts a spotlight on the intangible value of some extraordinary, ordinary things being put out on the curb. And in this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we’re diving into this magnificent collection in the New York Sanitation Department and meeting the man who started it all!

Image: a look over the museum!

Courtesy of Nelson Molina

Before Nelson Molina began working at the New York Sanitation Department, their facilities looked quite a bit different. Over his 34 years at the job, Nelson filled his locker room and the garage with over 45,000 pieces of treasure that he pulled from the trash.

In an impressive feat of organization, Nelson has managed to create a museum that gives us a deeper look into the human experience; giving us a peek at just how quick we are to throw out objects that no longer hold significance to us. And yet at the same time, it’s also a museum that showcases just how each of those items can find a home.

Take a look for yourself at this collection, stuffed to the brim with wonders and trinkets found in the garbage, and see how you feel! This fantastic short film from HELLER films brings us to meet Nelson and see the collection in all its glory.

Via: HELLER films [ref] HELLER Films. “Treasures in the Trash in Vimeo Staff Picks.” Vimeo, HELLER Films, 8 Oct. 2019, vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/358791827. [/ref]

You can learn more about Treasures in the Trash in this great article from Atlas Obscura. There are some great photos! Since it isn’t open to the public, if you’d like to visit this treasure trove yourself you’ll need to get in touch with the city to request access. That Atlas Obscura article lets you in on how to do that as well!

Big shout out to HELLER Films for creating this beautiful short doc about what Nelson Molina has been up to! You can see more of their work over on their Vimeo and website, or by giving them a follow on Instagram!

The Impact of Treasures in the Trash

A story like this is important on many levels. First, there’s the idea that comes from the golden rule of recycling: reuse. So often, we’re quick to throw an item out when it no longer holds value to us. But, as the long-time saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There’s a home for everything—and the first easy step in finding it is donating our items instead of tossing them to the curb.

“I was told never to throw anything out if it can be used and given another life.” — Nelson Molina

Then there’s the environment that Nelson has created. Because of his efforts, the workplace has been changed for everyone. There’s a feeling of excitement attached to the job, of discovering treasures. And then every day, walking through the piles of those treasures to see the impact your team has had in keeping them out of landfills.

One person has the power to change the reality for so many others.

Image: Nelson giving a tour!

Nelson giving a tour of the museum.
Courtesy of Nelson Molina

With his passion, Nelson has infected his coworkers with a positive outlook and something to look forward to. He’s created a museum—although not yet open to the public (fingers crossed their dream comes true in making that happen!)—to show us the real value of what’s hidden in our trash.

But maybe now that we’ve had a glimpse at this collection we can get a jump on that thought process. Could that object we’re about to toss go somewhere else than the landfill?

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” —Albert Einstein

Explore more of our Saturdays Around the World series!

Every other Saturday, we take a deeper look at marvels and cultures all over the globe. From cheese rolling festivals to deep inside the jungle, we’re taking everyone on a trip to celebrate this world. Click the button below to explore!

Travel the World With Us!

Sam has written and edited hundreds of articles since joining the EWC team in 2016. She writes about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the EWC office, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and taster of cheeses.