AT on The Concept of Away

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Do you have one of these in your medicine cabinet? It's a small slit in the back wall of the cabinet that is just big enough for an old razor blade to slip through.

A helpful designer at one point decided that allowing residents to slip razor blades into the space between the walls was better than having them placed in the garbage.

Slits like this have disappeared. I haven't seen any holes at the Bathroom trade shows for my Mach III blades and the thought of pushing a disposable razor blade through a hole in the wall would seem really odd at this point.

But something else is funny about this old fashioned design in the back of my cabinet. Bill McDonough tipped me off to it a few years ago:

We used to be able to throw things away. Remember that? Things went "away." Where is "away" now? "Away" is here. "Away" is someone's back yard. There is no place to go from here. We now see that we inhabit a smaller and smaller planet. "Away" has become very close indeed.

It's all true. When I was a kid, I put my father's razor blades through the slit in our home bathroom and loved it. I used to put as many as I could and probably put a few other things through there as well.

Things have changed since then. Now I separate my garbage before putting it out. Now I know how hard it is to get rid of an old fridge. Now I expect people to pick up after their dogs. Now I filter my tap water.

Why? Because just like the vanishing slit in my medicine cabinet, there is no such thing as "away" any more.

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(Re-edited from a post originally published 06.02.06)

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.

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