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In It for the Lawn Haul
In It for the Lawn Haul

Off-campus students turn move-out day into a ‘Hippie Christmas’ bazaar

By Selene San Felice

The Badger Herald, Inc.; (grass) eivaisla/istock/thinkstock

Moving day can be stressful, but for University of Wisconsin–Madison students and local renters, the chaos can be as joyous as Christmas. For decades, every August 14, apartment leases have ended and not begun again for a full 24 hours so apartments can be cleaned and repaired. This leaves the city in a whirlwind of furniture and appliances at many curbs while homeless-for-a-day hippies and other residents scour through trash for treasure. For one magical night, dubbed Hippie Christmas, crashing on couches in the open air and lawn-camping are the norm.

However, the city of Madison warns students and locals to Dumpster-dive at their own risk. Curbside freebies could come with bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, rodents, coolant leakage from refrigerators and air conditioners, and lead or mercury contamination from old electronics.

"We get the tradition, but it's dangerous," says Bryan Johnson, city of Madison streets division recycling coordinator and public information officer. "We don't want people picking things up off the curb that they don't know how to handle properly."

But Hippie Christmas is just as much a time of generosity as it is festivity. A local church offers students free parking, a sheltered place to sleep for the night (though many enjoy curb-camping), breakfast, and access to its game room. In 2011, the group Dumpster Diving Revolution saved more than 5 tons of usable materials from going into local landfills. Goodwill takes mass donations and recycles electronics from drop-off sites.

Chelsea Schlect, a 2013 alumna and editor of the Wisconsin alumni magazine Badger Insider, says move-out is messy, but Hippie Christmas remains a festive community time.

"Some people I knew would just drag their couches and boxes into the space between their driveways and hang out there all night," Schlect says. "Some people would rent moving trucks and drive to a hotel or all the way to their parents' place for the night. Broken stuff gets left out, but there's also some really good stuff. My roommate and I went driving around one year, and she got a really nice coffee table from the curb."

About the Author Selene San Felice

Selene San Felice is a Currents 2017 editorial intern.




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