Backpack found: An Earthday Post

We live in an apartment complex in Orem, UT. We don’t have a lot of money, so we recycle, reuse, and reduce when possible. We’ve taught this to our children, which is why one of my son’s favorite activities is dumpster diving.

So, my son, my daughter, and a friend were sorting through the detritus of our apartment complex yesterday and they hit the mother lode. They found a backpack, full of stuff, and a nearby laptop computer (also a picture frame and a screwdriver). They brought it back to our apartment with visions of selling it all and blowing the money on candy and pokemon cards. I objected, noting that people didn’t usually through out backpacks stuffed to the gills with notes and papers from their schooling (nor did they usually throw away laptops that haven’t been erased). Instead, I looked through the stuff for identifying information and called the number that I found. D., the owner of the backpack called me back and said, basically, that she was done with school and she had actually deliberately thrown all that stuff away (the laptop was her husbands and, according to her, it didn’t work anymore (It booted up for me, not even in safe mode)). So we didn’t need to return any of it.

Contents of the backpack:

  • A BYU photo ID with the backpack’s owner sporting a different (I assume previous) last name
  • Several Folders:
    • A plain orange folder containing the notes and handouts from a History of Creativity course
    • A plain purple folder containing notes and handouts from a History of Civilization course
    • A plain blue folder containing notes and handouts from an Introduction to Women’s Studies course
    • A Craze Agency folder containing an application to the talent agency (Including an application to appear in films made by the Church AV department), alongside with several business cards for an agent
    • 2 Disney Princess folders
    • 2 Strawberry Shortcake folders
    • 1 Tinkerbell folder

    I should add that I don’t know the contents of the character folders because my daughter has already scavenged them (more on that below)

  • Bound notebooks of lined paper with notes regarding:
    • History of Civilization/Creativity
    • Social Psychology
    • Sociology of Aging
    • Addiction and Dependence
    • LDS perspectives on Psychology

    I wish to add that each notebook is half to mostly empty

  • Loose papers (some of which may have been in the character folders), including:
    • Notes, papers, a syllabus, and a packet from a Doctrine and Covenants course
    • A excerpt from the Ensign regarding the passing of President Hinckley
    • Notes from a course on Psychology Testing
    • Notes from a course on Physical Science
    • Notes from two of the above mentioned courses (Social Psychology, Psychology of Aging)
    • A handout describing how to become a millionaire
    • A Career Services handout regarding Psychology
    • Two papers, one for the History of Creativity class, the other for the Intro to Women’s Studies class

    A couple of notes: many of these papers feature D with a different last name, indicating that she may have gotten married in the past year; also, on one paper, there is a note reading “I love M.” which is not the name of her current husband

  • Two daily planners, one completely blank and the other filled for one month with many references to M, with hearts, and empty after that
  • coupons for Hogi Yogi and handouts from gyms

Although D gave me permission to do whatever I wanted with what was her stuff, I feel wierd having done so. From it, I have the impression girl who was waiting for a missionary, but with whom the missionary did not work out. Someone who was once ambitious about her career, but being married now no longer sees the need. Someone who isn’t attached to physical things, but who is, as a result, wasteful and self-centered, not realizing the kind of horrible things a bad person could do to her young family with the info in her backpack and on her husband’s computer.

That said, we aren’t bad people. We’re planning on erasing her husband’s hard drive and giving the computer to a reseller. My daughter has appropriated all the girly folders and is planning on distributing them to friends on her upcoming birthday. I’m going to have a shredding party on Saturday and then send most of D’s stuff to recycling. I’m going to keep the blank paper though.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s like an archaeological dig through a young woman’s school life.

  2. This brings up echoes of all the YW lessons I ever heard about how a wife who stays at home actually contributes to the family income by the way she makes every dollar of her husband’s paycheck count. I foresee a rocky road ahead for D. and not-M., even absent identity theft.

  3. Seriously. You could run a cultural anthropology course on the contents of that backpack. She’s very lucky you found it, and not a Bad Guy.

    (I do think it’s revealing that a woman of marriage-age would have Strawberry Shortcake folders…)

  4. I miss Hogi Yogi.

  5. esodhiambo says:


  6. I am glad that D. was not upset you contacted her. Several years ago, when 128MB flash drives were new and cool and really expensive, I found one on the sidewalk on campus in Logan. I took it home, cracked it open, found a name, and used the campus directory to locate the owner. When I returned it to her doorstep, she was furious that I had opened her personal drive and gone through it.

    Some people.

  7. She told me that she had written her number on those folders so that if she lost them during the semester she could get them back. But now that the semester is over (and I think her college career), she didn’t care.

    Aside from the anthropology, a lot of this makes me wonder about the value of education in the church. If this woman is typical (and I admit hucking a backpack full of crap into a dumpster is atypical), then what are we to take from the fact that the second she didn’t need all this material to pass a test, it was thrown away. I get that everyone does that, but some of this stuff could have been useful should she decide to go further with psychology. Setting career stuff aside, what does it say about the esteem in which Religious Education is held at the Y if all the notes from the class are immediately discarded after it is over, never to be referenced in a sacrament talk again.

  8. Tracy,
    Yeah. I’m calling that a purely Mormon phenomenon.

  9. Did you TALK to the husband? Maybe they had a fight, or split up, and she tossed his laptop to be vindictive?

    I could totally see myself doing that. Well, with the first husband, anyway.

  10. John C. (7) As a counterpoint, my wife has all her notes from her religious education classes still, and It’s been 10 years since she graduated.

  11. This is so interesting, but I don’t know exactly why. Almost I want to toss my backpack in your dumpster just to see what you discover.

  12. When I was at BYU a decade ago (wow, that feels weird) “History of Creativity” was taught by Brent Strong in the Manufacturing Engineering department. His course was one of the more sought-after for fulfilling one’s general history requirements, but it also (as with most engineering courses) was not for slackers.

    Additionally, I still have a Chem 102 book that I couldn’t sell and has been collecting dusk in the basement. $15.00 obo.

  13. I’m really curious if I might know her, based on the contents of her backpack. A lot of Psych courses indicate a Psych major or even minor, and the notes from a Psych Testing course make me even more curious (I’ve been a TA for the course for a year). Interesting . . .

  14. Matt,
    I kept mine for years and years. Anything electronic I very likely still have.

    I forgot to mention it but that is exactly what I thought as I was going through the stuff.

  15. BrianJ: no kidding! =)

    John: So, what did you find on the laptop? Anything scandalous? Bookmarks for Internet Gambling, perhaps?

    I have to second Ann, though – you probably should talk to the husband if possible, before you erase everything.

  16. John C.,
    I didn’t go to BYU, but I’ve heard enough horror stories about the required Book of Mormon series to believe that many people just want to forget it.

  17. My wife and I still have notes and books from our BYU undergrad, which we finished eight years ago.

    Scott, experiences in the Book of Mormon classes vary heavily based on the teacher and student expectations. One of my students, a female freshman who did fairly well, told me after the class was over, “Your class rocked out loud.”

    So, all the others may be crap, but the one I taught was good :)

  18. Steve Evans says:

    Ben, and that adulating freshman did fairly well in your class, you say?

  19. I still have tons of notes from college, and it’s been… embarassingly long. But I still hold on to them. That probably might be as revealing as a Strawberry Shortcake folder…

  20. Great post John, but why aren’t you sharing the handout describing how to become a millionaire? I could really use that right now (unless it says something lame like “get an education, work hard, and invest wisely–I did all that and am still not a millionaire).

  21. Boy, you sure made a lot of assumptions and judgments, didn’t you?

    That’s probably the saddest thing I’ve ever read and the first thing I wondered was if she needed an antidepressant.

  22. MoJo,
    I don’t believe that I have claimed anything but.

  23. My first impression was that she didn’t actually finish college, but was just done with it so to speak. Hmmm.

  24. People took notes in BYU religion classes? Huh.

  25. mmiles,
    That is also my impression.

  26. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I don’t disagree with the assumption that she was “just done with it”. However, having successfully completely all Ph.D requirements last week, the stuff I have been throwing out this week could lead one to a very similar conclusion. The surprise I am preparing for the recycling truck tomorrow morning is immense. I am also discarding backpacks, old computers, myriad digital files, and other personal documentation (although, those will be shredded). Like D, I seem intent on erasing any indication of previous education.

  27. Congrats, Turtle. I think I’m planning a bonfire myself.

  28. John, I think you should send your kids to Mack’s dumpster, and quick! =)

  29. I dunno, there’s plenty of times when I’ve chucked stuff just to be rid of it. There’s something fairly psychologically satisfying about getting rid of emotional clutter in the form of throwing something tangible away. Also, there some practical logistics to consider as well. In the midst of early marriage when we moved so often, the notes from undergrad classes were the first to go. I haven’t missed them yet. Also, I’ve made my husband drag a huge HEAVY bin of graduate school notes around for the past 10 years, and every time we move, he says, “Have you even LOOKED at this stuff in the last 4/5/6 years?”

    The answer, of course, is no, but I always pay to move it anyways. Last week I walked into the garage and looked at that stupid bin and thought, “Man, I just want to throw all that crap away.”

    I probably would recycle the paper, though.

    I bet it felt good for her to toss it.

  30. Also, I think it’s kind of harsh to call her self centered. Wasteful, perhaps, but self centered because she wasn’t aware of what somebody could do with information from her computer? It sounds like she’s more naive than self centered. And given that a grown woman is carrying around something with Tinkerbell on it, I’d lean towards naive.

  31. Fair enough, Heather. I have a tendency to see a kind of self-centeredness in a certain level of naivete, but you are probably closer to the truth.

  32. Emily Elizabeth says:

    John C., I am doing an article for the Daily Universe about “dumpster diving”. Is there a way I could email you and ask you a few questions for my article?