Garbage bin etiquette: when is it okay to pull in a neighbour's bins

THERE were two of us standing in a concerned huddle at the top of my driveway the other day, right where the lavender came to grief during an over-enthusiastic whipper snipper session.

My neighbour and I have regular chats about our gardens, the weather, her bad back and the grubs that chew through her favourite plants. The other day we talked about garbage bins.

My neighbour likes an orderly street. She puts her bins out at dusk the evening before collection. When the garbage truck appears she often stands by her front door, waits for her bin to be emptied, retrieves it and puts it back in its place beside her garage.

She regularly pulls my bins in. On the rare occasion her bin is still there when I walk out for mine, I take hers in as well. It’s what we do. We provide the same friendly service for our neighbours across the road when we know they’ve left for work before the garbage truck’s appeared. And in our little pocket of the street we regularly share spare bin space or offer up our unused green bins if someone’s been heavy-handed with the pruning. 

But the other day my neighbour and I were in two minds over garbage bins.

Another neighbour in the street – a fellow who moved in a few months ago and whose work takes him away for a few days at a time – had left his bins out but seemed to be on one of his trips. My next door neighbour was perplexed. His bins were still out and it was three days later.

She wanted to take them in. I wasn’t so sure.

His yard is typical of the yards of a certain type of tradie, the ones who like to have everything handy and visible, with tufts of grass growing happily between the lot where the mower can't reach.

He is a nice man, a tradie. His yard is typical of the yards of a certain type of tradie, the ones who like to have everything handy and visible, so that piles of covered timber on makeshift brick props provide the backdrop for a general collection of tradie-type gear. There’s usually a wheelbarrow or two, scaffolding and wire fences, empty 10-litre paint tins, car body parts, random tools that have seen better days and tufts of grass growing happily between the lot, where the mower can’t reach. It’s not messy, at all. It reminds me of our yard growing up, with a brickie dad’s gear tidily, but obviously, stacked around the place.  

There is another kind of tradie who has a perfectly mown lawn, a serious shed out back with a place for everything, often a shiny boat on a trailer parked on its own concrete slab, and where the house is testament to the tradie’s sense of excellence and pride of workmanship. That kind of tradie is fantastic if you’re paying him – and it’s generally a him – to do work, and good to have next door if your fence falls down or a storm takes off part of your roof. They’re always first in with a hand and know what to do.

Our tradie neighbour seems like the kind of fellow who would be even quicker to help than Mr Perfect Tradie. But I wasn’t sure that he’d be keen on us bringing his bins in, given we barely know him, they weren’t in anyone’s way and they didn’t really stand out because there were other things in the front yard and a trailer parked out front.

And I thought it might appear a bit “Tsk, tsk” of us, as if we were passing judgment on his garbage bin-handling regime. Over-sensitive of me? Maybe. But I’d rather offer to do something first than impose some kind of neighbour-dictated garbage bin deadline standard on a person.  

My neighbour thought otherwise, but conceded taking his bins in “might make him clean up the rest of the place”.

Me: “Aha. So you are passing judgment.”

Her: “No, it’s just…it might give him a hint.”

Me: “That’s why I don’t think it’s a good idea, and I don’t want him thinking someone’s creeping around his yard when he’s not here.”

Her: “We wouldn’t be creeping. We could just walk them down by the house.”

Me: “Creeping as we go.”

We compromised, because she tends to fret about that kind of thing. I walked the bins up tight against the back of the trailer. When he came home that night he walked them in.

Order restored. The street slept easy.

The weirdest thing that has ever happened to me neighbour-wise was quite a few years ago when our next door neighbours needed work done on pipes beside their swimming pool. We didn’t know until I got up one morning and looked out the kitchen window to see a newly-dug and filled-in trench running the length of our back fence, on our side, with a few discarded gardenia bushes in a pile.

I rang my husband at his work. We’d both arrived home after dark the night before and he’d left before sunrise. I was pretty sure he hadn’t been trench-digging, and hadn’t organised trench-digging, but he wasn’t a gardenia fan so I had to rule him out as a suspect.

He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Then I walked next door. That’s when our neighbours told us about the work replacing pipes which were under their concrete pool coping, and hard to get to, “so we thought you wouldn’t mind if the plumber ran the pipes on your side of the fence”.

We did mind. We let them know. We also had a chat with the plumber about walking onto someone’s property without permission, while they weren’t there, working for hours on site, laying pipes, covering a trench and, oh the horror, mauling the gardenias, based on someone else’s say-so that “the neighbours will be okay with that”.

No. Based on how we felt when it happened, generally the neighbours will not be okay with that kind of thing, even if there’s an offer to replace the gardenias.

Which probably accounts for my sensitivity about walking onto someone’s property with their garbage bins while they’re not there, as neighbourly as that might seem. I’ll have a chat with him next time I see him, offer a bin retrieval service when he’s not around and maybe share stories about funny neighbours we’ve known.