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Why Do People Litter?

As I mentioned in a previous post, recently I moved to a new neighborhood. I’m still living in Houston, the city where I was born, so I am quite familiar with it in certain parts.

But lately I’ve been discovering there are other parts that make me feel like this city and I have never met.

Here’s an example: in my new location, at least every other neighbor seems to have about two cars per person. The extra vehicles are stored either on the lawn,  on the sidewalk in front of the house, or on the street.

And when I say “stored,” if you can visualize what a lawn would look like if it also contained multiple grass-covered parking spaces all the way up to the front door, that is basically what I am trying to describe.

Whenever I see this, which is basically every time I leave or come back to my house, my brain immediately becomes consumed with trying to figure out “why.” Why all the cars, why are all of them on the lawn, why do some of them never seem to move, why, why, why….

The same holds true for trash. And when I say “trash,” I realize that my trash might be somebody else’s spare parts, creative project, restoration-in-progress, et al. It could also be just trash. That is what it mostly looks like to me.

When I see this, which happens with the same frequency as when I see the stored cars, my brain gets indignant. Frustrated. Angry. Sad. Depressed. All of the above and then some.

Its questions are all about why would people do that, how much effort does it take to pick up (fast food bags, beer cans, plastic bags, washing machine parts, et al) and put them in the trash cans that are provided by and also emptied by the city each week, don’t they care what they see when they come back home, don’t they realize other people don’t necessarily like that kind of landscaping, and so forth….

Here again, the questions keep coming but not the answers. 

We’ve also been doing some property hunting lately, which has put me in outlying areas near but not in my city. In these new areas, I have seen a lot of similar type issues, where certain neighborhoods are so filled with unkempt properties as to look (and feel) dangerous, especially when that is the only information I have to base my opinions off of.

Then again, some neighborhoods are so well kept, even if the homes don’t look that different. For instance, some communities that contain mostly mobile or manufactured homes are neat and tidy, with only as many cars as can fit in the nearby driveway, neatly trimmed grass, trash in the trash can….you get the idea.

Then in another community nearby, the opposite is the case. The mobile homes are a mess outside. The lawns are filled with stuff. Some of the cars seem to be functional while others are clearly missing large essential parts (like, say, wheels and engines).

I say this because it just seems like, all else appearing relatively equal, income disparity wouldn’t necessarily play a huge part here in who picks up after themselves and who doesn’t. With similar lot sizes, home types, etc., perhaps there is another motivating factor, such as a home association that monitors and assesses fines for messy living.

Speaking of which, I have one sibling – a brother who is younger by two years. We are total opposites in the picking-up-after-yourself department. I am a total neat nick and he is….not.

He once told me that when he looks around his own home and sees mess and clutter that is how he knows it is his. Although he said this before he had four kids. Now I suspect he looks around his own home and pretty much only sees the areas that are free enough from clutter for him to take a nap on.

When we were both young and living with our parents, my mother never had to tell me to clean my room because it was always clean. But no matter how many times she told my brother to clean his, it never seemed to get any neater. And she would have to impose harsh penalties (typically involving television, dessert, and/or Star Wars figures) to get him to make even a minimal effort.

So an argument for “born this way” could hold some water with me.

While I have been trying to write this post, I have also been reading several interesting online conversations regarding why some people’s yards are full of green grass and flowers and others are full of car parts and trash.

If I had to sum up what I’ve read to date, it would be mostly that there is no consensus. Some people think it is the landlord’s fault for not keeping their rental properties picked up in between tenants. Other people think it is because only people who own their own homes will keep them neat and clean (personally, I feel like my brother, who has owned several homes already, can neatly debunk this myth).

Then some folks say it is because waste and trash removal services are too expensive in places where people make less money. I could see how, if you have a lot of stuff to remove, it could get pricey – I once shelled out $150 just to have a company haul away an old couch even the donation places didn’t want.

But at our local park (here in my new neighborhood) I recently saw no less than six empty plastic water bottles sitting on a table that was located approximately six feet away from a large, empty trash bin that the city regularly empties. So then, I have to wonder how much effort it would take to pick up the bottles and just pop them into the trash can, which is conveniently located in the direction of the nearby parking lot.

Like I said, it makes me frustrated and angry. Oh, and judgmental and sometimes condemning. And no amount of online research has yet alleviated any of that, except in one area: that of the elderly and/or infirm renter or homeowner.

Here is why: my back is not genetically strong and it tends to go out unexpectedly on a fairly regular basis. When this occurs, I cannot do anything. There is no plant watering, floor sweeping,  or trash bin rolling of any kind. I am restricted to the basics – keeping me and my non-human companions (one parrot and two turtles) watered and fed and, if absolutely necessary, showered – and that is it until my back heals.

But in many of the communities we’ve toured during our property searches, I have witnessed youngish-looking families with kids sitting out in front of their (dirty, trashy, cluttered) homes, staring at their (dirty, trashy, cluttered) lawns.

All that to say, I still just don’t understand it. I am also realizing that maybe I will never understand it.

And maybe someone like me, who even as a young child spent hours sorting out and color-coding everything from polished rocks to t-shirts, is not the ideal person to understand how or why others can live so differently, whether by choice or necessity or both or neither.

Today’s Takeaway: Having said that, however, I sure would love to hear any input or insight you have on this topic! If possible, I would also like for it to be as kind as possible – I realize this is a touchy topic with many opinions coming from many different experiences. By posting about it here, I am seeking a path to be less bothered and depressed when I come home to my (neat, clean) home and have to look at (and not be upset by or judgmental about) so many nearby properties that are anything but. It is not an easy feat!

Photo by slava

Why Do People Litter?

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Why Do People Litter?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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