This is basically a pro-junk book, in the sense that Alison Stewart treats junk as an interesting subject. It is, of course. Nobody would collect clutter otherwise. Junk is a sympathetic and funny look at what is increasingly becoming a major part of American culture.
The book begins with Stewart’s quest to clear out her parents’ basement. She has the help of her sister and a friend. Still, it takes them eight months. This includes a mutual agreement not to even glance at any photographs, but put them aside for later. The project introduces her to the world of junk haulers and professional organizers.
Apparently, the need for organizers and junk haulers still provokes skepticism in many people. All I can say to that is that they must have only well-organized friends. My work over the past twenty years leads me to estimate that at least 20% of the population in the US has trouble with chronic disorganization, Stage One hoarding, squalor, or all of the above. This was probably not the case earlier in our nation’s history, as people had to make their own material goods and repair, reuse, or do without. Now, we are constantly surrounded by junk mail and cheap consumer goods.
Stewart explores these issues, even including an interview with the man who sent the first spam email. Anything described as ‘junk’ has a place in the book, including space junk. I learned that ‘junk’ began as a nautical term for worn-out rope, giving the word a connotation of stuff that is not only useless, but worse than useless, as trying to make it last longer can be dangerous and destructive.
Minimalism and tiny homes make their appearance. A couple of people who are profiled live a minimalist lifestyle in tiny homes. There is also a tiny home community for people who are transitioning away from homelessness. Junk hauling plays a large role in the continuing function of this community. It is interesting how some of the people whom Stewart profiles wind up absorbing some of the junk they haul, while the work causes others to shy away from it and cut back on material things in their lives. (I fall into the latter camp, getting rid of more stuff every time I do a job).
Junk is a really intriguing, sometimes funny book. It includes discussions about all the clutter-related reality TV shows, from Antiques Roadshow to Pawn Stars to Hoarders. Stewart interviews various professional junk haulers, showing how many of these businesses are owned by or employ veterans or the formerly homeless. She shows how much of the hauled junk is reused, donated, and given a new life. She interviews the founder of Freecycle and explores an organization called Repair Café, something that caught my attention and made me look for one in my own area. Maybe I’ll make an appearance some Saturday and help people mend some old clothes. It’s a bit of a paradox, but valuing our old things enough to repair and care for them may be the only solution to the never-ending tidal wave of stuff that we send to the landfill every day.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.