[In November 2009 I did a search in a newspaper database at the library and found only this one result in a search for ‘Discardia’. Doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the web—not even referenced by title, so I’ll park it here.]
Drowning in Junk: America Can’t Let Go
PETER GENOVESE. Newhouse News Service. Washington:Oct 19, 2006. p. 1
Copyright Newhouse News Service Oct 19, 2006
“Guys, we’ve got this cast-iron stove,” Jim Barrett, his voice halfway between expectation and dread, tells his three-man crew, standing on the lawn of a South Bound Brook home.
Barrett and the three young men proceed to haul the massive cast- iron stove out of the basement, drag it across the yard and deposit it into a bright-blue truck parked at the curb.
Welcome to the front lines in the war against junk. Barrett is owner of six franchised territories in New Jersey for 1-800-GOT- JUNK? The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company is the world’s largest junk removal service; crews have carted away 5 million truckloads of junk since 1989.
They’ve seen it all, they’ve hauled it all, and they don’t shy away from anything. Past removal jobs have included five moose heads, a couch full of bees, a shed full of bowling balls, 13 huge porcelain Buddha statues, a defused World War II bomb, a mechanical bull, a quarter-truckload of used diapers, and 19,000 pounds of frozen animal carcasses.
“The general rule is, if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it,” said Drew Trautman, another 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise owner.
If only it were that easy. The nation’s 45,000 self-storage facilities that’s 2 billion square feet of storage space is proof of our never being able to let go. Broken-down air conditioners, TVs and VCRs; old couches, chairs and mattresses; torn, tattered photo albums all sitting in perpetual cobwebbed limbo. Add all those records, files and folders that should have been tossed long ago, and our ever-popular garage and yard sales what would an American weekend be without them? and it’s safe to say we’re practically drowning in junk.
One in 11 Americans owns a storage unit.
(FIRST OPTIONAL TRIM BEGINS)
There are TV shows devoted to the disposal and collecting of junk. Junk removal outfits that cart it away. Self-help books in which disposing of junk is an essential step on the path toward personal growth. Web sites dedicated to the obsessive behavior behind the massing of junk. One advocates a national holiday called Discardia.
“It is the time to get rid of things that no longer add value to your life, shed bad habits, let go of emotional baggage and generally lighten your load,” according to blogger Dinah Sanders on metagrrrl.com.
The great beauty about all those storage units mushrooming across the landscape is that they keep everyone’s junk out of view. You can hide your problem, and your junk. Forever, if you want. Just keep writing out that monthly check. It’s the American way of life.
“I tend to believe that Americans probably do save more old items than most other Western cultures,” said Kyle Husfloen, editor-at- large of Antique Trader Weekly.
(FIRST OPTIONAL TRIM ENDS)
Who are the worst pack rats men or women?
“Women are more likely to save items, both for frugality’s sake as well as sentimental reasons,” Husfloen said.
The self-described Russian Queen of Balloons can relate.
“I know what you mean!” said Irina Patterson, a South Florida- based entertainment and TV personality who makes artistic creations out of balloons. “Until recently, I was an avid junk collector myself. I kept my nonworking TV, VCR and old cell phones. I grew up in Russia, where everything was in extreme shortage. It is still painful for me to let go of my well-worn shoes.”
All those old VCRs, lampshades and photo albums in the basement or in storage are evidence of some deep-seated sentimental journey we want to keep taking.
Or so say psychologists and others who have studied the can’t- throw-this-away mentality.
“In working one-on-one with clients as a professional organizer for over two years, it is the purging that keeps them stuck in the organizing process,” said Sara Fisher, a professional organizer (www.a-simple-space.com) and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. “I’m not talking about the periodicals from 1972, but the not-so-attractive afghan that your great aunt knitted. I sometimes wish I had a magic wand to help my clients make quick decisions regarding letting go of their stuff. However, my procedure is to sit with them and ask questions such as `What does this glass bunny represent to you? Do you like it? Does it fit your lifestyle today?”‘
Thomas Caffrey, a licensed psychologist in New York, argues that hoarding junk “serves as a defense for the anxious, workaholic” kind of person.
“As long as the person has some junk old papers to read, refuse to sort through, clothing to check out he or she knows there is work to do, something to do,” according to Caffrey. “This means the person will never be idle, or without anything to occupy himself or herself. Such activity (and knowledge there is lots of such activity yet needing to be done) serves as an antidote to the anxiety that the person fears would be overwhelming if he or she were, as it were, left `alone’ without a task. So the hoarding continues, and the junk pile grows in spite of apparent efforts to reduce its size.”
Getting rid of long-held junk is not easy, especially the older you get. 1-800-GOT-JUNK? crews receive sensitivity training to deal with older clients who want personal and household items removed but may choke up when they see that old couch being dragged across the front lawn.
“It’s emotional, and it can be highly stressful,” Trautman said. “If (an item) should be broken down and the customer feels it’s something that shouldn’t be broken down, then don’t break it down in front of them.”
The price of a 1-800-Got-Junk? job depends on how much junk you’ve got. A typical-sized quarter-truckload runs about $250, all labor and disposal fees included. The items end up at the landfill, scrapyard, recycling center, Salvation Army, Goodwill, or the occasional antiques dealer.
“The customer doesn’t have to lift a finger; they don’t have to drag it out to the sidewalk,” said Barrett, who worked at AT&T for 20-plus years before acquiring six 1-800-GOT-JUNK? territories in New Jersey this June. “We’ll pull it out of the backyard, the basement.”
Apart from the ubiquitous couches, chairs, tables, TVs and bookshelves, he’s hauled away pingpong tables, ATM machines, hot tubs, several Universal machines “in great shape” and one log splitter.
There’s even a magazine devoted to finding good junk and putting it to use.
“We are noticing a strong nesting trend among folks around the country,” said Sue Whitney, co-editor of JunkMarket Style. “The nostalgia junk provides is playing an important role in house-to- home transformations. Recycled family heirlooms that are hiding in garages or attics are being lovingly restored and redesigned for the way we live today. Not only is this a clever way to recycle, but also adds charm, character, and warmth to modern abodes. Reclaimed goods offer homeowners personal style at more affordable prices.”
(SECOND OPTIONAL TRIM FOLLOWS)
In the current issue, Whitney and co-editor Ki Nissauer list what’s hot and what’s not in junk, in terms of collectibility and value. Hot: tourist glasses (“Welcome to Florida” et al.) from the ’60s, and mechanical games (predecessors to modern pinball machines). Not hot: shellacked crocodiles and other gift shop animal kitsch.
JL END GENOVESE
(Peter Genovese is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at pgenovese(at)starledger.com