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Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  339 ratings  ·  77 reviews
Junk has become ubiquitous in America today. Who doesn’t have a basement, attic, closet, or storage unit filled with stuff too good to throw away? Or, more accurately, stuff you think is too good to throw away.

When journalist and author Alison Stewart was confronted with emptying her late parents’ overloaded basement, a job that dragged on for months, it got her thinking:
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2016 by Chicago Review Press
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Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Palm Springs commercial photography

When I think about junk my mind automatically heads towards Hoarders territory, because like several million people I have a fascination with all types of junk. The author of this book obviously does also because she made me think of types of junk that had not even popped into my little mind. It all starts when she and her sister have to clean out her parents basement. They had let their basement become the collect all for a lifetime of their children's mementos and like most of us...just st
An uninspired tome about junk. This is differentiated from crap by being potentially useful to someone, somewhere, somehow. Crap is unequivocal trash.
She bounced a bit from space junk, junk transport, junk on TV and somehow it felt unconnected.
There were a lot of editing errors - enough to make them irritating. Some (like p 254 - “she does not want to dictate or lecturer people about why..” - who wants to lecturer people?) were just bleh; but some were fun:
p 245 - “colorful spools of threat”
p 27
Doris Jean
I liked Chapter Two on pack rats – human and otherwise. Apparently Arizona is home turf for animal pack rats known as Neotoma albigula, and there are enough of them in Tucson, Arizona to support Kris Brown who has been in the pest control business for forty years and he gets called to dismantle pack rat dens. This was the best chapter in the book.

The rest of the book was up and down for enjoyment, there were some interesting paragraphs and some paragraphs that would have improved the book by the
Jul 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I think my favorite line in the book was a quote from one of the junk haulers: "Once you turn fifty you should just have to start giving things away." (p133)

The author takes a look at many aspects of junk - the stuff we usually think of filling attics and basements, but also space junk and pack rats (the furry kind) and the business of junk. I think my favorite parts were the interviews with junk haulers and the people recycling used goods by either donating or reselling or remaking/fixing the
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This is another one of the 4th Genre non-fiction pieces, in which the author recounts her research (mostly interviewing interesting people) to dig into American accumulation of, disposal of and relationship to "junk." After cleaning out her parents' basement, this includes a visit to Austin's Cathedral of Junk, riding around with junk haulers, hoarder counselors, the Container Store, behind the scenes at Antiques Roadshow and Pawnstars, the storage space industry and international agreements abo ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, netgalley
That perfectly decorated, manicured home that's hiding a cluttered secret deep in the basement-- we've all seen it. Maybe it's your parents' or your grandparents' home. Maybe it's yours.

But WHY are so many Americans keeping basements and attics full of items that aren't necessary or beautiful enough to make it into our main living space? Why do we keep acquiring? Why can't we let go?

Junk seeks the answer to these very questions. This is not another book telling you to throw out all your stuff.
Randal White
Feb 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Stewart has delivered a clever, entertaining book about America's fascination with "junk". A quick read, well written, with many chapters delving into lots of different subject matter. It is written in such a manner that you could pick and choose chapters at will, as each tells a different story.
The author takes you along on rides with several junk removal teams, with names such as Annie Haul and Junk Vets. She also explores behind the scenes activities at the popular TV shows Antiques Roadshow
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I was disappointed in this book for several reasons, but the main one was how sloppily it was edited. Not just in terms of the outright errors (although there were plenty of those), but Stewart's writing did not flow very well. Structurally, the book was a bit scattered, as well. The Q&As were not interesting to me and, in fact, seemed as though they were added just to fill some space.

It was astonishing to see that Stewart actually thanked her editors in the acknowledgement. Did she not read thr
John Adkins
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a very interesting exploration of our national obsession with stuff or junk as the author calls it. The story is told in a breezy style that keeps you reading and includes interviews, anecdotes, and research on topics such as hoarders, junk removal companies, yard sale culture, spam email, and even space junk. The stories are told sympathetically throughout and it is clear that the author is as interested in the people she is speaking with as she is their mounds of stuff.

This review was
Stephanie A.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I started disappointed that the prologue wasn't the entire book (cleaning out her parents' basement after 50 years), but ended up really enjoying everything except the super-boring chapter on space junk. Parts of it have a slight "anthropologist discovers mysterious jungle tribe" tint, as if she'd never visited a garage sale or thrift store before in her life (or was writing for people who hadn't), but for the most part it's written like an unusually engaging grad school thesis. I had fun readin ...more
Feb 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book wasn't what I expected, but it was still very entertaining, thought provoking and interesting to read. The author, Alison Stewart, interviewed many young professionals in the cleaning, junk removal and entertainment industries all pertaining to the junk, clutter and stuff American's accumulate these days. I was fascinated by the inner workings of places from flea markets, trash collection to pawn shops and television shows, all dealing with our junk. The author actually visited, rode w ...more
Pietro Maximoff
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
i picked up this book because i thought it was going to be a scientific look into the minds of hoarders, and/or how to cope with hoarders in your life. instead it's an opener about the author cleaning out the basement of her deceased parents, and a bunch of interviews with junk haulers from around the country. the interviews were kind of interesting but repetative. the interview with the tv producer was cool, but the final interview is practically incomprehensible. i really wouldn't recommend th ...more
Mar 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This book takes a deeper look at junk, examining not just where the word came from, but also how people across the country define it. Alison Stewart interviews a variety of people, including people who own junk hauling businesses, pawn shops, resale shops, and work to repair items. She also discusses the rise of TV where the main topic is stuff (such as Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars). While parts of the book are interesting, it can get repetitive. There were a lot of interviews with people wh ...more
Alysa H.
Feb 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
An interesting, if often repetitive, look at America's "junk" industry. Stewart chose well the colorful characters that she focuses on in chapters about junk hauling and removal, junk art, pawn shops, etc. Less successful are the tangents about things like space junk and pack rats (the actual rodents), all of which are interesting in themselves, but within the context of this book felt like an off-topic attempt to appeal to fans of Mary Roach. It was also a weird decision to end the book with an ...more
I had no idea there is an organization that will repair your broken items for free.

It's all over the world (currently in 29 countries) and you can find the repair cafe nearest to you at the site.
Run by volunteers and non-profit.

from the website:
The Repair Café Foundation wants to make repair a part of the local community once again. It aims to maintain and spread repair expertise, and to promote social cohesion by bringing together neighbours from all walks of lif
Neil Pierson
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Why do we acquire and keep stuff we really don't need or use?

No great insights here, but there are some interesting anecdotes. Stewart touches on the acquisition phase and on hoarding, but most of the book is about various organizations that take away (junk haulers) or receive (pawn shops) junk and what happens to it. The ideal characteristics for a junk hauler seem to be patience, a sympathetic ear, a pleasing manner, a psychology degree, a strong back, and an impaired sense of smell. This is i
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Not an academic study of junk, more a grab bag about junk from different angles -- how do people accumulate junk, the people who cart away people's lifetime collections of junk, space junk, reality programs featuring junk (Antiques Road Show, Hoarders, Pawn Stars, etc.), and more. If one subject doesn't click, move to the next, but they're all pretty interesting and it's written in an easy conversational style. It's also great inspiration to start clearing out your own collection of junk. ...more
Apr 10, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, if only because I learned so much about the huge numbers of businesses to help us get rid of our junk. We all consume too much, and apparently we can't handle the problem ourselves. The author explores all the different options and types of junk. I confess that the section on space junk left me cold. I know the junk is up there, but it's hard for me to see how it affects my habits and solutions. ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-sfb
I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since I attended the southern festival of books and heard the author speak. It was very interesting and thought provoking. I was intrigued by some of the information. I was also surprised to read about local boy Daniel Norris in one of the chapters.

Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
When Alison Stewart and her sister have to clean out their late parent's house to get it ready to sell they make short work of the main level - most things were in working order and could be donated and they each wanted to keep a few family mementos. But the basement was another story. After spending months of Saturdays working hard they had barely made a dent and Stewart knew it was time to get professional help. Sorting through her parent's basement and subsequently paying someone to help clea ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
In my head, it's more of a 3.75, but I rounded up. This was a really interesting look at "junk" and many different facets of what it means to interact with junk/stuff/crap/belongings.

From an information standpoint, I really enjoyed this. Stewart's ridealongs with the various junk removal companies featured in the book gave you a good sense of the different people who get into this field and what they do. The chapter on pack rats was cute, and the chapter on space junk more than a little terrify
Jan 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020
I saw this book as Freecycle's January Book selection and gave it a try. It hooked me right from the start but parts definitely felt like a slog. It is hard to pinpoint what "junk" is. I am glad the book didnt focus on hoarding as that definitely requires books on that topic alone (and she references good ones). I would have liked a website listing to things like Repair Cafe or the junk haulers she traveled with at the end. The book did feel like it gave about 50% airtime to junk haulers. If you ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting enough book, buoyed by the author’s disarmingly relatable writing style. Don’t expect any deep discoveries, but it’s a fascinating slice-of-life to hear from the people who make a living cleaning out the homes of hoarders, or who pull the strings on the TV shows that make people believe the stuff moldering in their garage could be worth something. A few chapters are misses - it’s kind of explanatory why junk food and junk bonds got their names, and tiny house/anti-materialism evan ...more
Carianne Carleo-Evangelist
A surprisingly good read about the increased consumerism and the role of junk collectors in all their forms to counter it. Stewart's start with junk began when she needed to clean out her parents' house for sale and it turned into a look at the industry that has grown out of the disposable nature of our society. From the Junk Cathedral in Texas to the local spin offs of GotJunk, Stewart profiled a number of people who have made their living from others' junk. She also spent some time differentia ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
This book started off so strong, with the story of cleaning out her parents packed basement. But what started off closer to wonderful "Hoarders" with plenty of details on each piece of crap, totally transformed into several repetitive chapters on junk haulers. I was very much looking forward to the end, but couldn't give up on it, just in case she started talking about hoarders! Each chapter began to sound like an advertisement for 1-800-GOTJUNK, or someone exactly like them. And when it wasn't ...more
Nov 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found this to be interesting and well researched as you see how our desire or undesirable interest in things have shaped the way we live. Writer and journalist Alison Stewart takes a look into the world of junk which includes the business aspect of storage units and junk removal.

The only thing I didn't enjoy reading were the few interviews that included, they didn't really add anything to the book.
Dec 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Alison Stewart covers a lot of junk but there's not a lot of persuasion of how to change society to rethink junk. It's a little depressing that throughout the United States it's pretty much the same. Call a company to get rid of stuff when you have become overwhelmed. You just want it gone, sometimes with a reassurance that the stuff is still usable. I'm glad some people are trying to recycle, reuse but we need to rethink our buying habits.

Also the verbatim interviews are hard to read.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it liked it
A quick read. Stewart covers a bunch of angles on the subject: space junk, junk hauling businesses, repair "cafes" that fix items to keep them out of landfills. It was interesting to think on why we keep items since once we die, it's a problem for someone else- our families will have to get rid of most everything we leave behind. ...more
May 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
The interviews are interesting, but this feels like a series of articles loosely connected by a vague term. Lots of interviews with junk removal folk around the country. I finished it, but the whole thing lacked cohesion and the author's conclusion chapter was horrific. No sense of depth or insight, just interesting bits and pieces from around the country. ...more
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's a great light read about junk, what junk is, people who have junk, people who hoard junk, people who clean junk, terms containing the word junk, space junk, etc. It's more like lightly coherent essays than one big narrative, which is what I was in the mood for anyway. Upon some reflection, I need to throw more stuff away... ...more
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