The Definition of Junk: An Alison Stewart Book Review

I come from a family of hoarders.

There was never a moment that was worthy of landing us on the popular A&E show, unless you count sweet little Auntie Florence. At a staggering four foot eight inches tall, this woman really knew how to pack a home full of borderline unsanitary items. The other members of her assisted living home called her Slow Flo from Cicero and knew that if any of her family members were there to visit that they needed to distract her while we hauled out dozens of garbage bags full of junk. There was toast covered by a napkin in the seat compartment of her walker and clothes stuffed in the closet that were claimed to be hers but were definitely from the deceased woman that lived across the hall. There was a photo of Jesus in a Cancun souvenir picture frame and paper place mats cut up into squares to use as a form of note taking. They made us laugh and cry and hope to God that we didn’t end up doing that one day. But as I said, this trait is definitely in our genes.

In Alison Stewart’s Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff, she explores the vast amounts of junk accumulated throughout the United States. From garage sales that span entire highways to pawn shop dealers and junk removal services, she dives into every possible definition of the word “junk”.

It begins with the story of Stewart's parents who, similar to Slow Flo from Cicero, grew up in the Great Depression and accumulated anything imaginable. After their passing, Stewart and her family dealt with a lengthy process of removing everything from her parent’s basement. As a journalist, she saw the story behind this concept and turned it into a unique style of reporting. Her three-year exploration took her down Route 411 for a four-day highway garage sale, into the homes of collectors and behind the scenes of television shows such as Pawn Stars and Antiques Roadshow. She interviewed professional organizers, professional junk removal services and the very first person to send a spam email. The different varieties of the term “junk” are expanded upon far beyond its original definition.

Her work as an investigative journalist really shines throughout the book, making each section more informational than the last. The dedication she spent on each section of the book is incredibly apparent in the most rewarding way. This is a topic that translates to generations of junk collectors to generations of junk removers. I know it’s translated to me – I’ve been on a junk removal kick since I finished reading.

Whether you’re interested in storage boxes from The Container Store, giving Annie Haul a call or pawning everything off on TV, Junk is the perfect read to jump start your spring cleaning this year.