Digital Thinking and 'Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff’

And questions about 4 other books on stuff and garbage.

May 12, 2016

Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff by Alison Stewart.

Published in April of 2016.

Alison Stewart starts her book Junk: Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff with the story of her late parents' house. She and her sister find themselves completely overwhelmed by the task of cleaning out the home that she grew up in. Eventually, they admit that hauling away decades worth of random accumulation (from collectables to electronics, sports equipment to furniture) is beyond their capabilities. They hire professional junk removers - and pay to have it all hauled away.

This experience sets Stewart on a mission to understand why American’s collect so much stuff - and the people who have built an industry on our drive to accumulate.

Stewart spends time with junk haulers and the people who run storage units. She investigates the TV shows that are built on stuff - with entertaining chapters on Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars. The psychology of hoarding and the fad towards tiny houses is examined. Professional organizers are profiled.

There are hints of a larger story in Stewart’s narrative on Junk - a story about a generational shift away from owning to using. Generation X (1965 to 1980), and Millennials (1980 to 2000), show much less interest in ownership.

How many of you would rather use Uber, Lyft, or ZipCar than own a car?

How many of you have your books, music and video as digital files (stored on the cloud) - rather than in the form of physical collections of paper and plastic stored in your home?

Could it be that baby boomers will be the last generation to have their homes fill up with so much stuff that their kids will have to hire junk removal companies when their parents depart the scene?

Or is a generational lens the wrong way to look at the accumulation of stuff? Many young people I know love to collect everything from old books to old gadgets. And many people over 50 that I know are paragons of minimalism.

I can speak only for myself, but I know that the more my career has been about digital work the less physical things I have wanted to possess. At this point, all of the content that I own is digital - although I realize that in the age of Amazon and Apple it may be a stretch to say that I own anything.

Reading Junk provides an enjoyable way to think about our relationship to our stuff.

After reading Junk you may find yourself going through your living space (and maybe your office) and aggressively getting rid of any objects that fail to give you joy.

What other books on stuff, garbage, and junk would you recommend?

Some books on this topic that I have not yet read - but am interested in - are listed below. Do you recommend reading any of these books?

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee and Randy Frost

The Story of Stuff: The Impact of Overconsumption on the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-And How We Can Make it Better by Annie Leonard

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte

Am I missing other good books in this genre?

What are you reading?


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