Book Review: Junk; Digging Through America's Love Affair with Stuff
Alison Stewart's book “Junk: digging through America's love affair with stuff” opens with her experience of clearing out her family's basement after her parents passing. This experience was the inspiration for the writing of this book, as she developed such a strong curiosity/bewilderment about why all this junk even exists, not just for her family, but most of America’s.
One thing that is important to note is the fact that this is NOT an organizing book, or a how to book. What it most certainly is, though, is a very comprehensive study of junk. Stewart expertly explores the confounding questions what junk even is, where it comes from, and most importantly, what it all means. After all, it’s just JUNK, isn’t it? Stewart shows us that there’s more to junk than meets the eye.
" All this junk was the unfortunate byproduct of a lot of love." - xii introduction
That was the quote that actually made me cry because it rings SO TRUE. Many people keep things because of sentimental attachments; ex: wedding rings/photos/etc. So many times material items are reminders of people and past events which we cling to as if these memories and feelings won’t exist any longer if the item is gone.
While it makes sense to hold on to the most special of these items, keeping too many sentimental items can easily become a hinderance versus a treasure. For example, if you have ten items your Aunt gave you, which one do you love the most? Do they not all have the same loving intention in all of them? Instead of keeping all ten, narrow it down to the one(s) you will be most likely to use/display. Your aunt’s love doesn’t diminish by only having one of the gifts she gave you, nor does your love of her. These are some of the things that came to my mind reading this book.
Stewart certainly did her research on everything junk related from junk art to junk business and even has an entire (questionable) chapter dedicated to the actual pack rat animal. (Get it? Because some people are called pack rats, she wanted to know why and devoted a chapter to the habits of actual pack rats; told you she was thorough!)
There are also several valuable interviews which depict a variety of perspectives of junk. From her own experiences, to professionals who manage it and those who downright love all kinds of junk. An interview between Stewart and Dr. Tolin sheds excellent light onto how we can learn to live with it and even control our junk intake, the answer may surprise you!
Although the book seems to have several definitions of what junk is, my favorite version is in a quote by Mary Randolph Carter, (Author of several books and creative director of Ralph Lauren clothing company). She is a junk enthusiast and proudly claims that “Junk is the evidence of life”. This made me think of things like an old clarinet in the attic from 4th grade, wedding photos,baby blankets, it all really is evidence of life isn’t it?
For me, Stewart’s book amazingly enough, managed to turn this ugly word, “JUNK”, into something with a beautiful meaning; Junk = byproduct of a lot of love which is the evidence of our lives. This may not be the case to you at this exact moment, but at one point in time that old broken lightbulb lit a family’s dinner table, or that rusty tire was someone’s first bike, you just never know what the story is behind something or what it did or does mean to someone. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, remember and this book really made me appreciate that.
(Below: Alison & I at her Book Signing at Malaprops in Asheville, NC)