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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why, Yes, That IS Junk in My Trunk!

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Moma Rock chose this week’s topic, and she asked:  Tell us about something you really love that others can’t relate to.

Boy, I gave this one a lot of thought.  I came up with approximately eleventy billion things that I love more than most people – the Property Brothers, Dr. Drew, TV shows and books about true crime, Circus Peanuts, the color pink – but I truly couldn’t think of anything I love that others couldn’t relate to in some way.

The most obvious answer was Bon Jovi, but I couldn’t write about that here because:  (1) I know I am not alone in my intense fandom (not obsession, thank you very much), and I have the friends and website addresses to prove it; and (2) it would take me exactly 279 pages to write about that topic.  Which I don’t have room for here.  And I know this because I’ve done it and maybe someday it will be a book and you can read it then.

So after wracking my brain for many, many nights – so much so I even dreamt about the topic – I’ve decided I’m going with one of my hands-down favorite misunderstood and underappreciated things:  Junk.

I love junk.  Love love love it.  Any chance I get, I frequent thrift stores and yard sales and estate sales.  I am a regular visitor to flea markets (I love the Nashville Flea Market and – bonus! – it’s open year round, unlike the one in Kane County, which closes for the winter).  I’ve been known to schedule out-of-town trips to coincide with flea markets (L.A. hosts some of my favorites), and I always visit local thrift stores when I’m visiting someplace new. 

I know I’m not alone:  I mean, look at the success of TV shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars.  Part of the appeal is the personalities, for sure.  But I’d venture to guess that many viewers, including me, like to watch those programs because they feature junk.

I can honestly say I’d fill my house with junk if I could (not in a Hoarders kind of way, no matter what my husband says).  Actually, I’m already on my way there.  Recently, I looked around the first floor of my home and realized almost every single piece of furniture and/or accessory is either:  (a) from a thrift store (the little chest of drawers next to the front door); (b) from an estate sale (my wooden free-standing pantry and my beloved gold etching of a monk); (c) from a yard sale (my awesome red leather bar stools, a steal at $10 each); (d) hand-me-downs (my kitchen chairs, my coffee and end tables, some accessories from my Grandma; or (e) from a flea market (my vintage hat displays from a flea in Paris).  The remainder came from small antique stores (the chipped wooden bench under the front window) or HomeGoods (the mirrors above the little chest of drawers) or Ikea (the couch!), all except my kitchen table, which my husband and his friend, Dave, built new, just for me.

My items have one thing in common:  I love them.  I love looking at them.  I love using them.  I love that their history precedes me and that I am giving them a new chapter in their live inside my life.  Even though they came from different places, they all fit together – to me, anyway.

I could spend days wandering around a flea market or through thrift stores.  I like the dust and the slightly moldy smell.  I like the thrill of the hunt, of looking for a bargain and scoring something valuable, or at least beautiful, at little or no cost.  I know some people just can’t be bothered, and the thought of possessing something previously owned by someone else, particularly clothes, kind of grosses them out.  “Why would you want dead people’s stuff?” they ask.  The answer is simple:  I love the stuff, especially the old, used stuff.  I cherish the age, embrace the imperfection:  the ironstone platter with the glazing that reveals its years; the patina on an old, silver candlestick; the chipped paint on a picture frame.

Estate sales are particularly interesting to me – where else can you walk into someone’s home and openly look at their stuff . . .  and buy it?  I suppose in some ways, these sales are sad:  they almost always follow a death or a divorce or a decline in financial circumstances.  I always keep that in mind at these sales, never wanting to be like the early arrivals who would step on their own mommas if it meant getting their hands on a good deal.  That’s not my style.  One of my favorite authors, Beth Hoffman, summed up my feelings in her beautiful novel, Looking for Me.  She wrote:  “As much as I loved these kinds of sales, beneath the surface they were somber affairs – people picking through the belongings of the dead, or those soon to be.  Rarely did I feel indifference when I touched the private items of perfect strangers.”

I keep those words in the back of my mind whenever I walk through someone’s home and look through their belongings.  Usually, I’m okay, and I can put aside any twinge of melancholy or hint of remorse.  Indeed, only twice has an estate sale really “gotten” to me.  Once, years ago, I walked into a house sale and immediately felt the hair on the back of my neck go up.  I ignored it and continued through the building, but when I hit what had been a bedroom, my feeling of unease grew so strong, I knew I had to leave.  I truly felt like something or someone did not want me in that house, and so I didn’t stay.  Last year, I went to the estate sale for a sweet lady next door to whom my family had briefly lived when we first moved to Evanston.  Marie had passed away shortly after the previous Christmas, and her family had begun cleaning out her house – a monumental task, as (a) Marie was 93 years old and (b) she loved to shop.  During the sale, I found myself looking more at the house than the stuff.  I walked through and tried to picture Marie in the various rooms:  the kitchen, the living room, her bedroom.  I made three token purchases that day.  First, I chose a brooch for my Mom; I believed it lucky, given Marie’s longevity.  Next, I chose a hand-painted bowl and an old book about St. Marie.  Those I bought solely as reminders of my now-gone neighbor, and they sit – alongside other antiques – on the shelving unit/room divider in the middle of my first floor.  I look at those things sometimes, and I remember my friend.

I’ve learned a great deal at estate sales and flea markets and antique stores, and I’ve met some interesting and knowledgeable people.  Junkers are generally kind and friendly.  A few weeks ago, I started talking to a woman at a thrift store, and we spent a good half hour comparing notes on our favorite stores and our biggest scores.  Her excitement at the brass plant stand in her cart was palpable – she’d been looking for something like it for ages, and who could beat $3.99 – and she gushed as she showed it to me.  We complained that the Salvation Army on Oakton had gone to pot and smelled like a sewer, and I urged her to check out estate sales, an area of junking into which she’d not yet ventured.  Our encounter made my whole afternoon.  I’d met a kindred spirit, and I hope I run into her again. 

 A few of my friends are into thrifting, though we never go together.  Two of my Facebook friends became such thanks to junking.  Brad owns an estate sale company in Illinois, and Mary Grace runs a small antique booth in Tennessee.  We met over junk, but when we got to talking, we realized our shared interests didn’t end there.  And real friendships blossomed.

My junk adventures aren’t limited to stores or house sales, though.  I’m not opposed to picking up an abandoned “whatever” from the curb or behind a garage.  My friend Maria gives me a run for my junking money here.  We live mere blocks apart, and we keep our eyes peeled as we drive the streets of our neighborhood.  We like to send each other curbside updates.  “Just grabbed a dresser from the alley behind Hastings!” she’ll write.  A few days later, it’s my turn:  “Found a mirror on the curb across from Three Crowns Park!”  We are happy for the other . . .  but also a tad bit envious.  But there’s enough junk to go around.  Not long ago, our mutual friend Cynthia got rid of her dining room set.  She posted her freebie on Facebook and within minutes, Mariah grabbed the table and I snagged the chairs.  We are forever wedded in junk.

My family has mixed feelings about my habits.  The younger kids, having been dragged through one too many Goodwills, lament thrift store stops (though they always seem to find something they want/like).  My husband calls me a hoarder and is less than thrilled when I pile stuff in the dining room or when he opens the back of the van to find a table . . .  or a chair . . . or a dinged up shelf.  But he never complains when I hand him a book I found for him, or when I ask him to hang a framed picture for which I paid a whopping $2.  My eldest child is finally embracing vintage clothing, and one of her favorite pieces is a polyester men’s shirt featuring weird blurry images of faces surrounded by German phrases.  I found it at a Salvation Army store, and she snatched that sucker up – along with an old piece of carry-on luggage she described as “gorgeous” when she discovered it lying in my pile of stuff.  (She also cherishes the kitten we picked up at the Rosemont Flea Market when the now-19 was just 6 years old.)

I don’t expect anyone to embrace my love of all things junk, and I’m kind of glad more people don’t, because that just means more junk for me!  I’ll keep trolling the aisles of the nearest Salvation Army, scouring the flea markets and estate sales and even the alleys and curbs.  And as I lovingly clean up my finds and look for a place for them in my own home, I’ll stop for a few moments and wonder about their history in the time before me:  who loved them, who used them, why they parted with them.

After all, as Beth Hoffman once wrote, “Old things h[o]ld so many untold stories.”


  1. You MUST take a road trip to visit me. I will take you to my favorite thrift store and you can just load up. You could even help clean out our house of stuff that we don't look at anymore. :)
    The subject line made me think of that junk in the trunk song from the early 2000s. :)
    Great post!

    1. I would love to visit you for SO MANY reasons! There used to be a store near the Eastern Market in D.C. that I loved back in the day, and they had a neat flea market on weekends, too. I will get there someday!