A Junk Hauler's Confession
We have the most interesting conversations with our clients, particularly when we're dealing with a very large project. They usually start with statements like:
"You've seen worse, right?" - "Please don't judge." - "Tell me you can handle this."
We always have the same answers.
"Yes, we've seen worse." - "Don't worry - judgment-free zone here." - "Yes, we can take care of this for you."
We're not just saying what people need to hear, either. Not only have I probably seen worse, but I've probably lived it. You see - I grew up in the home of a hoarder, so we are very familiar with the dysfuntion of hoarding and the aftermath of keeping too much junk.
My father started hoarding in 1976 after he was let go from the military. He’d planned on serving in the Air Force until retirement, but that dream was shattered for him as the country pulled out of Vietnam and started the cutbacks on personnel. Reduction in Force sounds so impersonal, but let me tell you – it always stinks to get fired. It’s even harder when you love your job and thought you would be there for life.
To make ends meet, he started his own renovations business, (just living the American Dream) and that’s when the hoarding began. Between the reduced income levels, four kids and a wife at home, and the constant need for different tools and supplies on jobs, he started holding on to everything. He justified it by saying, “I might need that someday.” (Sounding familiar yet?)
Over time, spaces filled up. The “workroom” became a cluttered mess of tools and small odds and ends. Part of the family room fell victim to the collection of “things for jobs.” He filled an aluminum shed in the back yard and built a huge, two-story wood shed. Another aluminum shed joined the collection. Sadly, items that entered these storage areas simply never came out again. The shed that housed the kiln had gone untouched for so long that everything inside literally rotted away to nothing. The kiln, still in its shipping container, was the only thing that survived.
Of course, my brothers and I (being who we are) we did find some humor in the clutter. We never had to worry about being robbed – because most people were just freaked out by the house. Getting locked out was no problem. The main garage door was always unlocked - you just had to be able to navigate your way to the top of the five-foot pile and carefully crawl across. I did it more than once - and my parents were always amazed that I managed it without breaking any limbs. I think they underestimated how dense the stack was.
There was also the time my brother dug metal from the hoard and was pounding out some copper in the driveway. He wanted to sell it to buy a ring for his girlfriend. When the neighbor asked if our dad would be upset by that, he laughed. “Upset? You think he’ll ever notice it’s gone?!” (To answer that question – nope, Dad never noticed the missing scrap metal, but I’m also not sure what kind of ring John managed to get with the proceeds.)
Items were left in the yard, and the city would send a letter out about once a year saying that it had to be cleaned. (We all groaned, my mother secretly danced a jig because he would be forced to get rid of at least some stuff) That’s when the storage sheds came into play.
He still couldn’t bear to part with his items, so he would rent sheds to move the hoard and avoid any fines from the city. We won’t even discuss the costs of said storage sheds. His fear of tossing something valuable overrode any concern he had about that actual monthly expense and the checks that would be written. Today, as owners of a junk hauling business, we love getting calls to clean out sheds because we know that we’re helping people save their sanity and a nice little chunk of change every month.
My father passed away in 2006, and left behind a 2600-square-foot house filled with stuff. This included a crawlspace under the family room, the one-car garage, three on-site sheds, and three off-site storage units. The day before his funeral, a 20-yard dumpster landed in the yard and was quickly filled.
Old tools, useless job supplies, broken items, general garbage – into the dumpster it went. The leaky canoe that hadn’t seen water in 30 years? That was actually the first thing to go. Usable tools and building materials were donated, sold, or even given away. All types of household items that still had some life in them were sent to chartiable thrift stores. Scrap metal went to the recycling center.
Sadly - we filled a dumpster and you couldn't even tell. That's an impressive hoard when 20 yards can vanish and you still can't see a difference.
I don’t know how many miles I racked up on my little minivan shoving things in and taking it all over town. I do know that my mother rented about 8 dumpsters over the course of four years – and we got really at packing things in and filling the little nooks and crannies so that we could save a little money on the rentals.
Every time we cleared another space, we cheered. The memories are a little fuzzy as we just tried to get the hoard out so that my mom would have somewhere safe and enjoyable to live. However, the house became a little more pleasant with every trip. The odor from animals faded. The dirt was swept out. Damage was revealed and repairs were made.
It took us four years to clean out the property because we all lived out of town at the time. We traveled in for long weekends and holidays to help my mom sort and clear out. Yes, we also hired junk haulers to handle certain aspects of the cleanout, including the huge wooden shed in the back yard and the off-site storage sheds. Looking back – I wish we had just hired someone to do the entire job for us. It would have been faster, easier, and less stressful. Plus, I could have avoided the weird nightmares….(A story for another blog, perhaps)
Although, there were some humorous moments in the cleanout. Famous statements included:
"Oh look - I forgot we had that closet. Please tell me it's not still full of food." (It was - and the newest item had expired 10 years before)
"There's a ROOM there?!" (Uttered by a friend who's been in the house countless times - she had always just thought it was a pile of stuff leaning up against the wall. Nope - it was an entire ROOM piled with stuff)
"An unopened box of Jell-O gelatin from 1976? Somebody check the eBay value on this!" (*sigh* nope - no resale value on that one.)
So when my husband looked at me in 2015 and said, “Hey, I saw this great business opportunity for veterans….” I went, "Well, we certainly know all about hauling junk.”
My oldest brother teases me. “Who knew that all those years of moving dad’s junk would give you marketable skills?” And we laugh, but there’s also some truth to it, because I’ve been on your side of the fence.
I’ve listened to someone I love inspect an odd piece of metal, determine that he does not know what it goes to and likely cannot use it, and then keep it anyway.
I’ve watched the family arguments as a group pleads to have the house cleaned out and one person says, “But it’s my stuff and I don’t want to get rid of it.”
I’ve emptied a room only to discover mildew along the baseboard and damage to the sheetrock from hidden water leaks.
I’ve looked at a huge (ugly) china cabinet and gone, “How are we gonna get rid of this?”
I’ve struggled to find the energy to spend another day sorting and cleaning and just trying to get the stuff out.
I’ve also been the person standing there when a contractor walks into the house, looks around, and says, “What the ***** happened here?” Yes, we know it’s a mess. Yes, it’s an embarrassment. No, I really didn’t need you to point it out.
As a result of living with a hoarder, I have all types of skills now that others may not possess. We appreciate how important it is to treat every client with respect and integrity. We don't equate anyone's worth as a human being with the cleanliness of their house, and that shines through in our great service. My father was a talented, generous man with amazing skills – and he had the funniest stories from his days in the military and beyond. He also had a dysfunction that can be impossible to live with, but that did not negate his worth as a human being, friend, or family member.
It doesn’t matter if you made the mess, you’re dealing with someone else’s hoard, or you’re just trying to get rid of some old furniture that’s been down in the basement too long. We’re not judging, and we’re not making rude comments. We’re here to help, and we’re ready to answer those burning questions for you.
Can we take care of this? Yes. Yes, we can.
Are we going to recycle and donate what we can? Yes, we will.
Will we take great care to avoid damaging anything in the home or on the property? Absolutely
Oh, and for the record, don’t apologize to us for the mess. What came before doesn’t matter. What’s important today is that you’re ready to clean things up, and we’ll handle the heavy lifting (and even the bagging) for you. After all, we want to see you take your home from cluttered to beautiful, just as we did with my mom’s house.
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