The pandemic has inspired a great decluttering, a boon for junk-hauling companies
Since the January 2019 tsunami inspired by Marie Kondo’s tidy Netflix series, Americans have not been as inspired to clear the trash from their homes. But this time around, our options for getting rid of that junk are limited as we stay home and have social distancing guidelines. Yard sales are risky. Some donation points remain closed. And some communities have limited collections of bulk waste.
“Think how many people have created home offices out of a room they used for storage,” says Michael Frohm, chief operating officer of Goodwill of Greater Washington, who reported a 20 percent year-over-year increase in donations and rented three temporary warehouses for storage. “You didn’t want all that stuff behind you during a Zoom call. They had to vacate it. “
When an aunt Weinstein offered a whole set of furniture for family rooms in June, she looked into her hobby room in the basement and imagined a meeting place for her four grandchildren. But it was piled to the ceiling with overfilled shopping bags, a series of world book encyclopedias from 1962, old televisions, and toy boxes from their now 30-year-old children. In terms of energy, she took action. Her aunt’s house went on sale so there was a deadline. Weinstein, a real estate agent, worked morning through evening for 10 days, filling dozens of garbage bags. “I felt so much lighter,” she says. Weinstein hired Shred-it to collect and dispose of four huge bins of old files. And she called 1-800-Got-Junk to get the rest away.
Claudine Rubin, owner of the 1-800-Got-Junk DC franchise, says business slowed in March when people stayed home and tried to adjust to their new reality. “Then, in April, we saw a huge surge,” says Rubin. “As waste disposal, we were seen as an essential business. Many landfills were closed to the public and bulk pickups were suspended in many areas. They couldn’t make donations. That’s where we got our spike. “
Like others in the transportation business, Rubin switched to touchless garbage disposal with protective gear and payments over the phone. Customers wrote photos of their broken lounge chairs or dented filing cabinets to minimize contact. At treadmills and sofas, employees went in with masks and gloves.
Some customers, like Amy Garver from Gaithersburg, had entire rooms vacated. Garver, an assistant to the teacher, has recaptured a former playroom to turn it into a work area with space for their three children. Rubin’s crew pulled out a truckload of old shelves, unwanted craft projects, and a “mishmash” of games with missing parts.
Customers’ trash is recycled or used for other purposes whenever possible, says Rubin. The company held onto as much reusable clothing and housewares as possible and waited for donation centers like Habitat for Humanity to reopen.
At 123Junk, the normal spring cleaning surge lasted through June and July, says Collin Wheeler, president and founder of the Washington area company. He says business is still doing well and the company will recycle and donate as much as possible. “We loaded our warehouses and packed them as tightly as possible until we could donate items.”
Charities that are still open (or have reopened) are inundated with goods. At the beginning of the pandemic, goodwill stores in the Washington area closed, but they took donations until stocks were full and stopped donating until June 8. Now there are 18 visited donation points in stores that are only open three hours a day. The warehouses are still very full. On a Saturday on Goodwill’s Glebe Road, Arlington, there were 600 deliveries of overcrowded cars and trucks. For second-hand goods buyers, says Frohm, it’s a gold mine: “The quality of things at the moment is amazing.”
GreenDrop, which collects clothing, small furniture and household items on behalf of four national charities across the mid-Atlantic, closed in March. It started picking up and reopened donation centers in June. The items it processes are sold in one of the 11 2nd Ave Value stores, which closed at the start of the pandemic but are now open. “We noticed that the donations are of a higher quality and things are packed very neatly,” said Tony Peressini, GreenDrop General Manager. “People had more time to organize things and pack things carefully before they could bring them to us.”
Professional organizers have helped clients deal with things and many have started with virtual appointments. When customers didn’t have space to stow bags, professional organizer Monica Friel, founder of Chicago’s Chaos to Order, and her team often just put garbage bags of clothes in the trunks of their own cars or in their offices for later donation. “It’s hard to leave bags hanging around. You don’t want your customers to deal with you again, ”she says. “If we don’t take them away, we’ll label them and tie them up so that it isn’t so urgent to go over them again.”
Jaime Hayes, co-owner of Bethesdas Good Order DC, says many of their customers have amassed a ton of things that they can give away without putting them anywhere. She put some in her own garage until she could get a GreenDrop pickup.
Dumpster landlords are other junk companies that have seen growth during the coronavirus outbreak. Matt Owings, founder of Next Day Dumpsters in Gaithersburg, expected all segments of his business to decline during the pandemic, but his residential business nearly doubled year over year. “We get a lot of first-time tenants who realize that a dumpster is an efficient way to get rid of things from garage or basement cleanings or small DIY renovations,” says Owings. His two week rent starts at about $ 400.
When Debbie Epstein Henry, a speaker and expert on women’s careers, realized in March that her three sons would be returning home during the pandemic, she rented a dumpster. “At first life really felt out of control, but when you can organize, you feel more in control,” says Henry, who has lived in the same house outside of Philadelphia for 23 years. She and her husband and sons (19 to 24 years old) spent 10 weekends combing every closet and drawer. They worked together and listened to music. They packed clothes and toys that filled three truckloads for goodwill. They threw rusted bicycles, broken furniture and beat up kitchen utensils straight into the trash can.
She is delighted that she can open a closet without falling on her head, and she has rediscovered precious photos and handwritten recipe cards from relatives who are now gone.
“The pandemic has brought a lot of sadness and we all deal with it in different ways,” says Henry. “We found solace in family treasures and reliving some of our experiences and memories. It was really worth it that my boys could be part of the process. This is a small way for our family to feel productive and to donate what we no longer need. “