The Psychology of Junk

I love junk... I'm the kind of guy that just can't pass up some rusted bed-frame laying on the side of the road. I just 'gotta have it. It's metal, angle iron... I could make something from that. Of course, like all of my kind (except maybe those living out in the desert somewhere), I have more junk than space. In fact, I have so much junk that I don't have any room to do anything with it. If I want to do something, anything, I have to move a pile of junk out of the way before I can start.

Thus, I've been thinking about all this junk the last while. Why do I just 'gotta have it? Why can't I be like a normal person and just go to the store when I need something? Why would I rather store junk, with all the costs this entails, instead of paying the store to, well, store it for me? That's what stores do. Take my off-cut bin for example. When I make something out of wood, there are always little bits left over. Those bits can come in handy, when using a drillpress for example. It's always good to have a few bits of wood kicking around for whatever. So, I have a cardboard box up on a cabinet in front of my benchsaw. Yes, that box is overflowing, still, even after moving a bunch of this "good stuff" to a drawer in a shed that's buried behind a bunch of other good stuff. So, now, when I need the benchsaw, I have to clear all these stupid little bits of wood out of the way. Honestly, if I ran out of little bits of wood for backing boards while using the drillpress, I could go cut a chunk off the new 2x4 standing in the corner. Yes, this would be a waste of new material, I might even waste $2 worth in the course of a year. $2... or cutting a board with a handsaw because I'm too lazy to clear the junk and get to my benchsaw. Why do I have to have this junk around, instead of just cutting a bit off some new stock when I need it?

I think I have the answer. I used to think it was because I was efficient, the ultimate recycler. I didn't waste anything. But, reality is a lot less grandiose. I have all this junk around because I prefer to build things out of junk. No, not because I don't believe in waste, it's because I'm chicken. When I work with new material, I don't want to waste any of it. I plan, I measure, I make cut-lists, and I swear my head off when I inevitably screw it up. But, when I use found material, junk from the side of the road, I don't care. I throw stuff together, if it works, great. If not, who cares. I didn't waste anything, it was already junk. Easy come, easy go. That's the secret allure of working with junk. It's like spending found money. It's easy, no stress at all. The honest truth is that working with junk instead of new material is a lot more fun.

But, junk has a dark side too, there are a lot of hidden costs. First, you have to spend time processing the junk. I'm not talking about finding it, that part's fun - kind of like hunting. But, after you get it to the shop, you have to take it apart, and that takes time and consumables. Saw blades, drill bits, gloves, and the occasional knuckle all get used in this processing. Second, is the part we all know about, storage. Maintaining a large store of junk takes space, and that space costs. It may be in money, or arguments with the family, risk to people running about, or poor relations with neighbours. Maybe you're like me and have bought new material to build a shed to keep your junk. Heck, even all those tarps cost money. Third, and this is the real kicker, it creates a lot of constraints on new projects. Instead of having your pick of materials from the store, you get bits of this and that from the junk piles. So, the shelves can only be this big, or it can only use that kind of hinge, or it has to be made out of the wrong type of material. The list goes on. Basically, while it may be a lot less stressful working with found material, it's a lot more work, and the results are often less than ideal.

So, what am I going to do about this new found realisation, that all my problems with junk actually stem from me being too chicken to use new material. Well, I've already cleared all the off-cuts in front of my benchsaw. Yup, they went in the garbage. I know, a tiny first step, but it was hard to do. This isn't going to be an instantaneous behavioural change; no cold turkey for this guy. I'll start with wasting $2 a year on bucked up 2x4s, then try to be a little more casual about wasting other material. Maybe, I'll actually make some shelves for my shop out of a new sheet of plywood, without a cut-list even. I just have to keep reminding myself that keeping junk really costs more than going to the store, that it's okay to economise on the junk by wasting a little bit of new stuff, once in a while. It's either that move to a desert somewhere...

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