The evolution of the junk room: from romantic haven to piled up crap

My family always had a “junk room”. It’s just that over the decades, the junk has changed and the elegance

My family always had a “junk room”. It’s just that over the decades, the junk has changed and the elegance of it has diminished.

It was the room in my grandmother’s house that held all the things that were too good to put up high in a cupboard but not good enough to organise. Piles of papers, birthday wrap, pink lawyers string for tying parcels, brown paper, old school yearbooks, porcelain that had lost its mates, and “special things” my grandmother wanted to keep. The junk room had a beautiful smell of old wood polish and paper. We weren’t allowed in there alone, yet it was somewhere we went as children just to forage.

It was not a “dirty room” per se, but a room full of magic and wonder. There was gift wrap my grandmother had saved from previous birthdays (used of course) so it could line the bottom of drawers one day. There were girls annuals from 1960 when my mother was just a teenager. There was even a collection of teaspoons we had acquired as a family on every trip, gradually growing every year. You know the ones: the teaspoons with a little Tasmanian devil on the end, or a map of WA on it. There were old clothes that needed darning, and a bottle of old buttons for when you needed one. It was all in there, somewhere.

All the good stuff was arranged in the old furniture that lined the room. The furniture was that stuff that didn’t really fit anywhere else in the house, but which had so much sentimental value that no-one wanted to throw it out.

Great-grandma’s heavy old bookcase made of oak that was split a little on the side carried the weight of the books that didn’t have dust jackets, as those were on display in the formal lounge. We all lived in hope that grandpa would fix those shelves one day. A large walnut wardrobe complete with oval glass mirror doors hid all the items that didn’t look as tidy, the papers, the wrap and strung up bundles of old letters and aerogrammes.

Decluttering experts would have loved my grandmother. She not only had a junk room full of magnificent memories, she also had a formal dining room that she kept for “good times”, when only special people came over to visit. In that room she stored all the platters and cheese boards, elegant china, silver, crystal and keepsakes that were to be used “for good”. In the last 20 years of her life, the years I remember best, we rarely ventured into the formal dining room, choosing instead to use the everyday crockery and sit in the garden whenever possible. But it wasn’t an untidy junk room, it was a romantic one.

But are today’s generations as elegant with their junk or is it just my family? It seems all that romantic junk is gone, replaced by piles of crap people can’t part with… real junk. Too many clothes, too much stuff, books they never read and photos they will never look at again.

My memories of my grandmother’s rather elegant junk room are built on three decades later to my mother’s much less elegant junk room of today. My mum, in my own most humble opinion and likely hers too, is a bit of a hoarder. Actually, she’s not just a bit of a hoarder… she’s the worst one I know. Her junk room isn’t filled with little bits of romance, it is four rooms of the house, piled to the ceilings of boxes full of stuff that she hasn’t gone through in years. Mum used to live in a big house, but now lives in a much smaller apartment and has found it challenging to part with all the memories of a life so fulfilling so far.

What happened to the romance? It’s all in there somewhere as I’m pretty sure she never threw out grandma’s old stuff. It’s just that without the romance, no-one wants to go through those boxes because they smell as good or feel as special when they are crowding you from the walls.

Did your family have a junk room and was it an elegant one? Has it devolved into piled up crap these days?


  1. Susan Bell  

    my junk room is the garage, getting fuller by the day.

  2. jeanette  

    My family keep trying to get me to part with all my stuff ( thinking they are being kind I’m sure) – I wish I’d lived in UK where I’d be a national treasure and called a “collector” rather than the unkind “hoarder”!
    I grew up surrounded by the most romantic house with a couple of ” junk rooms” – my grandmothers “sewing room” – full of jars of magical buttons and bric a brac and the “best bedroom” with lovely old mahogany furniture where the beautiful glossy English Country Home magazines were stored. I had the run of this magical house as it was next door, and spent many wonderful years before I started school in a world of books and my imagination. A truly magical childhood! Nowadays the obsession with white clinical minimalist interiors and “decluttering” leaves me cold. I feel so sorry for the generation of children today whose toys and books are quickly packed away and sold or given – by decision of parent who deems them “grown out of” now. Tidying endlessly seems to be a national obsession and I’m constantly being told I need a person who makes a living from badgering people like me to part with our treasures of a lifetime, who gets away with seriously calling herself a “Declutterer”.
    Mirka Mora is my hero and I look at the pictures in her book “Love and Clutter” to give myself courage not to be intimidated into parting with any of my stuff! Oh and by the way, I live on my own so there is no-one else to consider.

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