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Junk bonds: How losing a massive apartment forced me to face a mountain of stuff I didn't know I had

Not the author's junk, but perhaps an approximation of how he felt once it was all gone.

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A good way to get over your ex is to be forced to pay $350 to remove all their junk from your life.

In my case, the ex was the huge loft apartment I’d lived in for seven years, at the intersection of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill and Park Slope, an area one of my early roommates had lovingly dubbed “BoFoPa.” It was the longest I’d lived anywhere since my parents' house, and also pretty much the only place I’d felt somewhat at home in this cruel world.

That fifth-floor, four-bedroom apartment stood for everything I loved about Brooklyn as a baby New Yorker: eclectic, energetic, a way station for weirdos who got too drunk the night before. Crumbling, but surprisingly resilient throughout two hurricanes. We had enough space and chairs to host readings and concerts. We partied so hard once that we put a hole in the floor (and also through several solar panels on the roof, but that is a different blog post).

The apartment was a triangle slice across from what is now Brooklyn’s newest Apple store. Because it was so large (a bit under 3,000-square feet), we were drunk on space, and we went on a years-long binge committing the ultimate New York City apartment sin: collecting too much crap. We charitably offered a home to every stoop book, took in every orphaned mannequin used for a long-forgotten film shoot. One roommate adopted a gigantic pile of found lumber, which was never once used for anything more than stubbing toes.

Then we woke up one morning two years ago to an email from our landlord that our lease was finally ending. We had to find a way to get all this crap out. The building, naturally, is being turned into another of the glass-walled skyscrapers eating up the once-brick neighborhood.

Party at Tim's place! Last call for mannequin heads!

Tim Donnelly/Brick Underground

We bid farewell with a huge New Year’s Eve party. (That we did not find a single puddle of vomit the next day we took as a sign that perhaps we'd matured some.) We encouraged guests to treat the party like an estate sale: Everything must go! If there was a book, piece of furniture, wall decoration, antique copper bed-warming pan, or salon drying chair that caught your eye, make us an offer. A weed dealer who came by for a delivery spent 40 minutes digging through our books and left with an armful.

Where some of this stuff came from was a mystery to us all. Also a mystery was just how long the lease had been going. I moved in in 2009. In the process of cleaning out, we found some paperwork that suggested the apartment had been on a continuous lease since the '90s, a serious feat of longevity in a city where today's bodega is tomorrow's cocktail bar, and even the churches aren't safe from becoming luxury apartments.

All five roommates moved our stuff out one weekend, then returned to see how much was left. We opened the door and Sisyphus screamed: it looked like not a single person had moved out, or even cleaned up particularly well. Two large IKEA bookshelves stood stubbornly full, stocked by the writers and editors who’d lived there over the years. No one had claimed the kitchen table or chairs. The cabinets were full of food—had this stuff been up for grabs the whole time?!? An ancient TV the size of a cartoon safe, used as retro decoration, sat heavily in one corner.

The author's apartment, when the roommates had all moved their stuff out, and realized they had a problem.

Tim Donnelly/Brick Underground

I loathe waste in all forms, so my brain switched into Donate Everything mode. After about six trips down our five flights of stairs, IKEA bags loaded to capacity with books and various debris, pushing a mountain of stuff a granny cart a time to the Salvation Army, my resolve had faded, and the pile had not.

Panic set in. Our lease was running out on Friday. We all desperately needed our full security deposits to be able to slide that giant lump of cash from apartment to apartment.

Calling in the junk removal professionals became the only option. My roommate researched rates, and gave a company an estimate of how much junk we had. They could come Friday afternoon. We would be hitting our deadline by hours. The original estimate was $75 per person. Not bad!

The junkers showed up and laughed at our original estimate. There’s way more stuff than you told us, they said. We’re going to need another truck, maybe two. The estimate shot up, and time was running down.

The roommates and I sat on kitchen countertops or perched on top of the fridge, drinking beers as we watched our whole apartment, the place that brought together countless friends, helped start a handful of marriages, and served as our tree house refuge from gentrifying BoFoPa, be torn apart. The junkers hacked at shelves, smashed bed frames, ripped paintings apart, anything that would make this mountain of stuff easier to get down the stairs. The waste hurt my soul, but at that point I had no choice but to watch it all go.

At about 10 p.m., with two hours until our move-out deadline, the crew somehow finished. The final tab came out to a painful $350 per person. I would miss this apartment, eventually, but for the moment I was ready to let this messy love of mine go.

A last look at the apartment after the junkers finished.

Tim Donnelly/Brick Underground

That night, my actual, live girlfriend and I returned to our new apartment in Prospect Heights, a much smaller one-bedroom with barely any room for my stuff. The stuff went to a landfill somewhere.  

The parts of it I salvaged, I lost in a breakup with that girlfriend last year. After that breakup, I was broke and had nowhere to live, so I packed my things into a few boxes and couch-surfed for a few months. As I moved my stuff around, bouncing from couch to guest room to couch, trying to restart my life, I thought to myself how lucky I was not to have all that junk to carry around.

Tim Donnelly is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. Find him on Twitter: @timdonnelly