From our twenties to our fifties, we’re likely to be accumulating things that we think we need and that will somehow make our lives better. Some time in our fifties or sixties, it hits us that we have no space left, the garage is full, we’re tired of paying for that self-storage unit or it’s just time to start decluttering – whether we’re planning on downsizing or not.
We may discover that we have less strength than we remember having, or we have neither the right car nor the time to deal with getting rid of what we want out of our lives. Enter a junk removal company. While there’s a cost involved, using a junk removal company offers a series of benefits. Mainly, it means someone else does all the heavy lifting and we don’t lift a finger.
If you have a couple of items you want to get rid of, you might take a picture of them and contact a company that hauls junk. If you email the photo, they can give you a tight cost estimate over the phone and the transaction is simple.
If you have more than that, you might have to have a junk removal company send someone out to give you an estimate. They will often send a crew of two with a truck, look at what you have, tell you what it would cost and, if you accept the price, take your stuff right there and then. (If you don’t accept, the estimate should be free, and you can contact another company.)
In either case, you are taking part in what has become a $1.4 billion industry that will grow by 5% per year at least through 2020. The decluttering bug has hit us seniors in a big way, as we face downsizing or just decide it’s time to make things easier for our offspring once we’re gone.
As we sort through and do an inventory of what goes, we must note any hazardous chemicals, paint, tires, and other items that need special disposal, as this will affect the cost. On the other hand, if we’re concerned about the environment, many companies will donate items that are reusable and recycle whatever they can.
Few of us look around our homes and say, “Gee, look at all this junk.” Most of us see the utility in much of what we hold onto. Our classic refrain is “What if I need it one day?” However, that thought process can result in full garages that no longer fit cars, obstacles in pathways within the house and spare rooms that become unusable as we hide things there each time we clean up the house because a visitor is coming. We have the choice of handling things ourselves or calling for help.
More and more, seniors are calling in junk removal companies to take whatever we feel is no longer needed or wanted. Using a junk removal service means:
- Saving on storage unit charges when we’ve expanded beyond our homes;
- Preventing falls by keeping all the hallways and paths throughout our houses clear;
- Avoiding hurting ourselves as we take on physical challenges that were easier before we had bad backs or knees;
- Making it easier to keep our homes clean, so the levels of bacteria, allergens, dust, pollen and mold are held down to protect our health;
- Feeling good about not leaving a massive clean-out challenge to our offspring and heirs at a time that will already be difficult; and
- Finding great joy in our homes again: nothing feels better than having open space around us, as clutter can be depressing.
Not that many junk removal companies will have familiar names, as many seem to be regional franchises or independent businesses. However, a few national companies do exist. In any case, as you explore your options, you want to compare the cost of the service for what you want removed, what warranty they provide, how easy it is to set up the service, how easy it is to cancel if need be and the customer support the company offers.
You will also want to know details about what service the company offers: the items or materials it does or doesn’t accept, if it takes credit cards as payment and whether it rents dumpsters you can fill or only provides standard removal.
Junk removal is not a service frequently used by most people, so having some guidelines on selecting a company can be useful. It is also a service that may allow people into your home, so you want to be sure you are contracting with honest, reliable and professional companies. Once you have established a good relationship with a company, they can become a handy go-to as you continue to downsize or declutter.
Information gathering: You first want to develop a list of 2-3 possible service providers. Names might come from friends, family members or online research. Meanwhile, once you have separated out what you want to have removed, you want some way to communicate the volume of the materials to possible service providers, since this is how they will charge you for the service.
Separating things physically, even if in several rooms of the house, will help you to estimate the volume. Taking pictures of the piles or individual pieces is one possibility. Or you can estimate it yourself If you are good at calculating volumes in cubic feet or yards.
You will need a way to mark what you want taken, so nothing gets included in the removal that you wanted to keep.
Unless the accumulation is significant enough to fill a dumpster (including one of the soft-sided ones sold through big-box stores), here are some of the materials that junk removal companies pick up: old mattresses, furniture, electronics, small and large appliances (from blenders to refrigerators), home office furniture and supplies; filing boxes of papers (unless they are financially sensitive, in which case they should go to a shredding company), demolition materials from small remodeling jobs or green waste from landscaping. Typical projects might be a storage unit, attic, basement or garage cleanout.
Vetting the company: Once you have a few names, you will want to do a little research. Remember that this transaction can mean people are coming into your home, so you want to check the company’s reputation and professionalism. Look to see if the company is listed with the Better Business Bureau and read any reviews. If it is a franchise of a larger company, look for any reviews at the parent company level and the local level, since the local company is the one that will serve you.
Look at their websites: check out the size and condition of their trucks. How they treat their equipment may indicate how they will operate within your home. See if they mention how they will leave your space after taking your junk: will they clean up? (Many will.) Confirm that the company and its employees are bonded and insured.
If it’s important to you, check to see what the company says about its recycling practices. Some will coordinate with donation centers and recycling facilities to keep as much as possible out of the landfill.
Testimonials, reviews and case studies on their websites are helpful, although they can be manipulated easily. Do an online search for articles or mentions in local newspapers; see if the company is involved in any volunteer cleanup projects. Look for participation in Angie’s List, Yelp or the local Chamber of Commerce and, if any scores are provided, consider them.
Getting a quote: Now you are ready to contact the companies you feel comfortable ‘inviting’ into your space. Get answers to any questions you might have. Provide them – the best you can – with the information they require. If you cannot guess the cubic yards, pick a number and ask each company what they would charge if you had 15 cubic yards. (That would be the equivalent of an 8’ x 10’ room piled five feet high.) At least you will have an apples-to-apples comparison. However, the company you pick will have to give you a final quote once it sees what has to be removed.
Do not under any circumstance accept a quote that includes variables that you cannot control, such as manpower or time. You want a fixed quote.
Your last decision-making factor should be how their customer service representatives make you feel. If they are not making their best effort when you contact them, it’s unlikely their actual service will be a whole lot better.
Two areas differentiate what seniors prioritize when purchasing these services, compared with younger buyers: age-friendliness and health-related value.
Age friendliness: Your interaction with the service provider will be the same regardless of your age. However, the older you get, the easier you want the transaction to be and the more you want the service to cover everything: timeliness, politeness, care for your remaining property and cleanup of the area they have cleared.
Health-related value: Your health may play a more significant role. If you are in poor health, you want the service to cause as little disruption as possible. However, having a decluttered space can be a great morale booster. Besides, your home will be easier to keep clean and you will be less likely to trip over something if you are in any way unsteady on your feet.
Virtually every junk removal company will charge you by the volume that your things take up in one of their trucks. Most measure in cubic yards. The main exception will be if they are hauling off something exceptionally heavy, like concrete, or if access is particularly difficult.
While you might be able to get an estimate over the phone, you will get a firm quote once the company representative sees the actual load. At that point, you still have the option to accept or reject the offer, which you want in writing.
Most companies will have a minimum charge for picking something up at your location, which makes removal of single items or small volumes less interesting. Say the company minimum is $100 and the chair you want to be removed costs $75. You will be charged $100. Depending on where you live, a minimum charge could range from $75 to $300.
For rough reference on individual pieces, one company estimates: chair $75, refrigerator $95-125, box spring and mattress $95, bedroom ensemble $125-150.
The trucks used by different companies may vary in size but, again, for a rough idea of price, one company quotes a quarter truckload at around $175, a half truckload at $305, three-quarter at $400 and a full truckload at $500.
Another company states a minimum as $90, an average job as $220 and a full load as $450.
Keep in mind that many other factors come into play in pricing: where in the country you live, where you live in relation to the company, whether the load is of standard household materials or heavy construction debris, and whether any special disposal is required for hazardous materials.
While cost is the primary factor in determining what company to hire for junk removal, you also want to know about warranties, convenience in setting up and canceling service and how you are treated by company representatives.
Cost: As important as the cost may be to you, it is unimportant if the workers damage your walls as they work, steal something or leave your home a mess. The lowest bid is not always the most interesting.
Warranty: A reputable company will want future referrals from you – or your repeat business – so your satisfaction with their service will be important. Be sure to ask what their warranty policy is.
Ease: Everyone who calls a junk removal company will have the same questions and concerns unless they have lots of experience with one. The company should make the process as easy as possible, giving you indications of pricing and offering to confirm by coming to see what has to be removed, with no commitment.
Cancellation: Things happen that make cancellation necessary. Ask the company representative if there is any charge if you have to cancel. Since there is no reason to pay in advance, and most transactions are confirmed by the company coming with a truck, giving a final price and you accepting or declining, a cancellation fee does not make much sense.
Customer service: We can guess how a company will treat us from a few clues: whether its website answers many of our questions and starts building trust, if there is more than one way to contact the company and if it is flexible about fitting into our schedule.
If cost is a consideration, one possibility is that you lessen the amount that needs to be removed by taking some steps in advance. If the items still have some useful life in them, you might want to call a charity first to see if they will come to pick it up. Some will do so for free. The Salvation Army, Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity are some resources you might check.
Another cost-lowering alternative exists if the volumes justify it. A dumpster could be dropped at your location for you to fill, assuming you have the stamina and strength to do it yourself. Today, dumpsters also take the form of soft-sided ones that you buy at the big-box stores, open in an accessible location like your front drive and fill yourself, at your own pace. Once you are ready, you call the assigned waste company, who sends a special truck to pick it up for a set fee.