Neither Christmastime nor summer vacation brings as much joy and anticipation to Mary Lou Piecyk as the first week of June.
"This is the best week of the year, no doubt about it," she said as she carried a '50s-era makeup case to the sidewalk and plopped it atop a growing pile of detritus that until recently had been stuffed into closets and drawers in her house. "I'm off, too, so I can really enjoy it."
What Piecyk was so excited about was Narberth's "junk week," as it's known, when residents look at the rubbish-filled refuse stations that used to be their homes and start hauling the dross out to the curb for a weeklong communal uncluttering.
For five days, the Main Line borough picks it all up and takes it to Lower Merion's transfer station or to metal- and paper-recycling plants. Borough Manager Bill Martin said he knew of no other communities in the area that provided that kind of service.
"People look forward to it," he said. "And it's strongly considered one of the reasons we have so few house fires."
During junk week, the compact streets of the roughly half-square-mile town are littered with mattresses and dressers, toys and TVs, strollers, refrigerators, bookshelves, encyclopedias, and futons. You name it, and someone is probably getting rid of it.
On the flip side, if the discards are in decent condition, as many are, someone else will probably snatch them up.
"I had twice as much out here 48 hours ago," said Ellen Trachtenberg, who was inspired by a book she was reading on "minimalist living" to empty out the unwanted, including her 6- and 7-year-old children's monogrammed chairs. "They were so upset with me."
And what would her grandmother say if she knew Trachtenberg had jettisoned her antique pole lamp with the cobalt-blue glass inlays?
"I love getting rid of things. Nothing makes me feel better," she said.
Her neighbor on Woodbine Avenue put out the toy train table that she had given her a few years ago.
"It disappeared in five minutes," she said.
A drive through town is like a treasure hunt.
On Tuesday in front of the Montgomery Court apartments were three dressers, one a walnut-colored Malm from Ikea in reasonably good shape. Want a minitrampoline? You could have picked one up on Price Avenue, along with a folding table, green recliner, seed spreader, and birdbath.
It's not uncommon for stuff to pass from house to house, dumped on a different curb each year. That's what happened with "the most obnoxious-looking wicker chair" that a resident discarded after deciding he couldn't stand it anymore, Martin said. A few years later, the man saw it outside a house across town and decided he had to have it back.
"I'm not sure it ever leaves," Martin said of the castoffs.
The borough pays a contractor for trash pickup, including this week's binge, but spends about $5,000 extra for workers during the week. Having residents separate recyclables reduces the tipping fees that Narberth pays for waste disposal, Martin said.
Charlie Bode, tanned and in sunglasses with a bandanna tied around his head, has worked on the trash truck for 25 years. He called junk week "the great American waste." But being on the front lines has its benefits. One year, he retrieved a glass-and-polished-brass clock that he sold to a jeweler for $200.
"It's amazing. You could almost furnish a house this week," he said as he and a team of workers trailed two slow-moving trucks.
Professional junk collectors also siphon off a lot of the debris, particularly strollers and other metal items. Piecyk said she sat on her porch Monday night and watched two men make off with an old futon and television.
"The pickup trucks came by all night," she said.
With her son living in Japan and her daughter in Virginia, Piecyk felt it was time to reckon with the clutter that had accumulated in her house during 30 years.
For two days, she cleaned out closets and drawers that hadn't been touched in, well, let's just say a long time.
How long? She had a box of disposable diapers, and her children are 25 and 30.
"It's amazing how much you collect. You think you're going to use it, and it never happens," she said, perhaps referring to the Big Top Dog 'n Bun Steamer that her mother-in-law gave her and that she used maybe once.
Junk week is just the beginning for Piecyk, who hopes to downsize from her five-bedroom house. Her belly clenches at the thought of what is still left, including her son's half-dozen guitars and drum set, which she can't get rid of but which she doesn't know what to do with.
Instead, she focuses on the empty spaces and tidy shelves, the ordered closets and clutter-free rooms. There is deep contentment in this detangling.
And a tinge of regret. She recalled a red-velvet suitcase that she first used as a newlywed on a three-month jaunt through Europe in which she followed her sailor husband from port to port. It still had a Pan Am tag inside when she put it on the curb. Now it's gone.
"Maybe I shouldn't have gotten rid of it," she said. "It had a lot of memories."