Items in NetHack are generally persistent, i.e. they don't spontaneously vanish (exception: corpses). Over the course of a long game, this results in many useless items piling up around the dungeons. This is collectively known as junk.
Most items serve at least some purpose, or are a small benefit in the early game, but later become obsolete. By the time your character is ready to ascend, nearly all items that do not belong to your ascension kit are junk.
Although by definition junk has no particular use to your character, there are tasks to which an item you don't care about is best suited:
- Selling to shopkeepers: this is not normally worthwhile, since gold itself is arguably junk past the early game. However, those who come upon an early wand of wishing or wand of death may need to scrounge up some extra cash to buy said item, if they can't or don't wish to use a pet to steal it. In SLASH'EM this becomes necessary more often, since magic lamps have been raised in price to 1000zm.
- Nymph fodder: Usually it is best to simply have a good AC, so nymphs will miss 95% of the time. However, in the early game, it can be useful to carry a few extra items, so that nymphs are less likely to take something useful. Note that this same concept will not help protect items from destruction by elemental attacks.
- Curse items fodder: It is actually advisable to have a full inventory by the time you encounter monsters that can cast this spell. Though it will still hit items you care about (like your luckstone) an annoying amount, having a few buffer items will help. Having a lot of otherwise useful wands in open inventory also helps, because curses have only marginal effect on wands (a tiny chance of exploding).
- Polyfodder: This is the typical use for junk other than iron chains. Polymorph it into something useful.
- Use it to move while levitating, e.g. on the Plane of Air.
Iron chains are arguably the most useless items in NetHack.
Scrolls of Mail
Although not as useless, scrolls of mail are sometimes considered junk as well.
- Activating Elbereth squares: For example, if you wish to create an Elbereth cage, you will probably want to use junk to activate the squares, as there will be many. A single gold piece fulfills this role nicely. Beginning with NetHack 3.6.0, Elbereth squares no longer repel monsters unless you are standing on them.
- Use it to mark the vibrating square. Iron chains, having a unique glyph, work quite well for this. Beginning with NetHack 3.6.0, the vibrating square is a trap and this tactic is no longer needed.
Dealing with junk
Most players are content to leave junk items where they are, but careful or tidy players like to ensure items like stray weapons are not available for any passing monsters to use. Some ways to get rid of junk:
- Polymorph it.
- Put it in a chest and forget about it.
- Engrave Elbereth under a pile of it and don't camp on the level (no longer effective in NetHack 3.6.0). However, some monsters will not be deterred; still, this is good enough for the dwarvish mattocks in the mines because elves rarely use them.
- Put it in a chest and polymorph the chest into a single item.
- Throw it into water or lava.
- Polymorph into a metallivore and eat it.
- Kick it out of the way. It requires no magical devices or dungeon features, and avoids the tedium of extensive pickups. This is especially useful in corridors, along which pets are reluctant to follow you.
- Drop it into a pit and fill the pit with a boulder.
- Empty wands can be broken by applying them.
- Most items can be destroyed by being put into a cursed bag of holding, which is then applied repeatedly until all of the contents disappear. You could, if you are feeling strong and have a spare bag of holding, put a dangerous item into it and have all the contents destroyed in the resultant explosion. Polymorphing the bag is usually easier, though.
- Atom smash them with a drawbridge.
One particularly untidy method of getting rid of junk is to zap a wand of teleportation down on a pile of it. This will result in the junk being randomly distributed across every square on the level.