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Living With “Pack Rats”

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You know what love is: that deep feeling of not being able to be without someone. A well-rounded life is filled with all kinds of love including life partners, family, friends, as well as work and avocations. Loving objects is also part of our love landscape. Cherished “stuff” makes us feel good. They can provide a feeling of abundance, security, companionship and many objects provoke loving memories and sentiments. That’s why when people call my clients ‘packrats’ I think they fall far short of the complexity of emotion people feel for their things. Audrey is a self-proclaimed packrat with a cluttered home and a self-storage unit for the overflow. “I kind of like the chaos of the clutter”, she confesses. It’s a little unsettled, a little apt to change. That appeals to me more than boring, staid organization. I enjoy acquiring stuff, moving things around, and trying to accommodate everything. It almost feels creative to me. Even the search for what I want is a bit of an adventure.” I prefer to get my kicks other ways, but people who have excess stuff are usually adults fully in charge of their environment.* When I would with “mixed marriage” where one spouse has a need for a lot of stuff and the other doesn’t, at some point in the organizing process, all three of us sit down. I may be organizing Audrey but disorganization is a family issue. “Audrey is pretty comfortable surrounded by excess stuff. How about you?” I ask Bart, Audrey’s husband. “Not so much. I don’t have same needs as Audrey does for so much stuff”, Bart contends. Like all marital issues, “stuff” is about understanding and respecting each other’s needs.

Guidelines

IN/OUT RATIO – Audrey agreed to donate 10 art and craft supplies for every new 10 she brings into the house. At that rate, as least things won’t expand. Establish and In/Out ration for other items that tend to expand in the house. A 1:1 ratio keeps things at bay. A 1:2 ration (a new item in = 2 old items out) will reduce clutter.

COMPROMISE – Audrey agreed to go to flea markets only once per month instead of twice (or more!) if Bart would go with her once per month. Bart agreed. He agreed not to pout. She agreed to keep her hands in her pockets.

A great book on this topic is When You Live With a Messie by Sandra Felton.

*How can you tell if the adult in your life is not “fully in charge of their environment?” Here are the signs:

  • Easy access to the tools for daily living are problematic. The most basic of these tools include clean cooking and serving items in the kitchen, clean towels and washclothes in the bathroom, chairs to sit on in the living room, a place to sit and eat in the kitchen, an uncluttered space for homework for the kids, and beds clear enough to sleep and have sex in.
  • If something is broken, mildew, moldy or otherwise unusable and it is easy to replace yet your “pack rat” can’t do it, that might be a moment to pause and figure out what is going on.
  • Debt or a whacked household budget caused by excessive buying is a signal that things might be out of control.

Digging Out is a great book for families contending with excessive savers who are rapidly crossing the line to hoarding. I consult with couples via Skype and phone so there’s that resource too.

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