Pack Rats Anonymous

  Ever since I was a kid I've been a collector of useless things.  I would have drawers full of knick-knacks and gadgets and garbage galore; although to my mind none of my things were trash.
    I would save candy wrappers, bus passes, bottle caps, cigarette foils, oddly colored or shaped rocks, pieces of broken devices, bits of metal, ribbon, string, and the list goes on and on.  Anything that I liked, I would pocket.  Everything I saved had an intended purpose.  I didn't just save candy wrappers because I liked candy wrappers, I saved them because I imagined using them for something.  I wanted to create some piece of art with those hundreds of multi-colored bottle caps.  If I found a sturdy piece of rope or hemp or ribbon, I'd save it just in case a use for it should come up.  Suppose I will one day need to tie something together!?!  Pieces of metal from who-knows-what, I would keep in expectancy of building some electronic gadget of my own.
     Some of these aspirations for recycle proved realistic.  I did, in fact, make a purse out of soda-can and beer tabs.  I sold it for $60.  I re-created famous paintings with the use of torn up magazines and food packaging.  Bits of metal often times proved useful in situations where I was missing a clasp to something, or needed to pick a lock, or needed replacement in some broken device of mine.  I did, on numerous occasions, find myself in need of some odd thing, and had it on hand.  The strangest things no one else would expect to need in the future, I quite often times found a use for.  This enforced the habit, as it allowed me to justify my PackRatism.

   I have never in my life felt comfortable with the impermanence of things.  I never felt okay with wasting.  The idea that material is used and then simply cast aside has always bothered me.  Perhaps it is because my family couldn't afford to be wasteful when I was growing up.  I'm not condescending of the practice, I have no moral superiority, it is just a feeling I have.  Its a personal preference.  I like re-using things.

   Indeed, there were many things I kept for another purpose: sentimental value.  I used things as a record of my past.  I know everyone does this, but I believe my tolerance for keeping junk made my case a little more immoderate.  I would save things just so I could stumble upon it in the future and say "Oh this is from that one night with so-and-so when we did this-and-that.."
Not just normal things like pressed flowers, or tickets to shows.  I would save a plastic lizard, or a bouncy ball, a feather, or any stupid thing we may have found that night.  (Note, this period in my life was around my pre-teen to teen-aged years.  As a result, the value I placed on 'emotional' things was much greater back then.  At that age, I believe we all cling pathetically to our 'good times'.)

  Well it of course got out of control.  How could one find uses for all of these things!  I accumilated so much stuff, that keeping it all organized and ready for use was a never-ending project.  My room always looked a mess.  It wasn't!  It looked cluttered to everyone else because all of my treasures just looked like junk to them.  I had everything organized in a way which pleased me, while to everyone else it seemed chaos.  I had differing reactions from guests.  Many of my friends loved my weird room.  It was unique and intriguing to them, all of the odds and ends placed strategically about.  The callage of paper on my walls, the forks hanging from the ceiling, the dark smokey atmosphere with the multicolored lights, covered in home-made shades.  It was my haven, and some people felt warm there the way I did.  Many of my friends recognized the weird things I saved, and we would sit together overcome with happy nostalgia.  They marveled at my dedication to preserving our experiences together.    
      But then there were others who thought it was sort of sick.  I knew who they were and I always felt embarrased about my space and tried to avoid bringing those people over.  I often considered tearing it all down, throwing it all away, burning everything and living in a completely sterile and empty room.  The people who were put off by my batcave woke me up to the absurdity of it.  My mother was one of these.  Her husband disapproved, and so she disapproved, and all the time I had to hear them arguing against my lifestyle.  They didn't see the beauty I saw; I could create something from nothing.  My room was a timeline of all of the stages I had gone through, it was a museum for me and my friends, all of the things I built from "trash" gave me a sense of justice.  I had saved those things from obscurity, from being dumped and left in a hole in the Earth never to be put to use again!

   I now know that its more popular than I thought, as there is an entire genre of art called "junk art".  I love looking at junk-art, and I take pleasure in recycling.  But I have since given up on my pack-rat tendancies.  Growing older, I developed a craving to break free from  my past, and start anew.  I no longer felt I had power over these things, but that they had power over me.  So much of my energy went into my collections, my treasures, that I began to resent them.  I felt suffocated.  
   Thus, slowly but surely, I started breaking my babits.  I heaved a lot of it into big trash bags and let it all go.  I threw many things away, some of which I still somewhat regret.  For example, journals and photographs I should now like very much to look at.  There are some memories which will never surface to my consiousness because I no longer have thousands of triggers.  As the years pass, however, and experiences stack up and multiply and life seems to move so much quicker, I no longer feel an urge to record it all.  Now I see that the process of filtering memories is important, and to deny one's self this relief is unhealthy.

  As for my desire to re-use things..  Well, the best I can do now is mold my lifestyle to my ideals.  I don't buy as much disposable products as the average person.  I can no longer save every damned wrapper and expect to find time to make them into something, but at least I can do my part in generating the least amount of garbage possible.  I don't purchase more than I need, and I like saving things which don't have to be thrown away.  For example, plastic bags!  We can always find a use for a plastic bag, and it can be washed and used again!  Why throw them away?  Also I refrain from using paper towels, foam cups, and dozens of other generally dispoable home products.  I don't own many things anymore, because I like to travel.  Life this way is much simpler and makes more sense to me.  I still get strong urges to hold on to useless things, either for their aesthetic beauty or senimental value or just because I hate wasting, but now I have the sense enough to know whats reasonable and whats not.


EolianDeparting EolianDeparting
12 Responses Jan 20, 2009

Thanks for sharing your very interesting story. I'm happy to hear you were able to pretty much let go of your packratness.

Hi, Thanks for your story.

My story is a little different as I hit a bottom with junk years ago and still struggle to maintain balance on this "addiction"

My wife is like you and I can't stand her for it.

I gotta say, you are fortunate to be so insightful and able to change at your age. Some of us wallow in a daze for years. Several generations of my family have had clutter/hoarding issues. I just starting a "real" cleanup yesterday. Ate a lot of comfort food, spent more time reading today, but I'm still plugging away.

Well i can connect with everyones reasons regarding hoarding, ive got a huge white canvas and a box in my shed with all the unusual bits and pieces to stick to it but thats been ten years now and im still adding to it.

I'm exactly the same. I try and make something creative and loving with my treasures.

Fancy that! I felt I was reading my own impressions about my junk stuff. I recently packed them into big trash bags in order to paint the walls .I got the work done a month or so ago but the old magazines and other gadget parts are still waiting to be sorted out for a hypothetical reduction.<br />
This article reminded me of a joke I read somewhere in a Reader’s Digest magazine .A couple were arguing about junk.<br />
Husband: Where did you put the stuff that was in the attic?<br />
Wife: Which one?<br />
Confused, the husband shrugged confusingly. His wife had thrown them away.

this story resonates at at adeep level within me 'n remindd me when i had an assignment to do a found art project many years ago.....i went to a salvage yard 'n w/in 1 minute found a pieceof metal shaped like a bunny rabit w/ flat stand so that it sat up right, the other piece was -as it turned out - a connector rod from a 1940's auto....i was compelled to solder it together, then glued a piece of rabit fur to the base....i called it connections 'n it symbolized the interconnectedness of all thngs in the world.....a true piece of art w/meaning that captured the signs of the instructor said i should enter it in the annual art campus art show.....i wish i had because it seemed to have a powerful effect on those who viewed it.....i didn't though....of course the fur has gone to dis-aray, but even that shows how we are trashing the natural world around us----what would it be likew/out bunnys on our the name of oil 'n gas fumes killing our planet...a pwerful message in these times.....thanks for reminding me of this 'n please don't quit following those urges to make trah nto useul things 'n/or pass the message on.....connected to all, kc venus

No problem. I have one in my family exactly like that. And she managed to knit the most beautiful blanket from all the leftover fabric.<br />
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Good on you! Just sort them out so when u need them u know where to get them :).

I really appreciated reading your post. Both my mother and brother are pack rats and although I love them dearly, I have never been able to understand why they keep all that they do. <br />
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Ever since I can remember, my mom's house has always been a mess; clutter everywhere...personal items, collections, magazines, mail, gadgets, trash etc. It always seemed unhealthy to me, because, unlike you, she didn't seem to do anything with these item. Once they were haphazardly placed somewhere in the house, they wouldn't be moved, touched or looked it. They sat there collecting dust, unless they were lucky enough to be covered up with yet more junk.<br />
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However, both my mother and brother are highly creative. Their artistic abilities extend to making homemade jewelry (this represents only 1/16 of the clutter in the house...), stainglass works, and culinary cooking/baking. And your story begs the question for me...are my mother and brother so creative that they also think their "possessions" will someday be useful?<br />
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For now, I am happy that they are fans of recycling. This truly seems to be a starting point for them to reduce the clutter in the house (albeit the recycling bins are stored in the walk ways in the house, where the materials to be recycled don't always make it from the table to the bin.). Still, I'd love to see them make more progress in managing what they have in the house before bringing or saving new items.

Living with a person that suffers from "clutter disease" is awful. I have for 20 years and am at wits end. I may one day change the locks while she's out.

I used to be a rat pack. I always saw potential value or usefulness in everything. It got to the point where I couldn't move and half my time went into re-organizing, sorting etc. Then one day I stumbled on the notion that I was asking myself the wrong question. I used to pick something up and say to myself, "Is it possible I might ever need this again?' And of course, the answer is invariably "Yes." Try asking yourself this question... "If I ever needed this thing (whatever it is) and I didn't have it, what would I do?" If the answer is something simple to do, quick and or inexpensive, or even "Well, I would just do without." Toss it. What it costs you in time, space, preoccupation, nuisance etc. is most of the time nothing compared to what it might mean if you actually had to wait a day, perhaps and pick "one" up on the way home from work tomorrow. Somethings are rather rare, unusual or costly and so you don't want to be frivolous. But the simple change in the question gave me a whole new perspective, and literally turned my life around. I was more effective at work, had more time, wasn't constantly bogged down or distracted by crap, crap, everywhere crap. I don't even think my arteries are clogged now.

This is such a great story. I've never really thought so hard about why I save things... but I think you said it all. :)