Dos and Don’ts for Dealing with a Packrat

We all know how annoying packrats can be. There’s no need to discuss that.

We also know that packrats absolutely must get rid of stuff, no matter how painful or distasteful the prospect is to them, if they don’t want to end up on “Hoarders” or some other horrible reality show.

We know you love the packrat in your life. But their habits are driving you crazy.

What can you do to keep the peace while fighting the clutter?

Here are a few hints, learned the hard way. I hope they will help you–and your packrat!

1. Don’t try to shame your packrat.

Packrats know they have a problem. They don’t need you to tell them that. What they need are gentle but firm (and relatively frequent) reminders of what needs be done, and sometimes (if they ask for it) help doing it. They also need to know that they are loved and respected for all their many good qualities, despite their problem with getting rid of things. Trying to make them feel ashamed of their packrat tendencies won’t help with that at all.

2. Don’t “help” your packrat by doing the work for them without asking their permission.

This will not go over well. Don’t believe me? Try it, you’ll see. (But please don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

3. Do offer to help your packrat get rid of things if you think you can do so without losing your temper.

There’s really no point in getting angry with packrats. It doesn’t help; in fact it is counterproductive. They are not being the way they are to bug you. They just can’t help themselves.

4. Try assigning your packrat certain parts of the house where they can keep their stuff, and you will turn a blind eye to the clutter.

You will still want to help keep a mindful eye on the situation to make sure the clutter is not going to create health or safety problems. But if it’s just a royal mess, and your packrat promises to honor the boundaries you’ve agreed on, let it go. You don’t need them to be perfect, do you?

5. If the problem goes beyond mere distaste for and difficulty in getting rid of things, you may need to seek professional help. 

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization is a great resource for information about cluttering, hoarding and  related problems. If your packrat’s problem is really serious, you can ask local medical professionals, clergy or social workers for help in finding someone who knows how to work with people who have problems with hoarding.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer/editor,  writing coach , travel blogger, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home.


2 Responses

  1. No better time than March to get started

    (see today’s PRAGMATIST column: Getting a Jump on Spring Cleaning By BOB TEDESCHI; Published: February 29, 2012)
    “Jeff Davidson, the author of “Simpler Living,” a manual partly on keeping house, said that early March is the best time for spring cleaning. “You should do it when you really don’t want to go outside anyway,” he said. “It should be called pre-spring cleaning.”)

    No better time than March to get home organizing help from

  2. Your comments are both insightful and well presented. Here are a few additional options for dealing with the packrat in your life. If you are planning on listing and selling your home, which is currently cluttered beyond belief, ask your realtor for some help. Let him/her explain how clutter will delay the receipt of any offers and lead to a reduced contract price. Clutter makes rooms appear to be smaller, which usually translates into lower offers. For example, a home might have wonderful hardwood floors, but if a potential buyer can’t see them, they won’t stimulate much interest or be remembered. Furthermore, even if a potential buyer can see some of the hardwood flooring, they won’t be able to accurately determine its overall condition. In such circumstances, the “buyer” will probably assume the worst, given the messy condition of the home.
    Another idea would be to move the packrat’s most precious stuff to a rented garage or similar storage area. Obviously, this isn’t a final solution, but it will at least get the items out of the house, so potential buyers can at least see the interior of the home. It may also make it easier for the packrat to toss some of the less important items, since we can’t allow everything to be moved to the rented space.
    The packrat may feel overwhelmed at the thought of sorting out what to retain and what to toss. Remember, it probably took a decade or more to accumulate the stuff, so the thought of making any hasty decisions will likely be very stressful. In order to help the packrat with any such stress, you might ask him/her to first categorize the stuff. Once that task is completed, the packrat might be better able to prioritize the different groups, since they probably will not all be equal in value. For example, the sports equipment last used during college or high school have less and less usefulness as we age, while other possessions relating to current hobbies will hopefully be more highly prized. Perhaps not, but it’s worth a try!
    A final though would be to consider involving relatives. The packrat may just not want certain items tossed, but would welcome giving some of the items to an appreciative relative. If the packrat knows the item(s) will still be accessible or at least appreciated by someone else, he/she may be more receptive to seeing it leave your home. Please visit my website and blog posts regarding downsizing. Any comments would be appreciated!

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