Help for those who live with pack rats

socksJuly 2, 2009

Is there a book to give help for those who live with pack rats? Not to stop them, but to reach a state of acceptance rather than resistance. I have come to the conclusion this morning that I need to back off and stop trying to stem the flow of "stuff" as long as I can keep it out of the house. I need peace with myself and the hoarder. I need to get my mental state to accept the way things are as long as the mess is not in my face. Does this make any sense at all? Help. My nerves are shot.

(Please don't tell me to talk with him or suggest a book for him. He's happy. I'm not.)

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I'm a packrat myself. I have piles of stuff in every room in my house, as well as an attic and garage packed with things too "good" to throw out. I don't like living in clutter. My poor DH abhors the mess. What I'd like more than anything is if he'd sit down next to me while I syustematically pick through the piles, and either store or throw out or give away the things I cannot find a proper storage place for. He could just make suggestions and keep me company rather than nag at me. I don't know of a book for spouses of hoarders, but, believe me, I don't like drowning in clutter any more than you do. Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 1:41PM
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I am kind of a hoarder, but not as much as I was. My magazines go to the hospital now, lots of craft stuff went to a Youth Ranch with a art program, along with pens, pencils, paper etc. DH is a hoarder also, not bad, but hates to go thru things and get rid of them, but here in this state we have NO reclying program, except at a Job Corps place where they want to charge YOU for everything you bring in. I don't mind paying a small charge, but I took 2 working printers in and they wanted me to pay $5.00 a pound and were very snotty about my comments--that is I was giving them to the students in the computer program free. They were going into the trash when one of the real nice young men picking up the trash said he would take them.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 2:31PM
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socks, if you will go to & search for 'hoarders' in the book section, there are several books, including "Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding," "Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding: Why You Save & How You Can Stop," etc. One of the geat things about Amazon is that they offer used books also, which lowers the cost.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 5:04PM
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One observation is that your concern has a generic application--how does one "accept" things about a loved one (spouse in particular) and not ruin one's own life trying to change another person--so some of the support and suggestions you are seeking might be found in what might be labeled general books on relationships, but apply to your situation--plus support from friends, church, or even counseling for yourself (or using a forum!) Not saying you need to go get help" --just that you are taking the right approach to say, you don't get happier by trying to change the other person, but only by finding peace yourself, directing energy elsewhere, having more fun in other ways, counting your blessings, or truly improving communications in those situations in which the other person might still be able to "hear" what you need.

Communications are still an avenue to think about, because being a good family member or spouse does not mean not ever saying what your own needs are. So you can still look for some kinds of suggestions or dialog about compromises or win-win situations--a tidy family room, a space of your own, some kinds of limits--not saying that it always works out that way, though.

Some of your "backing off" can be important to change the focus from what might be seen as a general "I'm unhappy" and perhaps really miserable, which might, stepping back, not be quite the emphasis this situation deserves (not to minimize it, but if in fact you yourself can put it into perspective against things that you think would be MORE miserable) so you get to a place where you feel more at peace overall. From that place, you can often have a more successful conversation about a single, or manageable, compromise, whereas when you are in a bad place, you just come across as deranged, and the spouse is bewildered, and that makes you feel even more crazy! So instead, for awhile you try to "accentuate the positive" and do as many things as you can that are fun with the other person.

Of course, this won't work if the issues are so seriously cross-wise with good health, or good mental health, that there is no foundation for a good relationship otherwise.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 6:55PM
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I threw in the towl about 14 years ago. I JUST SHUT UP. I realized that my constant comments, complaining and criticising were just making me unhappy and not changing DH's hoarding behavor one bit.

Am I happy about living in a dump? No. But I realized that saying one single word about it did not help at all. Nothing changed when I quit complaining to him - he was still the pack rat he had always been. But it changed for me - I was no longer creating negative energy in myself with my words.

Here's a link to a You Tube video that has the best explanation of this I know:

Here is a link that might be useful: Just stop it.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2009 at 8:48AM
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My DH has a little pack rat in him. You know those things he's going to use "for that special project." Then the items out live their usefullness, i.e., paint goes bad, etc. I simply slip one or two items in the trash bin every garbage day and before you know it, I've taken care of his "saves" and he didn't even notice. For clothing, I simply donate to Goodwill.

I've been threatening to clean out his desk and really need to do that. He loves to save things and then forgets about them.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2009 at 2:54PM
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mommabird - thanks! Got a big laugh out of that!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2009 at 2:07PM
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My husband grew up in a house filled with junk. His mother was not a hoarder, but she just wasn't very organized. I love to tell the story of asking her for super-glue to repair something. She found 4 dried up tubes before she got to a usable tube. Where were the dried up tubes? Her underwear drawer; the silver drawer of her sideboard; the silverware drawer in the kitchen; and the medicine cabinet in the bathroom!

Obviously, DH just wasn't trained to be discerning, so everything is of equal importance whether it is his passport or a dried up tube of super glue. I combat it like brutuses. I just throw his stuff out when he isn't looking. He doesn't seem to care as long as he doesn't have to do it and doesn't know about it when it is happening.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2009 at 4:00PM
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Bruteses had a great idea-slip stuff in the garbage, he'll never notice it's gone. I've done that myself with food in the refrigerator. If I don't want it saved as a leftover, I throw it out and if DH asks where the Stroganoff went, I say "The kids must have eaten it."

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 11:06AM
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Thanks again to everyone. It helps to share here.

I do slip things into the trash, thrift shop, but I'm on the losing side of the tide of stuff which includes not only the garage but storage facilities.

What I really feel bad about is that when we're gone, it's the kids who will be stuck with the overwhelming task of dealing with the mess. My dear mother who passed several years ago tried to hard to keep her life in order so it would be easy for me when she passed. I wanted to do the same for my kids, but I guess it's not going to happen.

As I said, I've decided that if the stuff can just be kept out of the house, I don't care.

Thanks for the chuckle Mommabird. Bob's STOP IT is still ringing in my ears! I'll keep that in mind.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 6:36PM
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Sometimes stepping back and reframing the discussion helps. Can you take a step back and look at who your husband really is? If you look at what drives him you may find a way to get him to get rid of the clutter.

Me, I've found that many packrats are in reality giving, generous souls. They just haven't given the stuff yet! The key is to find a person or an organization that really needs their items and that will provide positive feedback. With recognition of their generous, meaningful gifts, they are motivated to give more.

Example: my former roommate, the clutterbug, and I had a lot of old blankets. One of our friends had just moved from a warmer climate and was complaining about being cold. We gave her the extra blankets. She was bowled over and thanked us profusely. Still mentions it, years later. This started the clutterbug on a decluttering kick that lasted years...

Maybe your husband's strength isn't his generosity, but something else. If you can work with your husband's strengths, you can probably find a way to work past the clutter. Maybe your solution is acceptance. But if the clutter continues to bug you, you'll have to move on to something else.

The other thing is that often the people who live with packrats are minor packrats themselves. Ever watched "Clean House?" Lots of examples there. Sometimes us minor packrats (yep, I'm including myself) have to set the example by decluttering our own stuff.

I hear you on your husband. My mother has dust allergies and I have TRIED to get her to pick up her paper clutter and downsize her book collection. Is it working? Not so far. But I did convince her and my father to get a paper shredder. Little victories!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2009 at 3:27PM
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My husband is a kind of packrat...thankfully he has a big shed, and he is a wonderful Mr. Fix-it, but he can't part with anything, because it'll come in handy. Sure, a lot of it does, but a lot of it is just "stuff".
I have found over the years, that the best way to get him motivated is to de-clutter myself, in front of him, and rather than nag him to do the same, I just "whistle while I work"... kind of show him how happy it makes me to be free. He often makes comments about how much stuff I take to goodwill or give away, but I simply tell him it's the only way I can have peace, is to get rid of the "stuff". So often it's given him the courage to start himself. Sure it builds up again, but at least he has clean outs occasionally.
I don't always succeed in keeping that nice attitude, believe me. I have been known to let loose with the occasional rant, but as you know, that doesn't work and only makes me miserable too.
I found for myself it takes a kind of courage to let go of stuff, and even now I will occasionally struggle with it. It's almost a fear of losing something by getting rid of it. But seeing someone else do it gladly, and the peace it brings them and their space, is inspiring and motivating. I can recognise the fear now for what it is, and get myself over the hump, because the rewards of a de-cluttered living space are so wonderful that I fear losing that now.
For me some of it is coming to terms with changes in life. I found it hard to part with my kids toys when they left home, and kept far too many for the grandkids. I've weeded them out now to a happy medium, and realised some of that was probably empty nest syndrome. My DH is recently retired, and coming to terms with the fact that he no longer needs all the tools and equipment he once used to run his busniness, but he has to face that in his own time I guess.
Anyway, the only thing I've seen that worked for my DH was for him to see me cleaing out my own stuff and getting a thrill out of giving it away and having peace inside and out.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 12:53AM
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Socks, I don't know if it's the case with your hubby, but mine tends to hold on to items that represent something that he once enjoyed long ago.

He still has all his Boy Scout patches, pins, the manual, etc. He keeps them in a drawer in a small desk in his woodworking room. I brought them out and we looked at them one night. He doesn't want to part with them, but what good are they in a drawer, viewed maybe once a decade? I want to display this stuff on the wall of his woodworking room, so he can enjoy the collection every time he passes by. (My health kinda got in the way, but it's somewhere on the back burner.)

He had these things called "Wacky Wrappers," which were like trading cards, but they are actually stickers. They were popular when we were in grade school. I was able to talk him into giving them away to a young person on Freecycle. Better to be pasted onto a notebook or skateboard, than to rot away, lying in a drawer.

The latest thing I am trying to help him get rid of is a set of Taekwondo encyclopedias that would be useful only to an instructor of a very particular style of martial art. He admitted that he no longer has any use for them. At first, he said he wanted to recoup the money he invested in them. I tried posting them on a garage sale mailing list. Only got one bite. Didn't lead to a sale. I told him that if he wants to try to sell them on Ebay, it's his job, not mine. I don't want to have to put in all the time writing up a listing ... and packing those heavy books into a box, and hoping they survive the shipment process. I am trying to help him see the amount of work that goes into selling something, and how much easier it is if you can find someone local who will take the item for free. I don't think we'll find the right person on the local Freecycle community, so I thought real hard, and one of my aunts is a Taekwondo instructor and might be able to find a home for the books, if she can't use them herself. He liked that idea. He will allow me to give away for free the books that he first insisted be sold for as much cash as possible.

This is a long-winded way of saying that:

(A) I think some people hang on to things because they remind them of good times in their past. They don't want to let the memories fade. Maybe a photograph of the item in an album would be equally satisfying. Write down the story behind the photo, and you (and others) can enjoy it again and again.

(B) Getting value back out of the item requires work; giving away is usually free; disposal in a dump costs money, too. Best to be in the middle of that continuum:
(1) sell it if you can (which is often a lot of work)
(2) get a tax write-off by donating it to a charity (provided they can use it)
(3) give it away for free to anybody local who is willing to come to your house and take it away
(4) recycle it (often free, if the item IS recyclable)
(5) throw it in the dump! (This costs cash money.)

Socks, I hope that you can find peace with your husband's habits, and maybe even understand them.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 8:13AM
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Maryliz, I don't know where you live, but those tae kwon do books sound like something my dh & dd could have used at one time. They took tae kwon do from an instructor who required everyone to write a paper on some aspect or technique before they could test for the next belt. It wasn't one of those "pay for a belt" schools, but one where students progessed only when the instructors thought they were ready.

This one was at a local community college, and the students there could take the class for credit and once they moved up to green belt, they no longer had to pay tuition, but helped teach the white & yellow belts with the blue belts, while the brown & black belts trained the green & blue. I have no idea how to find another school of that quality, but if you can, they could certainly use those books.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 12:08PM
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Maryliz, thank you for your kind wishes and understanding. I really do appreciate it.

DH does NOT want to get rid of anything and finds new places to store the worn out bed, empty coffee can collection, boxes, parts left over from completed projects, old tools, clothing that does not fit any more, tons of memorabilia, old paperwork, bottles and bottles of cleaners and chemical products, and on and on and on.... He does not wish to sell anything or donate anything or throw anything away. It is HIS stuff.

I think I'm doing better after having a period of mental adjustment and just have to let this go as long as the collection does not take up space in our home.

I think I'm doing better now. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2009 at 5:55PM
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That's actually the kind of school my aunt teaches at. A small community college martial arts class. Thanks for thinking of it, Marti!

Wow, Socks, that goes way beyond happy memories. Unused cleaning products which he probably never plans to use. I hope you can find peace somehow. I admire your strength.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2009 at 8:00AM
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Hi Socks, I posted before without realising you weren't looking for ways to change the packrat, but rather your attitude to his packrat ways? Do I have it right this time?
Anyway, I've never forgotten this advice and it really has helped me to live with some things.
"If it's something you'd be able to laugh about after someone has died, then laugh about it now."
I used to hate my DH taking his socks off, rolling them up, then leaving them in weird places, like tucked into a pot plant, in the fruit bowl, or on top of the fridge. Then one day I imagined telling his grandkids about this habit after he died, and I realised they'd see it as sweet and funny, so I could see it that way now too.
I love it now when I come across his socks in funny places.
Many other habits that used to annoy me, now I see as quirky and interesting, and laugh about instead of nagging.
Could you apply that to some packrat habits maybe?
Just a thought.
Cheers Lily

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 3:07AM
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The only problem here is that this is hoarding behavior, and it's a mental illness. It could continue to get worse. What will you do if his stuff starts filling up the house? Have you tried finding some way for him to get help for this before it becomes even more of a problem?

Also, he may be happy, but does he know this is making you unhappy? Have you had conversations about it? Do you have a trusted third party you could talk with together (pastor, doctor, etc.)?

I know you asked how to accept it, and of course that's an option, but something else to think about.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2009 at 6:19PM
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Yes, Lily, you've got it now! I'm not sure anyone will ever laugh about the collection, but that's definitely something to think about anyway.

As I said before, I want to leave our home and affairs in good order for our children, and that won't be happening at least as far as our belongings are concerned. So I feel bad about that. The kids know and told me not to worry.

Harriet, he's in his own mental zone with the collection, and he knows he has a lot of stuff, but he doesn't feel it's my concern since the great bulk is out of my way. He is just unable to let go of things. The stuff will NOT invade the house, and when something starts to build up there, I move things to the garage or ask him to deal with it, which he does willingly. He says his goal is to get a car in the garage, and I don't know if that will happen or not. This would entail switching things from the garage to another storage facility. OK.

I am feeling better. Some things you just cannot fight, and I must be in peace with all the good things in my life and toss out the rest.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2009 at 1:34PM
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Well... "it is hard to move an old tree"... is the problem. Long time habits are hard to change and there must be a "logical" reason presented to get rid of stuff. The fact that the house, garage or yard is overflowing... is often not a good reason in the mind of the collector. Looking at all this stuff is hard on the mate too. I know several gals that sneak stuff out to the trash when hubby is not looking.

Everyone needs to move every 10 years and that would solve most of the clutter problems. Ha!

Some things to help...
Buy a shed. Put in garage shelves going up to the ceiling on one side of the garage. I have an old torn out kitchen (cabinets, counter tops and sink etc.) installed in my garage to keep things out of sight. One garage wall is shared by the laundry room so it was easy to have a plumber hook up the sink in the garage. I have done this is every home I live in... find someone tearing out their kitchen and put the cabinets with counter tops in my garage. Some of these cabinets can also be used in a shed too.

I have years of memories in my home carried around from a couple of moves. My closets and shelves are over flowing from things I think I have to keep for one reason or another. There are stories that go with the items... but it is basically clutter to everyone else. Then I learned ebay. I still have a lot of things to purge but it is a way for me to live with less clutter in my life.

A good way to do some purging is to learn ebay and craigslist. I know a couple of ladies that was able to clear out some areas of their home. They got their husband excited by watching an item sell. Ebay is not what it use to be but there are still buyers looking for treasures no matter the state of the economy.

Another friend has a mom with a house full of memories... and due to age and health, it was obvious that the home would need to be sold in the near future. Mom probably paid 50 cents for an old sewing item years ago. Yet this same item sold for much more on ebay as a collectible. Her mom knew what she paid for most of these items, so the price from ebay was always more in the eyes of the mom. It took a while but my friend was able to sell off many unused items... things collecting from over the years.

She started out by selling some of her own things and would then tell her mom how much $$ she made on ebay to go into her vacation fund. It was a soft sell to mom and it worked in small steps. Then mom eventually got excited and was actually looking in her shelves and closets for things to sell. Mom enjoyed going shopping with the money and buying presents for her grandchildren. While the family members did not want the stuff collecting in mom's home, the ebay sales was all converted to cash and mom enjoyed giving the proceeds away in the form of gifts to family members.

I introduced selling on ebay into my own life and am having fun doing it. It seems easier to part with things if I can get money for it. I am getting older and what happens to my stuff... since no one in the family wants most of it? I started out with books to gain feedback and experience with selling.

You need an acceptable reason to get rid of saleable clutter in the eyes of the doer and ebay works for me. I always have a "donation box" in the garage and add to my trash bin if the item cannot be used as a dust or polishing cloth. Ha!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 3:03PM
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I am SO tired and frustrated with people telling me how to get rid of his junk! "Just call Salvation Army, make three boxes, etc." YOU ARE NOT UNDERSTANDING!!! They will not let it go, it grows daily and it becomes completely debilitating. If it were only a matter of finding ways to get rid of it, there would not be a problem.

We now have two houses, one completely full of his stuff and he's working on the new house. I have to close the door to the den if people are coming over, the garage is now full and he's starting to stockpile stuff under the kitchen table. This is not a cute little foible that we can joke about, it's clutter leading to mess and eventually filth. It's an emotional disease.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2009 at 4:19PM
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There shouldn't be ANYTHING under the kitchen table! It's a sanitary hazard (can't clean under there) AND a safety hazard! How about anything from the kitchen table goes in the backyard under a tarp?

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 10:03AM
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Hoarding behavior is a mental illness. It's extremely difficult to treat because the person simply does not see it as being a problem.

I believe it might even be similar to alcoholism in that no one can "make" the person change unless he or she wants to change.

Hoarding is unhealthy, dangerous, unsanitary, and all the rest of it.

scarlett, I remember you writing about this several years ago. Didn't you marry him not too long ago? I'm just curious: have you discussed this problem seriously with him, and if so, what was his response? (If you don't mind sharing -- might help socks12345.)

    Bookmark   July 21, 2009 at 1:19PM
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Aside from this "One little problem", he is a pretty good husband. I should know, I've had a few...LOL!

I saw today that there is a new reality show (I know, I know) called "Hoarders". It will be on the A&E Channel starting Aug. 17th. Not sure of the time but in the evening. This must be enough of a problem that people will want to watch it. Or maybe they just want to see a house that is worse than theirs.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 2:02AM
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You bet there is a problem--that's why the storage facilities are successful. I believe a lot of the stuff in those places is just junk, and it's not cheap to store there either.

I won't watch the TV program. It would upset me.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 4:30PM
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There's a storage facility near me. The owner told me they were dumping out a storage locker, and I could come take anything I wanted for free. Seems the owner hadn't paid the rent and didn't respond to letters (maybe the person died?), so the storage space simply threw everything out. Makes you wonder... I did get some Interesting books for free, I think I passed them along, or at least gave them a spot on a bookshelf.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 7:53PM
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If you wander over to the Trash to Treasure will see a lot of posters that I suspect are hoarders.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 1:34AM
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My solution after 18 years of nailbiting is to make sure each house we have has an extra bedroom that's all "his".He has the whole room, plus the garage, tool sheds, ect. Rest of rooms are clutter free...that's our compromise, cause we do love each other,just have radically different views on "keeping stuff". I don't look in his room, I don't clean it...I keep my "house" tools somewhere I can find them. Works for us...most of the

    Bookmark   August 13, 2009 at 2:27PM
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