How to Deal With a Pack Rat


"I might need it someday" is just one of the many excuses a pack rat
pulls out to defend his or her right to stay knee-deep in clutter. And
while you can't change your clutter bug overnight (or ever), there are
ways to make the situation more manageable.

  • Set aside a time when you can have a frank conversation with your dear pack rat rather than deliver an endless attack of small jabs. Discuss the problems his or her clutter is creating in the household. Are there rooms you can't use because they are crammed with too much stuff? Is there a financial cost from paying for rental units to store everything? Could he or she actually find a specific item if needed?

  • Write down what these problems are. Ask clarifying questions. Agree on a limit to the space, time and money you'll devote to managing pack-rat clutter. This limit should be less than what is currently allocated.

  • Agree to a 30-day moratorium on getting anything new, even if it's free. That means no trips to the flea market, garage or yard sales, auctions, estate sales, souvenir shops or gift shops.

  • Begin working together in one small area. Piece by piece, sort through the stuff, decluttering as you go. When the process is underway and an organizing system well established, peel out and let the pack rat handle the job alone. If that's too overwhelming, call in a pro. (See 1 Get Organized, 5 Hire a Professional Organizer and 37 Conquer Clutter.)

  • Be patient and not judgmental with your pack rat as you make joint decisions about what to keep and what to eliminate. Pose questions that help him or her be more realistic about what to get rid of. See 8 Overcome Chronic Disorganization.

  • Act immediately on discarded items, removing them in bags or boxes and taking them to donation or disposal sites (see 12 Get Rid of What You Don't Want).

  • Repeat these sort-and-purge sessions until your pack rat has gone through everything. Extend the moratorium on acquiring new items if needed in order to finish the initial purge.

  • Talk about and agree on where the best place is for storing the pack rat's scaled-back possessions. If possible, set aside a separate room. Reach an agreement that the collections will stay within the boundaries of that space. (See 56 End Collection Chaos.) Add shelving units if it makes the area more manageable. Put up a folding screen divider if the space borders on other living areas.

  • Set a good example for the pack rat and regularly get rid of your own unused possessions.

Tips & Warnings

  • Create a visual reminder of the pack rat's space limitations by placing tape on the floor as a boundary line.
  • If there are duplicates of a particular item, ask the pack rat to pick a favorite to keep and donate the rest.
  • Hold the line: If the pack rat doesn't abide by the new agreement, box up the stuff and take to the dump. Then see 287 Plan an Amicable Divorce.

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