((With the new year upon us, many will be thinking about “de-cluttering” their lives for a fresh, new start. Buddhism and Taoism teach us that all that “stuff” we acquire and become attached to is actually detrimental to our lives and our spiritual well-being. With that in mind, this is a piece I wrote a while ago regarding clutter and “stuff”. I find myself looking around my house and having the itch to ‘purge’ some more material belongings. I imagine others do, too…))
Packrat by Ursula Vernon

I’ve often wondered in life if there really is such a thing as a “Pack-Rat Gene”? Is a tendency toward hoarding or clutter an inherited trait? I have to wonder, because there are so many members of my family who seem to exhibit this tendency. Some are worse than others, and I am determined NOT to fall victim to it in my lifetime. I think part of it stemmed from the generation who survived the Great Depression, where consumer goods like aluminum foil were re-used and re-cycled because it saved money. I can still remember my grandmother washing out plastic sandwich bags (yes, and reusing foil, too, we’ve all heard about that) and hanging them on the faucet upside down to dry. In that sense, it could be considered “frugal” or “thrifty” and so if I do it, too, it’s partially because of that, but also a small attempt at being environmentally conscious regarding plastic, etc.

I know that another part of it has to do with “creativity”. I think it was Einstein who said “Clutter is a sign of genius.” (*pauses to look that up*) Yup. It was him. I’ve also heard that it’s a sign of creativity, and I have close family members who take this to heart. But there’s a difference between the “clutter” of someone who is actively working on something, and “clutter” of someone who is storing anything and everything which might be useful “at some nebulous, unknown point in the future, for some just as unclear and unknown project in the future”. There’s a difference, and therein lies the secret, I think.

There is a point, and I think it’s different for everyone, where it becomes “hoarding” behavior. Like going to the store and stocking up on something you like because it’s on sale…but then going back again for the limit when it’s on sale again, even though you may already have enough to last you and your future generations through WWIII. I think there is a fear of “running out” or not having enough. I don’t do this, but I’m related to people who have and do. And I don’t WANT all that “stuff”. Perishable or not, I don’t want to clutter my living environment with “stuff”.

And it’s really ALL just “stuff”, you know. We can’t take ANY of it with us when we check out. Empty space has a tendency to fill. It’s like a Natural Law or something, and if it’s not, then it should be, because you know it’s true! The question is, is it “stuff” you’ll be using now or soon? We may not even BE here to use it tomorrow, so why keep it if you’re not using it? My dad always taught me it’s “better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it,” and to some extent, that’s a wise philosophy. It speaks of being prepared and anticipating future problems and solutions ahead of time.

BUT…there IS something very true about Feng Shui and the “less is more”, minimalist viewpoint. Clutter and hoarding speak volumes about what’s going on inside of a person – a person’s living environment can be very telling about their inner emotional and mental states. The two are tied together, and I think that cleaning up one can affect and help clean up the other (inside vs. outside or vice versa). Balance and order in one area can guide a person to both in the other area.

In an attempt to keep from becoming a “Clutter Queen”, I try to keep in mind a few things:

1) Can I or will I (realistically and actually) use something today or tomorrow? If so, how and for what? Unfortunately, my ‘skinny clothes’ probably fall into this category – I MAY end up at that smaller size again, but I sure can’t fit into them now, and they are taking up a lot of space in the closet and chest. Hmmm….

2) How does having something enhance who I am or benefit my life NOW, TODAY? Do I need it? <—Important note: there are sometimes when just having the peace of mind knowing I have something in case of an emergency (like extra oil for the car, for example) is worth having to store it.

3) Do I have the space for it? Keeping in mind that empty space will fill, do I really want to fill that empty space with this particular thing?

4) How does it affect my environment? Does it clutter or add to my ‘living space’ in a positive way?

5) If I bring in something ‘new’, I have to get rid of something ‘old’ to make room for it – it’s about keeping the balance/flow of what I want around me. If I REALLY WANT or NEED that ‘new’ thing, then there should be something ‘old’ that I can move out to make room for it.

So what about you? How do you handle the clutter in your life? Is it true that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Do you think there’s a Pack Rat gene? Or is it more nurture instead of nature (i.e. environmental upbringing instead of inherited traits)?

Thanks for reading. 🙂 Comments are welcome and appreciated!

– Corina Ravenscraft

© 2014, essay, Corina Ravenscraft, illustration, Ursula Vernon All rights reserved

effecd1bf289d498b5944e37d8f4ee6fAbout dragonkatet Regarding the blog name, Dragon’s Dreams ~ The name comes from my love-affairs with both Dragons and Dreams (capital Ds). It’s another extension of who I am, a facet for expression; a place and way to reach other like-minded, creative individuals. I post a lot of poetry and images that fascinate or move me, because that’s my favorite way to view the world. I post about things important to me and the world in which we live, try to champion extra important political, societal and environmental issues, etc. Sometimes I wax philosophical, because it’s also a place where I always seem to learn about myself, too, by interacting with some of the brightest minds, souls and hearts out there. It’s all about ‘connection(s)’ and I don’t mean “net-working” with people for personal gain, but rather, the expansion of the 4 L’s: Light, Love, Laughter, Learning.

14 thoughts on “The Packrat Gene and the Clutter Queen

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, and very much like the point you make at (4). I’m not a hoarder, unless we’re talking books and art, but my husband is, particularly when it comes to kitchen stuff – I de-cluttered the kitchen cupboards yesterday, and threw out so much stuff we never use. And it felt good 🙂 The big problem that I have is that friends give us stuff that we would never use, and I just don’t know what to do in this situation…

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    1. Thank you, bluebee. Goodness, books and art, oh, can I identify with that! As for well-meant gifts from friends that we will never use, this is how I handle it (your mileage may vary): I thank them kindly for the gift, oooh and ahhh over it and say how nice it was of them to think of us. Once they are gone, I decide which charity I will donate it to and then put it in that box for the next trip out. If I am ever asked about the gift, I will say, “Oh, you know, thank you again so much for that, but we found someone who needed it a lot more than us, so we thought it would be a nice gesture to give it to them.” You don’t even need to go into detail about “who”.

      The way I see it…if it’s given to you as a gift, then it becomes yours to do with what you see fit. Unless there are heavy strings attached…in which case, storing it for awhile might be a better option. But I don’t think there should ever be guilt attached to getting rid of something that doesn’t suit you, or something you have outgrown (whether that means outgrown physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.). Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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  2. I am glad Einstein said “Clutter is a sign of genius.” I throw things away and am always de-cluttering, but I have all my “stuff” I am working with around me, always…I loathe putting things away. I can never find them again.

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    1. 🙂 It’s creativity/genius loose in the atmosphere around where you are. That’s what my mom claims, too…she is very well-organized, but if she is working on a project, it is pointless to ask her to put anything away because, “As soon as I put it up I’ll need it again.” And yes, she has hidden things from herself without meaning to and gotten quite flustered. So now I just let it be and let her do her thing without trying to adjust anything. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

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  3. I agree with what you have said here, Corina. Like Victoria I need order to create.

    These days many of us have had to be more mobile than our parents, moving for school and/or jobs, re-establishing ourselves in new places quite a number of times. More and more of us are living in the new micro-apartments in cities. I think the habit of holding on to things might have also been generated during times where lives were more stable and one might even live from baby-buggy to hearse in the same house. It probably made sense then to store in attics, basements or barns for future use. Now we don’t have the space.

    Furthermore, I know my mother would shudder at the way we use recycling (thrift shops, freecycle and so fourth) and repurpose. She would have thought we buy new or do without, but our middleclass and lower-class wants to function in a way that is both frugal and environmentally sound. With thrift shops and freecycle and such, where or why is there a need to store?

    Anyway, my thoughts for whatever they’re worth. Enjoyed this piece and the wonderful illustration you selected, Corina.

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    1. Thanks so much, Jamie. 🙂 You raise some good points regarding mobility and not having as much storage space. I had not thought about most families living in the same house from cradle to grave, but that is true!

      Growing up, we were very poor, so the thrift stores and hand-me-downs from other family members were invaluable. “With thrift shops and freecycle and such, where or why is there a need to store? ” <– That's a valid question. I think the answer to that lies partially in peoples' attachment to things…wanting something as "mine" that no one else can take from me. Or that I can pass along to my children/grand-children? Heirloom pieces, like china sets, for example? Thanks for reading and for the thoughtful comment.

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  4. I suspect that childhood experiences influence our thinking along these lines…one hears stories of those during difficult financial times (e.g., depression period) who could not even begin to consider throwing something away. An interesting post.

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    1. Thank you, slpmartin. That is a good observation and I think you are right. Discernment of what is ‘trash’ and what is not, could be argued differently, depending upon an individual’s perspective. I also think that it depends upon each society, too. I have noticed a societal shift since the Depression Era away from frugality here in America, in favor of consumerism and disposable things. Since the latest Recession, there has been a return to thriftiness and re-using, or up-cycling things. But over in Germany, for example, they seem to have stayed relatively stable in regards to being frugal. So, perhaps, too, it has something to do with lifestyles in a given society? Thanks for reading and for the thought-provoking comment.

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  5. I am a minimalist married to a pack rat. It is perhaps the paramount issue in our life together. So, it’s a bit of compromise mixed with a lot of acceptance on both of our parts. For me to create I need order and calm in my environment. Sorry, Einstein. I have my oases for writing. When I do art it does get messy, then I have to find somewhere else to write. My dear mom could never get rid of anything. Slowly, I’m cleaning stuff out, but when she does make her transition, you won’t hear from me for months! :0) So I didn’t get that gene from her.

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    1. Compromise and acceptance are key! Like you, I prefer order and organization, but my significant other is the polar opposite. I can also relate about mothers…mine is an extremely well-organized pack-rat, but I dread the day when I will inherit all that ‘stuff’. Sorting takes a lot of time. I’m slowly but surely helping her whittle away at her collection, but it does take time. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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  6. I am not a pack rat. Steve’s aunt is an almost criminal one. Our book business is a recycling business, basically, and generates piles of inventory, so it looks like I live like a pack rat. I dream of empty spaces where I find rest and clarity and order. I get that from my parents, who were meticulous. My husband, like Steve, had a “piling system” rather than a filing system. I can live with stuff, but most of it’s not mine. I am attached to very little, I think. Tolerating and understanding people’s habits keeps this a light affair, not a quarrelsome one.

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    1. 🙂 Thanks, scillagrace. “Tolerating and understanding people’s habits keeps this a light affair, not a quarrelsome one.” That is absolutely true! I have often found that people who have “piling systems”, for example, can still tell you exactly where something is, if anyone should ask. It may not look organized to the outside brain, but there is an order there, somewhere. I would be guilty of being a pack-rat of books if I didn’t work at a library where I can donate some periodically! Thank you for reading.

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  7. What a superb essay. I am NOT a pack rat by any means. But people (family members) have called me materialistic. And I might add that this is true. However, I came to terms with that moniker some time ago. Sure I enjoy buying things, sure I enjoy money passing through my hands and yes, I enjoy the new things that I might purchase. But, I give away everything and anything and enjoy doing so. Therefore I realized that being materialistic is not for me an insult. Thanks for a great essay.

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    1. Thank you, Liz. I would guess that you probably strike a balance, since you get new things but also give lots of things away. So the term “materialistic” does not seem negative in your case. The comfort level of the amount of stuff one has/keeps can be a different threshold for everyone. Thanks for reading!

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