Packrat Spouse

Archived Q&A and Reviews

See also: Messy House, Messy Family Members

Worried about daughter picking up Dad's packrat habits

Dec 2002

Help! To begin with, I am married to the absolutely worst packrat in the world. It has always been like pulling teeth to get him to throw or give things away, and he gets upset if I throw them away without asking him. We live in a tiny house with two children, and there is simply not enough space to keep everything. There have been times when I have wondered if he is slightly mentally ill, although he does not have the classic signs (keeping things like newspapers and so on). Without me, he would live in a place that was knee-deep in stuff; and though he has learned from me, it is still a constant struggle keeping space for all of us to move and live.

I have managed to live with this aspect of him for 13 years, and we have worked out a kind of balance, though there is still way too much stuff in our lives. However, recently I've noticed that our three and a half year old daughter has the same problem.

She will not get rid of anything, even if she's grown out of it, and never wears or uses it. When I suggest that she get rid of things that she never wears or plays with, she cries and promises she will wear/play with them ''tomorrow'', or ''sometime''.

Up until now I have sneaked things away when she is out of the house, and she never notices (after all, these are things that she never looks at, right?). But recently I am worried that she is going to be like my husband, and this sneaking thing will only work for so long. And I absolutely cannot live with two of them, I would really lose my mind.

My question is, are there any parents out there who have successfully trained their children to happily get rid ot things? Especially if they were originally packrats? I feel very strongly that your things should be used or at least noticed and loved, or you shouldn't have them. Are there any tips or tricks to teaching your children this, and helping them to learn to let things go without it being traumatic? I should note that I am certainly not a spartan myself, but I do like to keep my things circulating, and often give things I love to others who would use them more or love them more. Curiously, having children has helped my husband, as well. Thanks for any help you can give!

for ideas on retraining packrats (including self!:-), check out Its like AA for packrats. Good ideas on removing clutter permanently, and dealing with your children and partner. I have found it quite useful for myself! a packrat in recovery
My heart goes out to you. My ex-husband was the same way -- and his parents had stacks of newspapers and all! It was horrible! My daughter was like yours when she was younger. A couple times a year (just before Christmas especially) I would tell her that we would spend the day cleaning out her room. I told her that in order for her to get any new things, she would have to make room for them -- no room, no presents (new clothes, etc.) Once she realize that I was serious, and there were some things that she really wanted to get for Christmas, she learned to let go of some things. Now, at age 9, she understands my rules about the capacity of her room, and she is very good about letting go of alot of junk-- not all, but most. anon
Try an annual ''Out-With-The-Old-In-With-The-New'' party. Time it around the holidays or your child's birthday and explain that getting rid of things is an important tradition. Do what you can to make it really fun, and perhaps set up a number goal like ''this year you're 9 years old so we'll all get rid of nine things each.'' Throwing or giving away things is very liberating and I agree that it's a habit that one picks up during childhood. Good luck, I'm rooting for you! Mary
The hoard and clutter syndrome (packrat, a disturbing & hurtful term to many) is now being understood to be a subset of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), almost completely involuntary, hard to treat except with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) & support, and may in many cases be caused by altered brain chemistry due to a childhood infection or to a genetic influence. Dr Amin Azzam at UCSF has a genetic study in progress for this distressing condition. It is often not a matter of ''oh just throw it out'' for sufferers, as they have great anxiety around letting go, which can be greatly exacerbated by pressure and threats from family members who have never heard of the OCD component or altered brain chemistry. There is a whole new body of research on this headed up by Randy Frost, PhD, Gail Steketee, PhD, James Claiborn, PhD, Fred Penzel, MD, Johan Rosqvist, PhD, and other US investigators. If you Google them you can find out more. This problem is massive, the estimates on how much of the population suffers from OCD hoarding & resultant social isolation vary, but it is in the millions in the US. A shop till you drop ideology in society and anxiety-producing social instability & job loss don't help either. If you have family members with this hoard and clutter problem please do get the information from the above sources to help them, because depression and suicide can accompany some who, under pressure, feel deserted, exhausted, and lose hope. I have studied this newly defined problem and am happy to give more info including research papers to anyone who needs it. berkeleywest