How to Handle a Pack Rat Partner

A friend recently asked how to handle her husband’s pack rat tendencies. This is a wonderful guy, but he has a hard time parting with things, particularly memorabilia and old books. I saw the loot, and I agreed it was quite a lot. Unless you find yourself in a dire situation (see #3 below), I would never recommend cleaning out someone’s things without their knowledge. It is unfair and a recipe for hurt feelings. However, I understand the frustration you feel living with their mess. Here are my suggestions for how to tackle a situation like this:

1. Set a size limit. Allow him to keep only what fits in a certain size or number of containers. This permits a reasonable amount of junk to stay while still drastically reducing the stockpile. Don’t criticize or micromanage what he wants to keep—let him decide. The photo above still has far too many containers for my taste, but at least it is neatly sorted and stored.

2. Garage sale profits are all his. If your partner has things that are of potential value, have a garage sale (or craigslist them) and tell him he can buy whatever indulgent thing he wants with the money (as long as it isn’t more clutter!). A new driver or perhaps a bottle of Pappy might provide just the right encouragement. Set a time limit on this, though—that the sale has to be completed within X weeks (or then you get to choose how to spend the money!)

3. Give negative notice. Sometimes there are desperate situations where one person refuses to cull their belongings—to the detriment of the family. In these extreme cases, I would suggest taking a page from your attorney’s book and give negative notice. This means you say something like “whatever is not cleaned out in X weeks will go to goodwill. If there is anything you want to keep, pull it out and organize it before then.” This will be a tough one to pull off peacefully, and I don’t recommend it lightly, but if someone won’t budge, it might be the only option left.

A final note: Be sure your partner has an area in the home that is all his own and he can keep however he pleases. Everyone needs at least a small place that is hassle free. Above all, choose an ideal time to discuss this and try to be as kind as possible. And … good luck!!

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