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!!

The First Step in Getting Organized

We all know this to be true but so often it is overlooked: Yes, people can become unorganized but usually it is merely a symptom of  having too much stuff. If we all only owned one spoon, one pillow and one shirt (my dream!), what would there be to organize? We feel the need to organize because of the chaos that surrounds us. Limit your things and the organization will happen (and remain) much more easily.

Of course this is easier said than done. All kinds of methods are suggested for how to declutter your possessions, but for me, it boils down to one question: Does this bring me joy?

Does it bring you joy 3

Sure, we can rationalize the joy to be found in any item, but if we work hard at being honest with ourselves, this is a wonderful test for whether something should remain in our lives.

Joy can come in many forms: a sauce pan that helps you cook for your family. A step ladder that helps your reach up high. A blouse because you feel beautiful in it. A hand-me-down sofa because that is where your family gathers to read books or cuddle. We all have to make concessions. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful or bring you joy in your eyes. This is about parting with the many things crowding our days and our minds that we don’t need, and finding a more peaceful, joyful life.

Shopping Step 1

Do I really need this? 3

This is a tough question, right? Really, we can justify anything if we try hard enough. The key is to get into the habit of really, truly asking ourselves this question. This is my first step in evaluating anything I bring into our lives (free clutter is just as bad as clutter you paid for!).

My mother was an incredible role model for this growing up. She rarely purchased anything, usually explaining it by saying “It is neat/cute/cool, but I don’t need it.” And just like that, she’d walk away from the purchase. I had a very hard time understanding her mindset. My mother would never describe herself as an intentional minimalist … it just came very naturally to her.

I have been very organized since I was a young child, but it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I made effort to minimize my life. And boy did that change things. More room to breathe, more space to relax, more time (because there is less to clean) and not to mention more money in my pocketbook. And it is contagious. The more I decluttered, the more I wanted to get rid of.

This concept works best when applied to things before they come into your life. Once something is already in your house, it takes a slightly different method of deciding whether or not to keep it. We’ll get to that soon.