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He's Got Pack Rat Fever How do you Survive?
There is at least one in almost every family. That member of the family that after you clean out a closet, has you put back half the stuff, you want to discard because they may be useful sometime in the future, even though it is gathering dust or rust. I remember wanting to gather some things together for a garage sale and making a list only to find, that only a few things on my list met with my dad’s approval. One of the objects I was hoping he would sell was his old rusty barbecue. It has been almost seven years since that barbecue had been used for a back yard get together and it was rusty and in bad need of a cleaning. It was also very heavy and a hazard if there ever was a hurricane. I live in Florida so hurricanes are a concern of mine. Despite my best efforts to pursued him to sell it, the barbecue is still in our patio, still unused and older and rustier than ever. He has a tendency to hold on to things, even things that haven’t been used in years.
What is it that makes people want to hold on to objects that would be deemed useless or worthless, at least by most people’s standards. According to Psychology Today Magazine, in an article titled “Closet Cases” pack rats often hold on to certain objects, because it provides them with a source of comfort. Ange Aguirre a life long pack rat stated the following: “They were something to hold on to when the days got tough, they bring me back to a good time in my life.” There you have it, pack rats attach memories to material objects. Andy Warhol was known for packing things in boxes that most people would normally discard and labeling these boxes time capsules.
There are degrees of hoarding, according to Randy Frost a psychologist at Smith University and the author of Stuff. He states that hoarding can be mild to extreme. Hoarding is an inclination that can be set in motion by economic uncertainty. It can also be the consequence of extreme anxiety, resulting from a traumatic event such as the loss of a job or illness. Hoarders view their objects as symbols of safety, they feel that the objects themselves possess certain powers.
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There also seems to be a genetic basis for hoarding. People who have family members that are hoarders tend to be hoarders themselves. Makes me wonder, why my dad and I don’t see eye to eye on this issue. On a genetic level, hoarding is linked to a sequence of genes on chromosome 14 that is found in families with obsessive, compulsive disorder. In fact, hoarding can be a symptom of OCD, although not all pack rats have OCD. Hoarders often suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, some people who suffer from depression have clutter problems, because they don’t have the energy to de-clutter.
A study done in UCLA found that hoarders have a lower than normal baseline level of activity I the area of the limbic system called cingulate gyrus, suggesting a diminishment in emotional self-control. A defining characteristic of many pack rats is a tendency to develop emotional attachments to their objects. These attachments are not just based on materialist obsession, rather these objects contribute to the person’s sense of identity. A recent study revealed that hoarders reported having distant relationships with their parents while growing up. Objects replace the love they lacked earlier in life.
It is possible to stop hoarding and to even de-clutter, if one is a hoarder. The process should be done slowly. If a hoarder starts emptying shelves too quickly, this could lead to regret due to extreme emotional attachments that they may have had with their precious possessions. Moderation is healthy, while excess isn’t. One must realize that it’s ok to have a shelf full of mementos, but to have a room or house full of them, then that is excessive and unhealthy. One way to decide what to discard is to take the objects you may want to discard and place them in a box that is sealed for six months to a year. If the objects remain unused for that period of time, then it’s safe to discard them without any regret.
There are some treasured possessions that one will always want to keep, like family heirlooms, but when you want to keep old puzzles from when you were in first grade, then it’s time to get out those boxes. Think of the rewards of de-cluttering your life. Extra closet space, as well a room in your garage. You can walk through your house and have a sense of space, not to mention peace of mind. Another reward is that house cleaning will be a breeze. De-cluttering keeps everyone feeling saner. So if you don’t need it, then delete it.