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He's Got Pack Rat Fever How do you Survive?

Updated on January 5, 2012

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.

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.


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    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Cassidella, IdaKenelm, Ainehannah, For your support.

      Cassiidella, I am planing on doing more psychology hubs, I'm glad you like this one.

      IdaKenelm, I want you to know you are not a hoarder at all, in fact I do then same thing, I often collect get bored and discard. You just like to try no things and then move on, you creative and that is great.

      Ainehannah, I hold on to some things for old times sake to. It's how many things you hold on to that identifies a person as a hoarder. It seems that DNA has a lot to do with everything, even behavior that was often explained by just family dynamics in the past.

    • ainehannah profile image

      Aine O'Connor 7 years ago from Dublin

      Really enjoyed this one. It's amazing that they can link things like hoarding to DNA now, and it made me think about the things I'm hanging onto for old times' sake. Thanks.

    • IdaKenelm profile image

      IdaKenelm 7 years ago

      What your research revealed about hoarders family lives fits the profile of every hoarder I have ever met. None had a close relationship with their parents growing up, even if the relationship was close in adulthood.

      Personally, I have a tendency to collect things for projects I want to do, until I have enough to do the project or become bored with the idea, then I quickly declutter, only to find myself collecting for something else.

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Nicely done! Rated this hub up and looking forward to more!

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank thevoice, I'm glad you like it.

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 7 years ago from carthage ill

      terrific long done hub its great reviews thanks