Like Buckaroo Bonzai, my life tends to go in eight directions at once. My father was a machinist, who liked to tinker with things and was somewhat of an amateur inventor. My mother was a workaholic and has always been a hoarder. My sister, older than me, likes to collect books and fantasy figurines and assorted knick knacks. My brother, also older than me, is heavily into gardening now, but has always owned exotic pets and novelty items. So I grew up in a world where nothing got thrown out because it could be fixed or adapted to somthing else, or it was collectible, or exotic, or just because you might need it someday. All of this became second nature to me, and when I joined the Navy, my nickname became “Packrat”, because I tended to accummulate anything that might prove useful in the future. (I always fancied myself to be like “RADAR” O’Rielly from M*A*S*H).
This habit did not go away once I got out of the Navy, but only amplified itself. After the Navy, I went off to college and got an apartment, because a dorm room just didn’t have enough space. As an Engineering student with artistic hobbies, I tended to collect a number of different types of things: I collected books, both science fiction and non-fiction, any discarded electronics that could be used to make robots or other engineering projects, games, and LEGOs for my artistic building projects.
Sometime in the middle of my being in college, I began to read and study Zen, and was thusly directed toward the concept of minimalisation. In the beginning, I thought of it only as an abstract idea, with much scorn and disdain. Why would I possibly want to get rid of things? Everything can be used for more than its intended purpose, and you never know when you might need to use such-and-such, even if you haven’t used it for five years. I was a packrat, but at least I was an organized packrat. I knew most of what I had, and could put my hand on it in under five minutes.
But things changed, and I had to move to a smaller apartment, and things had to be boxed up, and put into storage. Then after a while I got laid off, college got put on hold, and I had to move back in with my now widowed mother. Without my dad’s constant upkeeping, the house had spiraled into a hoarder’s paradise, and my mother had no clue what to do with it. So then adding my collection of stuff (enough to fill a 2-bedroom house) into her packed 4-bedroom house, we created a log jam. Most of my stuff sits in boxes in either my bedroom or the den, and hers takes up 3 bedrooms, the garage, an outdoor shed, the back porch, and the front foyer. And I still have stuff in two storage units I am paying monthly fees to hold.
Having lived this way for a couple months now, and trying to declutter the house, I now realize how much this stuff weighs you down and ruins your life. I am giving up my packrat ways, and going minimalist, but at the same time, I am having to battle my mother’s hoarder habits. For instance, even though she agrees with me that we need to get rid of things, she still routinely drives around and picks other people’s junk up off the curb and brings it home, and still goes out looking at garage sales instead of holding our own.
My plan of action is simple. Systematically go through each room of the house and designate a proper ‘home’ for things, and remove anything that doesn’t fit in that category. Once things are a little better organized, broken and or redundant items will be purged. (My mother doesn’t have my organizaional skills, so when she misplaces something and then needs to use it, she simply goes out and buys another.) After that phase, then I can start removing unused but good items. My preferred method for this type of cleaning is to take everything out of a room (and clean it well) and then only put back the items you want there. Do this room-by-room and eventually you will have an orderly house with a pile of useless junk outside.
So, this is my personal journey from Packrat to Minimalist, working to overcome a lifetime a hoarder tendencies, and dealing with someone who still has them.