So You Married a Pack-Rat…

How to simplify your life if you live with a pack-rat

My life would be so simple if I didn’t have kids. Or a husband.

I wouldn’t have a PlayStation3 in the living room.  I could garden for hours, uninterrupted. There wouldn’t be a Barbie doll staring at me as I brush my teeth. I wouldn’t feel the stabbing pain of a rogue Lego block piercing my foot as I make my way to bed.  I could sleep an entire night without being woken.

But considering I love my kids and my husband dearly, living without them is not an option. This does mean, however, that living together can be problematic when we don’t share the same definitions of certain things, like:

  • clutter
  • mess
  • enough
  • tidy
  • prepared
  • relaxation

I am fortunate though, that Sparky isn’t a pack-rat. And our kids are still at an age where I can guide their keep-or-toss decisions (if I include them in the process at all). Toys sometimes disappear, as do the reams of artwork that come home from pre-school and no-one has noticed yet.

So often I receive emails from readers whose situations are different. Their partner is a pack-rat, or their children have a hard time letting go:

“My husband keeps everything, always saying we might need it one day.”

“My girlfriend has carted boxes of old school stuff and toys from one house to another. She won’t let go.”

“How can I simplify our home when it is literally bursting at the seams with his crap?”

These people – and if you live with a hoarder, pack-rat or materially sentimental person, I’m talking to you specifically – are desperate to create a simpler life for themselves, only to face opposition from their husband, wife, kids or housemates.

The truth is, there is only so much you can do in this situation, aside from tossing their belongings without permission – which I really don’t advocate!

Start the Conversation

You don’t need anyone else’s permission to simplify your own life, or even just your stuff. Undoubtedly though, it’s helpful to have support.

So start the conversation:

Bring up your desire to simplify.

Make it about you and your desires, and avoid accusations or judgement. The quickest way to get people off-side is to start a conversation with an accusation. Their defences will go up and they won’t be receptive to anything else you have to say.

Talk about what you need and want from life.

Tell them that you want to start simplifying your life and will begin with your belongings. Tell them that you feel frustrated, stuck, overwhelmed or depressed and that the clutter in your home is adding to the problem. Tell them how you plan on going about simplifying and then ask if it’s something they are interested in. You could be surprised at the answer!

If you live with others – kids, housemates, relatives – talk to them too.

You’re not asking for permission, you’re just telling them what will be happening and why. (Bonus: you may just inspire them to action too.)


Now…Walk the Walk.

It’s time to show the conviction behind your words.

Do the decluttering, cut out unnecessary commitments, create a simpler life for yourself and enjoy the benefits. You will have more space, more time, more room to pursue passions and hobbies and more clarity about what makes life better.

But please, don’t:

  • brag about it
  • constantly talk about it
  • don’t toss other people’s stuff – no matter how tempting

Just by living it you are demonstrating the benefits of a simpler life. Let your partner, kids or housemate see simplicity in action. Let them see how it’s impacted your life. Let them see how you are benefitting.

Then, after three, six, or twelve months, you can talk about it. Ask them how they feel about simplifying some of their stuff. Even just some of your shared belongings. If they’ve been inspired by your own efforts, they may be keen to get on board. Then again, they may not.

Like I said at the beginning of this post – there isn’t much you can do about that. Just keep living your life as simply as possible and presenting them with a viable alternative. One day, your influence will make an impact.

“[They] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” 

― Jim Henson

Do you live with a pack-rat? Someone who keeps everything “just in case”? Do you find it difficult to simplify when faced with their opposition?

5 Responses to So You Married a Pack-Rat…

  1. My husband likes to save everything, but since I have started trying to simplify, he has started to see the benefits. Now when he wants to buy something big, I ask him these questions: where are you going to keep it? how are you going to clean it? who is going to maintain it? Mostly, I am letting him know that I don’t want to be the one doing these things!

  2. Thank you so much for this one. How did you know? Seriously though my husband has wanted me to save something for just in case moments and my response is to put it in my box to Goodwill and the next time it is full out it goes. I have inspired him to go through his books and decide what he wants and does not want. Of course he still lacks the follow through on that.

  3. My husband is a “messy Marvin” and a little bit of a packrat. It seems to run in his family, because at one point we had his mother & brother living with us, and they were the same way, except probably thousand times worse. Their stuff was overtaking our apartment, not to mention our elementary school age daughter doesn’t like to let things go…..and NONE of them ever cleaned. I am a minimalist, which I transitioned to that lifestyle a little ove 10 years ago, before i met my husband;and i never lost it. The mess & clutter drove me crazy. But they always pointed the finger at me, for not being a good housekeeper. WHAT!!!!!???? There was their clutter that would overflow into our hallway,kitchen,dining room,and living room….and a thick layer of untoucheddust dirt and grime over it see,I stopped cleaning their clutter after a few months of them living with us, when I saw that they expected ME to be the one to clean over,under, on and around their clutter. One day I announced that I would be maintaining their clutter NO MORE. They had the nerve to tell me I was just making excuses to be lazy! But I relented, and so did they…a battle of the wills. I was not about to waste my precious time on their clutter, or enabling that behavior. During the process, my wonderful hubby realized that my minimalist ways allowed me to spend more time with him and our daughter. Now that my in-laws are no longer living with ius, and it was total
    CHAOS during that time, he now helps me go through my “decluttering” weekends, throwing out stuff that doesn’t make our lives better. Its wonderful to have my lovely hubby, a reformed packrat himself, with my help, I might add (lol!), share my same views. Now our 8 year old daughter even has established her own special brand of decluttering from time to time. With both of them, I found that it helped when I reminded them that their stuff, the stuff that is still usable, will go to someone else who could reallybuse it, like the needy, or friends, etc. I am proud of them both!

    • Wow! Thanks for sharing your story, Stacy. I am glad you stood up for yourself! It’s very refreshing to read a story of someone who grew a backbone, and with a happy ending. :)

  4. My pack rat partner wants me to keep everything. He habitually goes through the trash. When I want to discard something I sneak the items out of the house and take them to a dumpster at a nearby convenience store. There is no gentle way to approach him about this, he becomes enraged when I open the discussion. He does not understand that there are things I just don’t want to keep.

    It all came to a crisis when we were visiting our friends. Unfortunately I put some paper items in their wastebasket; he discovered them and became enraged that I ignored his directives and tossed them. I am ashamed that he learned what I did and also mortified that I didn’t ask the friends where they kept their recycle bin. At least that would have been better for the environment.