The Packrat Gene and the Clutter Queen

((With the new year upon us, many will be thinking about “de-cluttering” their lives for a fresh, new start. Buddhism and Taoism teach us that all that “stuff” we acquire and become attached to is actually detrimental to our lives and our spiritual well-being. With that in mind, this is a piece I wrote a while ago regarding clutter and “stuff”. I find myself looking around my house and having the itch to ‘purge’ some more material belongings. I imagine others do, too…))
image borrowed from
Packrat by Ursula Vernon

I’ve often wondered in life if there really is such a thing as a “Pack-Rat Gene”? Is a tendency toward hoarding or clutter an inherited trait?  I have to wonder, because there are so many members of my family who seem to exhibit this tendency. Some are worse than others, and I am determined NOT to fall victim to it in my lifetime. I think part of it stemmed from the generation who survived the Great Depression, where consumer goods like aluminum foil were re-used and re-cycled because it saved money. I can still remember my grandmother washing out plastic sandwich bags (yes, and reusing foil, too, we’ve all heard about that) and hanging them on the faucet upside down to dry. In that sense, it could be considered “frugal” or “thrifty” and so if I do it, too, it’s partially because of that, but also a small attempt at being environmentally conscious regarding plastic, etc.

I know that another part of it has to do with “creativity”. I think it was Einstein who said “Clutter is a sign of genius.” (*pauses to look that up*) Yup. It was him. I’ve also heard that it’s a sign of creativity, and I have close family members who take this to heart. But there’s a difference between the “clutter” of someone who is actively working on something, and “clutter” of someone who is storing anything and everything which might be useful “at some nebulous, unknown point in the future, for some just as unclear and unknown project in the future”. There’s a difference, and therein lies the secret, I think.

There is a point, and I think it’s different for everyone, where it becomes “hoarding” behavior. Like going to the store and stocking up on something you like because it’s on sale…but then going back again for the limit when it’s on sale again, even though you may already have enough to last you and your future generations through WWIII. I think there is a fear of “running out” or not having enough. I don’t do this, but I’m related to people who have and do. And I don’t WANT all that “stuff”. Perishable or not, I don’t want to clutter my living environment with “stuff”.

And it’s really ALL just “stuff”, you know. We can’t take ANY of it with us when we check out. Empty space has a tendency to fill. It’s like a Natural Law or something, and if it’s not, then it should be, because you know it’s true! The question is, is it “stuff” you’ll be using now or soon? We may not even BE here to use it tomorrow, so why keep it if you’re not using it? My dad always taught me it’s “better to have it and not need it, then need it and not have it,” and to some extent, that’s a wise philosophy. It speaks of being prepared and anticipating future problems and solutions ahead of time.

BUT…there IS something very true about Feng Shui and the “less is more”, minimalist viewpoint. Clutter and hoarding speak volumes about what’s going on inside of a person – a person’s living environment can be very telling about their inner emotional and mental states. The two are tied together, and I think that cleaning up one can affect and help clean up the other (inside vs. outside or vice versa). Balance and order in one area can guide a person to both in the other area.

In an attempt to keep from becoming a “Clutter Queen”, I try to keep in mind a few things:

1) Can I or will I (realistically and actually) use something today or tomorrow? If so, how and for what? Unfortunately, my ‘skinny clothes’ probably fall into this category – I MAY end up at that smaller size again, but I sure can’t fit into them now, and they are taking up a lot of space in the closet and chest. Hmmm….

2) How does having something enhance who I am or benefit my life NOW, TODAY? Do I need it? <—Important note: there are sometimes when just having the peace of mind knowing I have something in case of an emergency (like extra oil for the car, for example) is worth having to store it.

3) Do I have the space for it? Keeping in mind that empty space will fill, do I really want to fill that empty space with this particular thing?

4) How does it affect my environment? Does it clutter or add to my ‘living space’ in a positive way?

5) If I bring in something ‘new’, I have to get rid of something ‘old’ to make room for it – it’s about keeping the balance/flow of what I want around me. If I REALLY WANT or NEED that ‘new’ thing, then there should be something ‘old’ that I can move out to make room for it.

So what about you? How do you handle the clutter in your life? Is it true that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Do you think there’s a Pack Rat gene? Or is it more nurture instead of nature (i.e. environmental upbringing instead of inherited traits)?

Thanks for reading. 🙂 Comments are welcome and appreciated!

About dragonkatet

Regarding the blog name, Dragon’s Dreams ~ The name comes from my love-affairs with both Dragons and Dreams (capital Ds). It’s another extension of who I am, a facet for expression; a place and way to reach other like-minded, creative individuals. I post poetry and images that fascinate or move me, because that’s my favorite way to view the world. I post about things important to me and the world in which we live, try to champion extra important political, societal and environmental issues, etc. Sometimes I wax philosophical, because it’s also a place where I always seem to learn about myself, too, by interacting with some of the brightest minds, souls and hearts out there. It’s all about ‘connection(s)’ and I don’t mean “net-working” with people for personal gain, but rather, the expansion of the 4 L’s: Light, Love, Laughter, Learning.
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10 Responses to The Packrat Gene and the Clutter Queen

  1. eebrinker says:

    you know i have the gene, which shouts at me with guilt every time i go to throw away an empty margarine tub. but i was also the kid cleaning grandma’s kitchen counters trying to put order to the unbelievable amount of clutter. the question, does owning things give up part of your soul? they tie us to a place and signal stability. to prefer nothing is pretty much the vagabond creed. you will come back to your stuff, homed and centered. that is not a bad thing….. it is just in this world of too many choices the prospect of what you become is behind the cart, not in front of it. decisions on how one is perceived. like me being an alien this week…… it’s a matter of wanting to see ourselves a little differently. if wish to be more asian, make decisions very slowly. we culturally make decisions fast, before can lose the courage. serenity might look nice from the outside, but perhaps being noteworthy and interesting has its place. what is envy?

  2. dragonkatet says:

    Those are some good observations. Does owning things give up part of your soul? Hmmm. I don’t know. You’re right that things/stuff can represent different things to different people, so maybe the real question is, what does it represent? If it stands for stability, comfort of the familiar, even visual pleasure which is derived from having nice things to look at – you’re right, those are all good things. For me a big part of it is also about balance – too much clutter makes me anxious – like I haven’t finished things, disorder and chaos, and I get grumpy (OCD tendencies definitely play a part there, too, haha). But there is merit is what you say about wanting to see ourselves differently, too – and being able to be bold and confident and live whatever way makes you happy.

  3. This is a timely post for me to read, Corina ~ my house is in such a mess at the moment that I’d rather my friends didn’t visit. How bad and sad is that?! To be fair a whiplash injury last year made movement difficult for several months and I’m just recovering from that, looking around in despair and wondering where to start the Big Spring Clean. I do accumulate clutter ~ packaging that won’t degrade, to turn into artwork; yarn in wild colours and textures that I’m sure I’ll find a use for one day, memorabilia from my parents home etc. I have bought some drawer dividers and started to sort out my clothing, but throwing away stuff is so difficult ~ I’m convinced I’ll find a use for it as soon as I have dumped it! Your words have made me question why I cling on to rubbish ~ so thanks for the motivation! 🙂

    • dragonkatet says:

      Oh, I can relate to knowing how hard it can be to throw things away! Organization goes a long way toward curbing that tendency, so bravo! to you for getting the drawer dividers! I think we creative types tend to collect things because we have grand ideas about how we can use them in this or that piece of art. Now I only get something if I am already started with the art project and/or there is a definitive use or place for it (whatever it may be) – it has to be used within a month of me getting it. It has cut down on how much clutter I “store” indefinitely from thinking about how I could use it in the future. And it sure has opened up my “now”. 🙂 Good luck!

      • Thanks for passing on the ‘use within one month’ tip, Corina ~ I could do with applying that rule. I’ve just dragged out several rubbish sacks, boxes and carrier bags of potential art materials from under the stairs ~ I’ve had some of them for years and years! But I am beginning to use them now and will definitely be posting pics! 🙂

  4. dragonkatet says:

    🙂 Thanks for reading, Jacqueline! I hope you do post pics! I’d be interested to see what you create.

  5. Haha! I’m just going through my email, deleting all those old messages from way back and came across the notification of this post! I’m still de~cluttering the house, it seems like a never~ending task but it does feel good when I take stuff to the recycling tip or down to the local animal charity shop. Great motivational read, second time around, Corina! 🙂

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