Monday, March 22, 2010

Confessions of a Former Pack Rat

by D'Ann Mateer

I came by it honestly. My paternal grandmother kept everything. When my aunt cleaned out her house after she died, my aunt packed that stuff into her already full house. I don’t think my father has willingly thrown away an article of clothing in his entire life. So I fit comfortably into my pack rat skin for many years. I kept cards and flowers—even after they had dried up and begun to crumble—and clothes and books. Old pairs of glasses. Calendars long out of date. You get the picture.

When my parents moved after my senior year of high school, I was spared the agony of “cleaning out” since I worked out of town that summer. Then I married and had children and continued my pattern, adding kids’ drawings and clothing and blankets and shoes and toys.

Somewhere along the way, my little house grew cluttered. I had no more room to store stuff. Something had to go.

I thought I would die the first time I threw something away. But I didn’t die. In fact, I found a freedom in letting go of my “stuff,” even when it had a memory attached. I learned to weed through several boxes and reduce them to one. And my sentimental heart was assuaged with that one. I learned to cull books, applying my test of “if someone asked for a book to read is this one I’d want to have on my shelf to loan.” I reduced the clothing in my closet, at first due to economic necessity, then by swallowing my pride to (gasp!) wear the same things over again before half a month had passed.

In all my renouncing of my pack rat ways, I have also learned that “reducing” means more than de-cluttering. I have a friend whose goal this year is to reduce at every level of her life—her stuff, her body, her emotional and spiritual baggage. It’s a good goal, because just as our outer lives get cluttered, so do our inner lives. We need to “spring clean” ourselves, to take inventory of our faults and our failings and our weaknesses, ask the Lord to do a new work, to clean out the back closet that hasn’t been opened in years, the one that smells of mildew and hides scary things under webs of dust. And just as we feel freedom from the paring down a closet or a bookshelf, letting the Lord poke His vacuum into the recessed corners of our hearts brings that clean feeling of freedom from within.

I’ve found this to be true in my own life. To let go of vanity or selfishness or fear or anger is to take on a new freedom, an easy yoke, as Jesus says. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:20-30.

I don’t know about you, but I want a light burden, both in my house and in my heart. But I have to be willing to let go in order to gain. So it is in the upside down kingdom of God.

So how about you? Do you reduce systematically or sporadically? What do you do with your castoffs? What is the most difficult area for you to de-clutter, both inside your house and inside your heart?


  1. I love to be the first poster, especially such a great one!

    You amaze me with the brilliant linking of Jesus' yoke and the yoke of stuff! Well said.

    Hmmm. We Lacys regularly haul to thrift stores and clean out pretty good...except for my old friends, wearing spines and bindings. I just can't cast them off in their old age. And I'm not sure that's a bad thing...


  2. I'm a big believer in taking stuff to the thrift stores - Salvation Army, Goodwill, Volunteers of America.

    When I moved 10 yrs ago from the house I grew up in, I had to make the tough choices with not only my stuff, but my parents' and my grandparents' and we had a big house with a basement, attic, garage, shed and barn... from 8 acres to a cottage on .4

    So much of what we have is unnecessary. Clutter. Emotional baggage!Get rid of both now before they become someone else's burdens.

  3. Yes, Patti, I have the hardest time with books. My criteria has become "would I want this book at my fingertips to loan to someone." If so, I keep it. If not, I often donate it to the library at my kids' small Christian school.

    I haul my stuff off to our local charity, too, Deb, when it gets overwhelming. I love thinking that someone who really needs it can use it while it just sat in a closet somewhere in my house doing nothing! Besides that, after helping my mother clean out my grandmother's house--and thinking that someday I'll have to help clean out my aunt's house--I'm trying to keep my accumulations to a minimum for my kids' sake!

  4. Hi D'Ann,
    I find it difficult to make the time to declutter and reduce. I have a family that loves to hang on to everything. This is not healthy. Stuff accumulates dust, which I'm allergic to so if we got rid of the stuff it would help. Plus, having space free of clutter just makes me feel better. So now I need to come up with a plan. You'll see more of my issues on Wed. when I post about recycling. Great post, D'Ann. How do you make time to be stuff free?

  5. I'm pretty good about getting rid of stuff that we don't need or want. My husband tells me I don't have a sentimental bone in my body, which isn't true. It's just very small.

    I do have a hard time with books, though. I can't throw away a book. So instead I pass it on. Friends or the church library or something.

    D'Ann I loved the way you worked your analogy. Wonderful job.

  6. inside my house I am always throwing things away BUT
    in my heart, a hurt is the thing that wants to stay around as I am always looking for ways to make it better.


  7. Great post, D'Ann. I share your friend's goal of decluttering many aspects of my life. You wouldn't guess this if you were sitting here in the office with me, ugh. Why do I have half of this stuff?

    It is so hard to give away books. I do not want to leave a huge burden on my family, though, so I do plan to streamline a bit.

    Thought-provoking post! Thanks.

  8. I'm trying to "reduce" my body right now. UGGG!

    My grandma was a die-hard pack rat. When she passed away, my mom and I were digging through her things. In a huge stack of papers I found an article she had carefully torn out of a magazine: "How to Conquer Clutter." We laughed hysterically, which was just what we needed.

    I used to keep everything and my husband used to keep nothing. After all these years, we've balanced each other out... sort of :+}

  9. Jill--I try to take on little projects that don't consume hours and hours. And on that note, some spots still don't see decluttering for longer than they should! My biggest way is to try to keep extraneous things from coming into the house in the first place! Of course that's easier said than done with four other people in house who don't necessarily evaluate their things by my criteria!

    I agree, Lisa. I have to pass on books. I can't throw them out. Sometimes I even end up rebuying books I gave away because I decide I was stupid to get rid of that one in the first place! The other solution for books--I just buy more book shelves!

    You are so right, Edna. Keeping the clutter from our hearts is even harder. We like holding onto our hurts, don't we? And yet when we let them go, the freedom is so much better than we imagined!

  10. I know, Suzanne. In fact, when I knew I was doing this topic, it shamed me into cleaning out my boys' closet, which I hadn't done in over 2 years! They've grown over 6 inches each since the last time, so you can imagine the clutter!

    I hear you, Jen. I did pretty well reducing the body this past fall, but this winter it's crept back. Yuck! And that's hilarious about the article in your grandmother's house!

  11. I'm not sentimental or a pack rat. I'm very happy to give things away. I hate the process of getting rid of things because it's a lot of work, but I love the feeling when I can empty out bags and bags of pointless stuff. It makes me feel light and free.

    I'd say all of that applies emotionally as well. I like to try to get to the bottom of things and figure out what's going on in my heart and head, but it can be exhausting sometimes.

  12. I was a former pack rat too. And I experienced the same freedom you shared. And now I'm relentless about donating, as are my kids...

  13. I think it is definitely more exhausting to do the inside of us work, Dina! I think that's why so many shy away and instead stuff it all back into the dark recesses of their hearts.

    Yes you are relentless about donating, Mary! What a blessing for me to have been on the receiving end of that in the past!

  14. D'Ann, you ask the hard questions. I declutter sporadically. It I did it systematically, it would sure be a lot easier. I'm speaking for both inside the house and inside my heart. Thanks for this great post!

  15. D'Ann, great post! I need to prioritise time to spring clean and declutter, instead of putting it off for another day.


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