Thoughts

The Hardships of Being an Organizer in a Family of Packrats 

(Written just a *few* years ago)

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Organizing, as well as purging belongings, has a relaxing, comforting effect on me. It is a constant, ongoing process for me to evaluate what in the home has lost its usefulness or what we simply no longer have room for. As a family grows, and needs and tastes change, this is something that is really unavoidable in any household. I constantly have a bag ready to go to the thrift store and it really gives me pleasure to get it out of my house, and also to hope that someone else will be able to make use of it.

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January, in particular, means many organizing projects for me. I transfer birthdays, anniversaries, and reminders onto the new calendar. I review the family’s finances and create a new budget for the coming year. I pull out photos for the scrapbook and make the remaining ones fit into one album for the year (one area where it’s painful for me to purge). And this year, as my son is turning three, he will be getting his first ChorePack (www.chorepacks.com), so I have been reviewing all the chores and deciding which ones need to be shifted, and which ones the little guy can handle.

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And, of course, January means “after Christmas”. That time when panic sets in as I survey the debris that the beloved holiday has left. When I see all the presents wrapped and under the tree, I feel happy anticipation of seeing my children’s eyes light up as they open them. But after the tornado has passed and the new gifts are lying all over the house, all of a sudden I want everything OUT! So, within a week, I go through every room in the house and see how we can make the new things fit and what needs to go. Then, one thing leads to another, and I end up searching and evaluating almost every nook and cranny that I hadn’t planned on.

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Typically, I require my children to assist me in this. In the past, I had tried getting rid of things on the sly, but invariably, soon afterward (often the very next day!), they would be looking for the very item they had not touched in months. So, now I want them to know what’s gone, even if it’s painful. Which it is. Our process is to empty the game cabinet, for example, and, one by one, each child gets to pick her favorite games until the cabinet is as full as I decide is manageable. Then, whatever is left, goes. I will admit that this is not a fun day, but I am firm and they get over it.

However, for whatever reason, the kids just didn’t want to participate this year. I explained that this would mean that the choices were up to me and then that would have to live with whatever I decided. They all agreed, so I gleefully got to work with my MP3 player and two garbage bags (one for trash and one for donation). I was astonished at the sheer amount of stuff they had been cramming into every available space they could find! I realized that I had a family of packrats, but that they were all saving things for different reasons.

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Perp #1: “I might need it someday” – (This person was not involved in the particular purge, but since the other criminals might be able to plead “heredity”, I have included his rap sheet.) This person is loath to throw anything away that might have even a remote possibility of being useful in the future. You know, that far off day when he might actually have sufficient free time and energy to make those creations and inventions he’s been dreaming of. Or, what if he needs a part for repair? A good example of this is VCRs. We went through junky VCRs for years, and this person kept saving the old ones so we’d have parts with which to repair the next junky VCR. He is also enabled by well-meaning relatives who supply him with superfluous socks that he needed in case he wears holes in them. Thankfully, this person is in recovery, after a wakeup call during our last move. However, he still falls off the wagon at times, but his habit is mostly relegated to the shed and garage. It doesn’t help matters that sometimes he is right (!) and an old widget that I demanded he part with would have come in handy! But don’t tell him I said that.

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Perp #2: “It has special meaning for me” – This person is typically a lot like me. She loves schedules and putting things in order. I can count on her to keep the DVDs in alphabetical order, or to make the packing list when we go on a trip. But, she is also extremely sentimental. Every card, note, or gift, no matter how mundane, must be saved because it is from someone she loves. This is the person who has the most difficulty letting go, because these objects have truly become treasures in her heart.

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Perp #3: “This is fascinating and requires more research” – This person has a scientific mind, so she collects specimens. Every rock and feather is different, so they are all valuable for examination and comparison. They need to be kept because she doesn’t know if she’ll find another one like it.

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Perp #4: “It’s sooo beautiful!” – This person finds beauty in everything. And I mean everything. This is especially noticeable at Christmas time, because every scrap of wrapping paper, crumpled bow, and twisted ribbon must be saved. She also loves wilted flowers, candy wrappers and anything shiny.

Thankfully, I have no Perp #5. So far.

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Examining my beloved packrats’ different reasons for saving things highlights some valuable qualities about them. Creativity and handiness, love for and loyalty to family and friends, an inquisitive and analytical mind, and a delight in the beauty of the world. What a blessing to have collected these true treasures in my home! Here’s hoping we can hold onto these wonderful personality traits while also cultivating a desire for a peaceful, orderly home.

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