What to do when your husband is a packrat

When Your Husband is a Packrat

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One thing I hear from a lot of my readers is that they have a messy house, but it isn’t their fault.  They are fairly neat and organized themselves, but they have the misfortune to live with someone who is a collector, a packrat or maybe even someone with mild hoarding tendencies.  This can cause a serious strain on the relationship and has been known to end in divorce or some major fighting that goes on day after day.

We lived across the street from a fairly serious hoarder for about a decade.  She was such a nice lady and a good neighbor, but I always felt so sorry for her.  She spent nearly every spare moment arranging and rearranging her “treasures” (mostly broken items from garage sales and thrift stores).  The other neighbors and the city were always bugging her about it and it caused her great anxiety.

Eventually she lost her home over the hoarding issues, but it never seemed to me that she ever got any genuine pleasure from all that stuff.  I don’t think I ever saw her have a truly happy moment.  The sad thing is that she had a beautiful classic car worth thousands in her garage, but it was piled so high under the junk she could never drive it, and eventually the neglected roof collapsed on it and destroyed it.

If Your Husband is a Pack Rat – Analyze the Situation Calmly and Realistically

If this situation is a major source of conflict in your marriage, you really need to analyze the situation.  Is it genuine hoarding behavior, or just a packrat situation?  How much of the house is it affecting?  With most packrats, it is related to a hobby or certain sentimental items. While hoarding is a serious mental illness and requires professional help.  I’ve studied hoarding a bit, it’s quite a fascinating illness.

For my husband and I, my husband is a pack rat for sure!  For him, it was his model train stuff.  He and his father had worked in the railroad industry, so this was an important hobby in his life and had sentimental meaning for him as well.

Problem is he had a LOT of it and it had migrated all over the house.  A model train layout takes up about the same space as a pool table, plus storage for all the rolling stock and supplies.  And the pictures and other memorabilia he had on many shelves and walls.  It was taking up at least 20% of our available storage space and he rarely spent time doing anything with it.  He was happy just to HAVE it.

On the other hand, I had a hobby of my own and it had some money-making potential.  I had a small business selling rubber stamps and scrapbooking supplies back when that was a really popular hobby.  But my hobby took up about 5% of our space and I didn’t have any room to make stuff or host craft nights for my customers, which would have earned more money.  Obviously, it was time for a discussion and some compromises.

What to do when your husband is a packrat

Have a Respectful Discussion with the Packrat

So, how DO you deal with a situation like this?  Well, part of it is just having some honest conversations about it.  And by that, I DON’T mean fighting, or arguing about it, or criticizing their choices.  Instead, you need to find a time when you can have a respectful conversation about HIS wants and needs, vs. YOUR wants and needs.  (Note to self – YOUR wants and needs are not any more important than HIS wants and needs).  Most of the time people are pretty reasonable if you come to them with a ideas on how you can be fair to both of you.

So we sat down after dinner one night to talk about the space situation.  Once I laid it out to him, he agreed (a little reluctantly) that it wasn’t a very fair situation, but he was naturally very concerned that he shouldn’t have to give up his hobby altogether.  I agreed that was fair also.  We both should be able to keep our hobbies, but could we find a way to allocate the space a little more logically?

In my case, I was able to use a little bribery.  He badly wanted a big screen TV but we didn’t have the money for one.  So we agreed that if he was willing to sell some of his train collection, he would be able to use it to buy his TV.  And I could have the space to set up a classroom for my hobby/business.  Win-win!

Implement the Packrat Solution in a Kind and Respectful Way

The important points were that I didn’t insist he give up his entire collection, I gave him the incentive of an item he really wanted, and I didn’t get all huffy and demanding.  Instead, I appealed to his sense of fairness and asked for him to work with me on creating a reasonable solution.  It’s all about compromise and reasonable concessions.  And he still had enough toys left to keep him reasonably happy.  He still has them 20 years later, and they’re still gathering dust.  Well, so are my stamps now, but at least we don’t fight about our hobbies any more.  

I think that is a key point with a packrat or collector.  You respect his (or her) desire to collect these items, but you get them to agree to reasonable limits.  If they want to collect magazines, vintage sneakers, or vinyl records, they can keep as many as will fit in “this” area.  Or if it’s ceramic pigs or whatever, they can have enough to fill up this shelf.  They may not turn the whole house into their little hog heaven. They have to respect the fact that non-pig lovers live in the house too, and that they deserve room to display their non-pig items.

Never Throw Out the Packrat’s STUFF

It’s generally best to allow the packrat to make the “keep or toss” decisions for themselves.  The one thing you should NEVER do is try to force them into a decision by packing their stuff up and removing it without their knowledge or permission.  That is extremely disrespectful and damaging to your relationship.  How would you like it if someone came in and threw out all your most favorite clothes, or arbitrarily jettisoned half the food in your pantry?  You would be furious and would probably waste no time (or money!) in replacing it.

However, if you do find your collector is dragging their feet on the agreed upon weed-out process, then you have some passive-aggressive behavior going on.  The best way to deal with that kind of behavior is head-on.  You set a firm date (giving them several weeks of time) and let them know if they don’t honor their agreement, you will carefully pack up the items yourself and move them to a storage area for further action.  You aren’t getting rid of the items permanently, but you are reclaiming the space that was agreed upon.

If the collector does request your help in organizing their treasured items, be gentle. Don’t wade into it wrinkling up your nose and making snide comments about “this old junk”.  Help them find the treasures by asking them to pick out a few items they value the most.  Then set up a place of honor to display these items.

They will appreciate the gesture and might be more willing to get rid of some of the less treasured items.  It’s a process and a delicate negotiation, so you want to give them lots of credit for any positive steps they are taking to improve the situation and deal gently with any backsliding.  It might take a while, but eventually you’ll see some breathing room opening up – ahhhh.

Here are some other posts you may enjoy:

Declutter ANYTHING using the Post-It Note Method

Organizing the Disorganized or ADHD Child

The Cleaning Styles of Men vs. Women

Listing Your House for Sale When It’s Messy


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  1. My husband is a hoarder. He has gone through different stages of hoarding different types of stuff. In his single days it was CDs. At one stage it was downloads. Then playstation games. Now it is books.
    We have a big house so space isn’t so much an issue. My issue is: the money spent on things not used! He doesn’t read all the books! He doesn’t play the games. It’s a collection of stuff issue. I think, like weight, having stuff is a protective thing. It performs some kind of psychological function. Not very healthy in my opinion but it could be a lot worse.

    1. Yes, that is tough. I’ve read a lot about different types of hoarders and it’s a fascinating issue. They seem to have a very different way of looking at things than we do. Sometimes they just like the look and feel of things, or like the stories behind them. I think the thing is to come to a loving compromise with him where you respect his need to keep these things (but keep it in a reasonable place) and he respects your need for non-cluttered space in other areas of the home. My husband’s obsession is with watching and rewatching old shows. It just seems comforting to him to watch the same old familiar shows again and again. Fortunately, I like some of them, but others (Like Billy Jack or any Clint Eastwood movie), I can’t even stand to be in the house when he has them on. Marriage is a tricky thing….

  2. great tips and I have tried some, but I am getting frustrated as my son is becoming a pack rat like my hubby. I need to take control of this now!!!! LOL Stopping by from #SITSSAturdaySharefest

    1. I’ve always wondered if there was a genetic component or if it was monkey-see, monkey-do. My Mom was cluttery and so am I, but my sister – the exact opposite. Clean, clean, clean. I would definitely use these tactics on him – limit it to a certain place, and only allow him as much stuff as fits in the space while still allowing him the respect of enjoying his collections. The good thing is, you have a bit more authority over him than the husband!

    1. Thanks, I hope that helps you. I think just being patient and respectful of them, while setting firm boundaries and keeping them moving in the right direction. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’ll be honest….I’m a packrat. I’m not to the hoarding stage….I promise! I just like to keep things for sentimental value. I have a horrible memory of things. Honestly, I can’t remember things that have happened unless I see a picture or an item from a trip or special occasion. I collect things to help me remember. I guess I should start journaling…then I won’t have to keep so much “stuff”. I do go through everything every 6 months and make decisions on what needs to be saved and what we can get rid of. My husband is so patient with me and never tries to make me throw things away before I’m ready.

    1. I get you 100%. Like you, I am very visual and sentimental. My biggest clutter category is photos and other sentimental stuff. What I do is keep is as organized and containerized as I can, and then I try to minimize the clutter in other areas that aren’t as important to me. I like the idea of doing a photo journal – just take photos of the items and put one on each page with a few lines about where you got it and why it’s important to you. That’s great that your husband is so patient with the clutter.

  4. Yes, this can be a tricky situation, Adrian. I find most of my clients who are part of a couple have one person who is more likely to hold onto stuff, and one who prefers to shed stuff. All these things are negotiated, and that is a key point you are making. Also, if you are struggling to negotiate, another option is to call in a professional organizer who can sort of help to arbitrate. I so agree with your point about not throwing someone else’s belongings away. That is very hurtful and can’t end well!

    1. Yes Seana – I agree. I had a couple I was working with that was in this situation and it was really uncomfortable. I was able to ease them through the situation, but it felt a little precarious. But absolutely, throwing someone else’s belongings away is really hurtful and will be remembered for a long time.

  5. Good points – my husband has a great sentimental attachment to things which I do not share. I have to respect that his things mean something to him even though they do not have any particular value to me.

    1. That’s a great attitude to have. Hopefully he is showing his appreciation by keeping his “collection” in good order and out from underfoot.

  6. I’ve never been a pack rat, but right before I married my second husband and we were merging houses, he decided to “purge” some of my stuff. I should have known right then and there of things to come. We live and learn! Great advice in this piece! Stopping by from SITS. 🙂

  7. Oh I am the someone who cant let go! Our place is full of most of my stuff and a tiny fraction of it belongs to my husband. Agh. I take after my dad..he is a packrat too. Sometimes I get on a roll with getting rid of stuff but some things I just cant part with. My tub of Sacramento Kings stuff. Baby Beanies. Childhood items. Oye

    1. Hi Stace! You might want to check out my post https://adrianscrazylife.com/2016/02/the-challenge-of-living-with-a-messie.html. It is tough for these spouses. Hopefully you can clear out a little “oasis” for him, so he can have a spot in the house where he can be comfortable. As for the STUFF – keep the “treasures” that have true meaning for you but keep it in one contained area and out of sight. Maybe keep *some* of it for the memories and release the rest. Then minimize your investment in other clutter categories that don’t have as much of meaning for you. Your husband might not say much but inwardly, he will appreciate the effort!

  8. Boy, I live with someone who can’t let go…. Four weeks ago the basement flooded, it was the best thing to happen to us. In order to get the basement he wants, he now has to de-clutter, yea ME!!!!!!! We start this weekend with a little at a time!!!! I am so excited!!!

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