Of Mice, Men, Packrats and Squirrels

Our home is located in what had been a grove of oak trees in days gone by. Most of the homes in our neighborhood have at least one huge tree in the front or back yard. Every fall we can count on being entertained by the antics of squirrels as they lay in stores for the winter. What they squirrel away is absolutely necessary for their survival.

Human beings are different. The National Association of Professional Organizers says that as a society we’ve acquired so much “stuff” over the last three decades that the self storage industry is the fastest growing new industry in the United States.

According to the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders Program at the University of California, San Diego, the overwhelming desire to acquire, save, and compulsively collect—hoard—can be attributed to a “unique pattern of brain function abnormalities.”

Research shows the inability to discard doesn’t play favorites; it can equally affect both men and women.

Are you more of a minimalist or a maximalist?

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
— Laurie Buchanan

The Book—Discovering the Seven Selves
The Experience— Life Harmony

© 2013 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved

Find me on Twitter @HolEssence

70 thoughts on “Of Mice, Men, Packrats and Squirrels

  1. “a unique pattern of brain function abnormalities”

    Ha Laurie! That’s just about right! There is a serious collector’s hankering in my home, and it never helped that Lucille and I have shared this trait right along. We collect DVDs, blu-rays, CDs, books, and even at one point were gathering expensive pinball machines, though that latter persuit did eventually fall by the wayside. We still have ‘Elvis’ and ‘The Addams Family.’ The kids are going through their action figure stage and comic stage, though they all love DVDs, CDs and some books. It’s really a self-imposed finantial hardship, and the collector’s aspect makes it impossible to really spend as much times with these items, as just the matter of gathering them together.

    Speaking of squirrels, we believe one has found it’s way into our home, and we’ve been on the watch over the past week after what appear to be some tell tale signs. Ugh.

  2. It may appear to the casual observer of our home that we are Packrats; but it is a dynamic chaos, if truth be known. There are 4 of us living in a tiny old farmhouse and we are in the middle of forest and fallow fields of wildflowery brush. We thought we could park the Suburban we inherited from my in-laws, at their demise, in our barn. Were we ever wrong about that one !! We kept it for those times when we need a true 4-wheel drive or hauling power; and also because it would be difficult to get what it is worth to us in usefulness, out of it, if we did sell it.

    Anyway, my husband had somehow, miraculously, managed to get the Suburban to the house from the barn; but the next day, it would not accelerate and that is when he discovered that a packrat had set up housekeeping for the winter, in the engine compartment. After 2 trips to our dealer – one to address the problems and a second trip to make sure it was road-worthy, we took off on a 6 week adventure – and about 10 days or less into the trip, had our first breakdown, due to issues missed before. Then, we discovered that the 4-wheel drive was not operational at Brigham City UT, just as a major snowstorm (that dumped over 18″ in 12 hours) hit the city. We had yet one more breakdown in Texas, at the end of our trip. We can be relatively certain now, that the “bugs” are all worked out – which may be why the bother was worth it. We now keep it parked at the house – where the 3 outdoor, backporch kitties can patrol it for us. I also drive it 40 miles north once a week to go to my yoga class.

    It does illustrate the problem though. Too much stuff in the wrong place becomes a problem. Here in the Ozarks the old ethic was to re-use and hang onto everything; but there was less “stuff” then, and it was way more valuable – monetarily. Now, there is a glut the world over (or at least in the affluent societies); and the flow of stuff into the rivers of our lives is at flood stage, and management of such stuff becomes crucial to health and well-being. We give the obsolete toys and slightly out of date food into channels for people who lack such things, to make use of them, rather than a landfill. We recycle every scrap of paper – all the junk mail and catalogs, and other kinds of paper, even metal can labels.

    We do what we can . . . but still our house is over-flowing. It is dynamic, it is chaotic and it does take up space. It is a constant effort to keep the clutter down – including in my email program’s inbox !!

    Fondest regards to you, Laurie !!

  3. I can’t say I am a minimalist according to many definitions of it, but I do live with a minimalist tendency. Being that I got rid of everything that didn’t fit inside a small studio apartment, have no piles of clutter and boxes of storage in the closet I would be minimalist compared to many. I heard on a TED talk that the US has enough land covered by storage units that every man, woman and child could stand under cover at the same time. That’s very sad especially when you think of all the homeless we have.

  4. Being raised as an Air Force brat let me be brought up relatively free of notion of hoarding or just keeping something for it’s own sake. At this point in my life, living alone in a tiny house for almost 10 years, I find myself looking around and wondering where all this stuff came from and what is doing taking up my living space. I have a dresser you couldn’t cram a safety pin in and yet wear very little of what’s hidden there. A closet full of neatly stacked shoe boxes and shoes that are hardly ever worn. Bookcases over-flowing with books that have been read and need to move on. Boxes of tea with one teabag missing. I could go on but I am feeling faint….I am careful to de-frag my computer on a regular basis, it’s time I did the same to my house and take it all to the recycling bin.

  5. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons about collecting up “stuff” over the years. We have lost a lot of things through moving and having things damaged while in storage. We held on tightly to those things, but once they were gone we realized we really didn’t miss them.

    My brother is now going through our parents belongs for auction to pay for our dad’s care. They always saw their house and possessions as their “nest egg.” They invested not only money, but a lot of their time and energy into those things sometimes to the exclusion of building relationships. Now everything is worth much less than thought.

    Living in a small space there isn’t much room for extras. Every spring I go through everything and pack up things that are broken or no longer used for the trash or donation.

    • Espirational — Thank you for the gift of your reflection. The sentence that really touched my heart is:

      “They invested not only money, but a lot of their time and energy into those things sometimes to the exclusion of building relationships.”

      Like you, we have a small home. I think houses and purses have the same tendency: The bigger the house, the more we put in it and the heavier it gets. I think the same is true for homes.

  6. I agree. We have far more than we need. My husband and I have already started getting rid of stuff we no longer use and are hoping to retire in a motorhome (RV) travelling the world (or at least Europe). I just want to hold on to my pictures and maybe a couple of books. The rest can go.

  7. Mostly a minimalist in the realm of physical possessions. Unfortunately, probably can not say this in the mental realm. Have been known to hoard ideas and beliefs and opinions and judgments at times…

      • I second that! 🙂

        I am learning to reframe my emotions around the objective # of things I possess. Before, I instantly equated ‘having things’ with ‘badness’, but in my journey to be kind to myself on all levels, I am starting to associate ‘having things’ with ‘enjoying those things’. It sounds silly, but before I would rarely even USE a lot of what I had, simply because I felt guilt and shame for not being a minimalist. Now that I’m allowing myself to have things, though, I am utilizing and having fun with them. Obviously, there comes a point where too much is too much, but for now, the simple act of reframing my possessions has been mind blowing for me! 🙂

      • Dana – I love your observation. And you’ve hit upon an excellent point! If we actually use and enjoy what we have, then by all means, have it! Minimalism (true minimalism) isn’t about having less than a certain number of items.

        In the event you didn’t see it in my response to a different commenter, here’s one of my favorite definitions of minimalism:

        “Minimalism — The intentional promotion of our greatest passions and the removal of everything that distracts us from them.”

        [I have the sneaking suspicion that if you DID have a storage unit, it would be filled with jars and jars of sauerkraut]…

  8. I’m a maximalist who is learning to be a minimalist. However, I don’t have a storage unit. And you can walk freely from room to room in my small(ish) house. My weakness is books and writing magazines.

    • Leanne – There are many definitions of minimalism. I think if you look at this one…

      “Minimalism — The intentional promotion of our greatest passions and the removal of everything that distracts us from them.”

      …you might well agree that you’re a full-fledged minimalist 🙂

  9. I am a minimalist and aim at simple living – it brings me peace and I love the beauty of simple.
    Amazed by the fact that the storage industry is the fastest growing industry – wow! I wonder how much stays in storage too?

  10. Well that explains it Laurie the folks I live with have ‘unigue brain abnormalities’ THAT should be enough for me to able to enforce my superior methodology regarding stuff; that which is no longer useful is discarded…including bits of string and old chain, and sneakers with holes in the soles 😉
    While I prefer minimalist living, I must admit, when it comes to food, I’m a bit of a squirrel.
    *anna

  11. hi Laurie

    That’s an easy question, I’m a maximalist. I never throw away anything that may be useful if I have room to store it.
    When we moved from Waitakaruru to Kaikoura 15 years ago I sold over 5000 items at a garage sale, then took 5 2Ton truck loads to the dump, then we bought 43 m3 of stuff with us to Kaikoura. Selling that stuff was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and the stress of it had me on two walking sticks, with a bad back that would not support my weight.

    Even when I go tramping, I like to take a full first aid kit, food for 4 extra days, emergency locator beacon, rope, rock pick, tent, clothing for snow conditions, knife, snares, etc, So I normally walk with a 90lb pack (which gets lighter as I go).

    My 4WD has a full set of chains, winch, 40m of heavy duty rope, full tool kit, wire, 100mph tape, multitester, inverter, high-lift and trolley jacks, gas cooker, 2 days canned food, and water, permanently aboard.

    I like to be prepared for all reasonably foreseeable circumstances, and then be flexible enough to deal with the things I haven’t foreseen when they happen.
    Last month was the first time I had to use chains on all 4 wheels to get out of some place I had gotten into (also on that trip was the first time I had water over the bonnet of the hilux.

    I rarely defrag my computer, I just buy bigger hard drives – I love 2TB hard disks (got quite a collection of them now). We have 8 computers in the house – some are old but still working.
    The garage has enough tools in it to fix most things, mechanical or wooden.

    I guess I took to heart the boy scout training to “be prepared”.

    • Ted – Holy Cow! You’re not merely prepared, you’re ready for nuclear war 😀

      Clearly, you’d be THE BEST person to be stuck on a deserted island with because no one would be stuck for long. And the bonus? You’d be fascinating to watch as you use the surrounding resources wisely.

  12. Laurie, I love your metaphor. I guess I am a little squirrely. As I have gotten older I’ve become more of a minimalist about my home. I do not want anything more to dust or take care of. However, I am a maximalist about our grandchildren and the toys, trains, and books they enjoy when they come to our home! Striking a squirrely balance is the challenge. 😉

  13. After cleaning out my mother’s house following her move to assisted living, I vowed to become a minimalist (I believe she had saved every Cool Whip container since the inception of the product, not to mention clothing dating back to the 40s and the list goes on). I’ve done pretty well so far, not that it was always easy discarding those items that held emotional value but in the end, and given the way I enjoy intentional wandering more than being tethered to one place for an extended period of time, I’ve dawned the cloak of minimalism with great enthusiasm. . . the money I’ve saved on storage I’ve joyfully used to fund my travel habit.

    • ShesLosingIt – I took great photos of my son’s artwork and turned them into an online photo album. He’s all grown up now, but if he was still little, it’s something I would be able to add to.

  14. I don’t think I’m a minimalist, but I’m definitely not a hoarder either. I clean out closets, drawers, cabinets and spaces on a regular basis and throw out junk that is no longer usable and donate the rest. It feels so good to thin things out a bit!

    • Becwillmylife – Minimalism has many different definitions. If you read this one …

      “Minimalism — The intentional promotion of our greatest passions and the removal of everything that distracts us from them.”

      …you just might classify yourself as a minimalist 🙂

  15. Minimalist. Married to a person who can’t get rid of anything he purchased, and does not purchase very much. Children of depression era. Parents. With one child who doesn’t buy anything but can’t get rid of things people give her, especially books! I would say we have combo kids.
    One child loves new everything especially clothes. But gives them away freely when she has moved on.
    We actually use our garage to put the car in. Another rare thing these days

    • Patricia – Oh my gosh, you bring up such a good point about garages. I’m glad you can park in yours — as you say, that’s a rarity. Statistics show that a huge number of American families use theirs as storage units and either park their vehicle(s) in their driveway, or on the street.

  16. I would say I am in the middle Laurie. I have stuff but you have to know it is very organized. However, I am quite comfortable to get rid of stuff too. Interestingly, my mother had a significant hoarding issue which stemmed from having grown up in World War II in Europe and not having had anything during some formative years. I understood her issues and the root of the problem but it was very difficult to grow up surrounded with too much stuff. I am totally fascinated by the stats that the self storage industry is growing so much. Who knew??

  17. I tend to be a minimalist, but am married to a squirrel who is very good at squirreling things away… He does try, though, to keep things simple, but it’s a constant struggle to make a dent in his hoard!

  18. I am a minimalist. It is unfortunate people have so much junk in their lives, costing them money in storage, yet they are unable to enjoy it because the items are in storage. Makes no sense to me.

  19. When I bought this house I had to clear out the attic. It was chock full of ‘stuff’. School books going back generations, broken dolls a suitcase full of moth eaten old clothes, and so much of it. It took us a day with a skip and three friends to bring it all down through the narrow opening.
    This gave me a different perspective on hoarding. I had always been a hoarder and had carefully packed up my ‘stuff’ from my old attic to put in my new attic. Clearing out the junk I realised what a fruitless exercise this was. My ‘stuff’ was still in good condition but hadn’t been used for years. I didn’t even unpack it I took it to the charity shop. Every now and then I clear all my old stuff out and just give it away. I don’t want someone else throwing my old things into a skip years after my departure.
    My daughter its a hoarder but I think she is getting better.

    • Kerry – Just the thought of clearing out that attic gives me the heebie-jeebies 🙂 It had to be liberating to donate the stuff you had saved and thought you were going to put in attic. Here’s to streamlined, slender living 🙂

  20. Pingback: Of mice men packrats and squirrels | Ted Howard NZ's Blog

  21. Definitely a minimalist! Small house. One thing comes in (food, items, furniture), one thing goes out. Ok, except maybe books…:)

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