From pack-rat to minimalist – can it happen?

I come from a family of pack-rats. My parents both kept EVERYthing; useful, sentimental, or not. My only sibling has those tendencies. Over the years, I have teetered from pack-rat to minimalist, and moving every 5 to 10 years helped swing me away from the family tradition. Yes, I still have my high school yearbooks, boxes of pictures, and full disclosure, I have been known to get sentimental over a t-shirt. But the times, they are a-changing. I read a great article today on this topic that struck a chord with me; you can find it here: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/sample-living-with-less/

When my mother finally agreed she should no longer live alone, and moved to assisted living near me, we took the necessities; her clothing and personal items, the things she really loved, and the furniture that would fit her new living space. I was astonished that she agreed so readily to sort through all four closets she had filled with clothes, and donate what we could of those that were outdated, stained, or didn’t fit. Ditto for shoes, handbags, even costume jewelry. This was a huge departure for her, having saved newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and old paperwork from the 70’s forward. Maybe this was all part of her cognitive changes, who knows, but it went much smoother than I would have thought. The catch was that we left everything but the clothing and items we took with her, because not selling the house right away was her safety net. It wasn’t final, she still had her house.

Fast forward to four months later, when Mom has decided she is ready to sell the house in Florida. My sister and I, dreading the task, head down to Florida for a week. Our challenge is to clean the house top to bottom, shred any sensitive papers (remember, she hasn’t thrown anything away since the 70’s), throw out what had to go, and stage the house and contents for listing, and then an estate sale following the house being sold. We worked like crazy for two days just sorting through papers, before starting the cleaning and staging. The issue was that she didn’t discriminate – she filed important papers with junk mail, so you couldn’t just throw things out. When that phase was done, we had two carloads of paper to be shredded and many bins of recycling. Despite the onerous task, my sister and I worked so well together, I think it surprised both of us. It had been many years since we had spent a full week together, under the same roof, not to mention having to work so hard.

Part of our mission was to bring Mom a few items she had decided she did want after all; a beautiful German vase, a painting she had initially left, a few other things; and part was for us to take home anything we wanted before it all went to the estate sale.

This is where the sisters diverged. I selected a beautiful stained glass piece that had hung in Mom’s master bathroom window, a pair of turquoise and silver earrings, and a tote bag. My sister had a pile in her bedroom that ended up filling half the car trunk. She kept saying she really didn’t need all of it, but it came home with us anyway!

I have lived for almost 20 years with a man who believes if he buys one new thing, something has to go. I am not quite that strict with myself, but have consistently cleaned out closets spring and fall, and then when we moved almost 6 years ago, we did a major purge. Unused clothes, kitchen items, furniture, and especially knickknacks, were sold, donated or worst case, thrown away.

In our new, smaller home, our decor is minimal, art work is meaningful, furniture is comfortable and it just feels so much easier. In the last year, we decided to get healthier, exercising and eating better, so weight loss has caused both of us to revamp our wardrobes. For the first time in years, everything in my closet fits and I actually want to wear it!

Our motorcycle travel has also contributed to the journey toward minimalism. We have the luxury of traveling on two bikes, so we each have luggage, however, it is still very limited space due to items you really must have on a motorcycle trip, such as tools, air pump, first aid kit, etc. We can go on a two week trip with a handful of quick-dry shirts, undergarments, and socks, a pair of pants or shorts, a pair of shoes, and our toiletries, in addition to our riding gear.  All the quick-dry clothes can be washed in the sink and air dried, saving laundry duty, and we discovered that on a motorcycle trip, all our photos were in riding gear anyway, so who needs fancy clothes?

Back to the family tradition…my sister is now preparing to move and downsize for her and her college-age son, and she is giving the family tradition the good fight. It always helps to have a facilitator in the transition from pack-rat to minimalist, and moving is the best facilitator I know to get started. I am here to support her, not expecting an actual minimalist to emerge, but hoping that unburdening herself of unused and unnecessary things will help her start in that direction!

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12 thoughts on “From pack-rat to minimalist – can it happen?

  1. Gosh, I so admire minimalists and I try to be this way… I’m pretty good about getting rid of stuff all the time and have cut myself down to a tiny storage unit twice in the last few years, but… As soon as I have more space I tend to acquire closets of clothing and walls of art and so many stacks of books. It’s such a back and forth sometimes.

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    • Aussa, it is a back and forth for sure, but I am trying to tilt the scale to the minimalist end as time goes by. I am not sure my experience is typical, but it gets easier for me as I pare down, further and further from my pack-rat roots!

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    • Since our goal is to travel like you are…becoming minimalist now is a good thing! But I certainly understand the gear you have to have, since we ride motorcycles. Lots of gear required, but we have it down to a science now. I think the other sports we will just rent when we need them. But obviously, all your activities keep you in great shape!

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      • I know, right? Why do we have so much stuff??? We went to huge RV show last weekend and I think we have settled on what we want. Now to do the homework on where we store it when we are not using it, how much that costs, can we be patient and rent one first and then shop for a good deal on one, etc etc. 😀

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  2. Pack rat, guilty as charged! Like yours a hereditary trait passed down to me. Although I like you, am a minimalist verses my mother who I would call a borderline hoarder!! LOL Nice post as it is always fun to see others dealing with the same problems we have. lol- Mine is times three though as my father invested in four homes in Florida; which means that my mother had four homes to stuff full! I’m dreading the day she announces: Let’s go get my stuff!!

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    • Haha, I guess that as we see our families with hoarder tendencies, we veer towards the minimalist side! I must say, I cannot imagine have to deal with FOUR homes stuffed full like my mother’s house was.

      However, when the day comes, think of the fodder for new blog posts!

      😀

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  3. The older I get, the more minimalist I become. It’s to the point that when I see clutter, I get anxious. Seriously! I dread the day I have to go through my parents (and in-laws) stuff, because I’m sure it will be a struggle of balancing holding on to what they thought valuable and my natural tendency to throw everything away. Not a day I’m looking forward to.

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    • Exactly, Nancy. It has become almost oppressive to have too much stuff. Well, you read much of my experience with my Mom…she had nearly everything she and my Dad had acquired over 35 years. Whatever you do, when you have to tackle such a task, plan way more time than you think you will need. It was so tough not to just sit down and drift down memory lane…I kind of wish we had planned some time to do just that.

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