Living with a Pack Rat

Two of my family members (my elders) are pack rats, one is a lot worse than the other. It’s always been this way to an extent but it seems to be getting worse. The one saves papers, every paper it seems, and she can’t seem to throw anything out.

I volunteered to digitize the loose paper recipes she had printed out and I was able to save 300+ in just over a day. But when I told her 5% I could not save, she nearly freaked out. I mean, they dated back over a decade and I know she hadn’t seen them in years! I know, maybe I’m the crazy one for trying to help, but I had a bunch of free time.

I know I cannot change their habits but it really is difficult to live with. It does cause some tension at times between family members. I admit, my tiny bedroom is not perfect and some areas are messy, but I get rid of stuff regularly. I understand this could have psychological roots as well.

Any suggestions on how to deal with this issue? Moving out is not an option due to circumstances beyond my control.

Thank you and God Bless!

I should add she did give me permission to do the project with the recipes and did admit she likely has no idea why she saved them. She is thankful for the help even after she freaked out…go figure:shrug:.

Oh gosh, you are living with them?? I wish there was some way you could get them to see a doctor for depression. One huge symptom of even mild depression is the inability to make decisions, which can lead to unintentional hoarding because each thing is just too big to deal with. I believe that most hoarders have some degree of depression. They feel the hoarded item is almost like a part of themselves, they get an attachment to even pieces of garbage or rotted food. It is a mental illness.

You’re going to have a hard time changing this. Like alcoholics, they have to WANT to change.

You’ll be in my prayers.

Hi Skigirl. You didn’t say. What relationship do you have with the elders. Are they by any chance your parents or older siblings? Do they own a house that you live in?

Annie, (another collector of recipes)

Sounds like they are hoarders which is a mental illness. I suggest you get professional help.

Are these parents? Grandparents?

This is a sign of anxiety or depression. Are they under a doctor’s care or do they have a regular family physician? You can talk to their doctor and he/she might be able to help.

Perhaps this is a severe case but I think it might be wise to hear from the op again before it is suggested that she interfere in the lives of her family members. Not only do we not know the exact relationship she has with the others but we don’t know the extent of the hoarding. Perhaps she can bring us up to speed on the details. The part of the ops post that stuck out to me is “I volunteered to digitize the loose paper recipes she had printed out and I was able to save 300+ in just over a day. But when I told her 5% I could not save, she nearly freaked out. I mean, they dated back over a decade and I know she hadn’t seen them in years! I know, maybe I’m the crazy one for trying to help, but I had a bunch of free time.”
As I see it, if the hoarding terribly severe she could not have found, let alone digitize them in a day. I wonder if they were in a folder or several folders. I personally have folders full of printed out material that I want to keep some are recipes. One of my first thoughts was what does the op mean that she could not save 5% of them? Did she take it upon herself to throw them out without permission? One of the recipes that I have on hard copy is a family recipe handed down through the generations, several decades. Until this very week, I had not made that recipe for years maybe even a decade ago.

I have a niece that we almost took in. I’ll tell you where the anxiety and depression would set in is if she decided that she doesn’t like all those files on the bookcase in the office and took it upon herself to “help me out”.


Good points, we don’t know the other side of the story. And taking charge of others’ possessions is never a good idea, without permission and cooperation. It’s part of allowing the other person his/her dignity. I wouldn’t take very kindly to someone just rummaging through my things and deciding what needed throwing away.

Thanks for the responses.

They are my parents so that answers that. I do not think they are depressed…I suffer from it myself, but now that some of you pointed out that, maybe they are. My mom does seem to lack motivation, but it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

It is not as bad as you ever see on TV, thankfully, just lots of piles of paper and boxes in some areas of the house. It’s pretty clean and in no way unsafe. A lot of my dad’s stuff is in the basement and garage so it is not as bothersome.

As for the recipes, I sorted through the piles, with permission, which took like a day, pulled out the recipes, and then searched online for them (most were from online sources) and saved them to a program. I did not throw anything out that was handwritten as I know they are irreplaceable. The few I did not keep were old magazines that were ripped and the ones I knew she would not like. I explained this and then she was ok with it. She even admitted she likely had no idea why she saved those.

I now know not to throw anything out that I don’t have permission to :).

I guess I just need to learn to live with it…which is hard as I have some obsessive tendencies so I am the opposite of my parents.

Some people just naturally like to save things. It doesn’t mean they are hoarders. If there’s stuff all over the floor and piled high and no way to find things and hardly space for a path through all the stuff, that’s unhealthy hoarding. If there’s just things in boxes, but things you wouldn’t save yourself, it’s personal preference. Also, some people who grew up poor may have a tendency to save things. My parents were kids during the depression and when they died, the house was full of lots of stuff in closets and the basement. Why did they need 3 broken toasters? My father thought he would someday get around to fixing them I guess. Did they really need to save the workbooks us kids used in grade school? No, but it probably had some emotional significance to them. I was taught to be a saver too, just in case you might need the things someday. Did I need the 30 years worth of phone and electric bills I had? No, and I finally got rid of them but I thought it would be interesting for history and comparison of past costs. Did I need to keep the newspapers and tourist travel information that I have in boxes? No, but I wrote freelance articles that were published in those papers and the articles for tourists. So, that is part of my life. So, maybe the things in boxes have a significance for them too.

Sounds like you did your mom a great favor. We older folks tend to resist change though. LOL Hang in there!


Hi Skigirl. It sounds like you are a terrific daughter. I’m sort of reading between the lines but it seems that your mom is terrific too. You mentioned that you suffer from depression. Could it be that your mom agreed to let you digitize her recipes because you had “a bunch of free time” and thought that it would be good for you to have a project? You mentioned that you have a tiny bedroom. We have one of those and if an adult child needed to stay with us for a while he just might get that tiny room. That’s the one that guests stay in now. You mentioned that some areas of that tiny room are messy. I thought about our tiny room. If “some areas” were messy that would constitute a messy room. Does your mom not mention that perhaps that room could use a little work and perhaps you could use a little of that “bunch of time” to set things aright? If not, out our way she would be described as a saint.


First you said she “nearly freaked out” when you told her 5% of the recipes could not be saved, now you’re saying she was okay with it. I’m not understanding.

It sounds like your parents are just not the best housekeepers. I am a militant clean-freak, and houses that have any level of clutter/mess stress me out. Still, I know that’s MY issue. I have to resist the urge to judge people who don’t take housekeeping as seriously as my husband and I do. Maybe you are this way, too? Or maybe you are simply bored and spending too much time in the house.

I know you said you can’t move out, but this tends to be what happens when two generations of capable adults are living together (particularly women.) You instinctively want the home the way you prefer it, and your mom wants it her way. And ultimately, it’s her house. Being an adult woman living in a little bedroom in your parents home does not give you much sense of pride or autonomy in creating your own home environment, which of course most women desire by about 19 or 20, even if it’s just a tiny dorm or apartment that they call “home.” I’d do whatever it takes to put yourself on the path of autonomous living ASAP. Your relationship with your parents will be much healthier!

Yes, once she thought about it she calmed down, she tends to overreact and then think through things.

I won’t give details but I have a condition where I cannot live independently and right now where I am located assisted living is nearly non-existent and I feel safer at home than in anything in my town. Once we move to a bigger area I want to find a different situation. It’s very complicated when it comes to assistance and all that fun stuff.

I know it is their house…getting to acceptance is now my goal.

Maybe this will help with your current goal.

I was thinking about this thread while cleaning house today and thought that I’d share my thoughts. I have magazines that I am storing also. The are in plastic boxes the kind that you can shove under the bed but mine are in the garage. Some are from 12 years ago. Every now and again I have occassion to search the magazines for an article. If those were tossed without my permission I wouldn’t just ABOUT freak out, I’d go all the way. I would not apologize for freaking out and would expect an apology from the freekie. Through the years I would have gotten frustrated if I wanted to revisit an article. I know this because hubby accidently destroyed several years worth of files on my computer. I wasn’t angry of course because it was a mistake that anyone could have made but I still wish I had those files.

So, maybe if you can see things from your mom’s perspective it will help in your acceptiance.

Oh, yes, I definitely understand…things got lost when we moved the last time…I was gone during the time. Lost my cross from my aunt when I was confirmed. Which reminds me, I need to back up computer files… :slight_smile:

Hi :wave: - self-confessed “recovering clutterbug” here! :smiley:

I think we are this way for many reasons. Mine have been things like
*]Feeling more secure with things (because I can control them) than with people ('nuff said! :wink: )
*]Not wanting life to change too fast
*]Being too sentimental - every stuffed animal had a personality, every piece of paper triggered a fond memory, etc.
*]Liking to shop and acquire “cool stuff” - being artistic and creative - “I can use that in a collage someday”
*]Shopping to relieve boredom and depression and frustration
*]Indecisiveness and fatigue when I do try to sort and toss
*]OCD and ADD at the same time :hypno: :bigyikes:
*]And much, much more!

Not to mention heredity - hoarders and/or collectors abound in my family.

I agree with what people have said, difficult as it is, you need to let the person you’re trying to help be in charge of how that is done. I think I do best at clearing out excess stuff when I can get into the groove with it, and then when I’ve done a good amount, try to get my mind on something else. That way I don’t go back and ruminate over “should I have thrown that out” kinds of second-guessing myself. And if someone else is helping me, a little cheerleading is okay but too much makes it overwhelming. It seems best to keep everything low-key.

Here’s something you might want to take a look at and maybe have your person you’re helping look at:

My CAF Group Time Management Team and Clutterbug’s Corner -

Honestly, it does not sound like your parents are doing anything wrong. They like to keep neat boxes full of stuff. Personally, I don’t but I do not see anything wrong. The generation of ‘disposal’ products is very recent and there were times you needed to keep things. Not to mention, my mom had a really old comb. The teeth of the comb were wide and two of them fell out. I asked my mom ‘Are you so poor you need to keep a comb without the teeth’, to which she replied ‘No, they don’t make combs liked that anymore. As soon as I can find a new one, I will buy it and throw this one out’ Just because you think it is clutter, doesn’t mean your parents don’t want it.

I find it hard to believe you could not digitalize 5% of the recipes. Since you have time on your hands, you could type them in word and save them that way.

Honestly, I think this is a power struggle. I know it is not fun as an adult to have to live with your parents. But you need to respect it is their home and their rules. Also, being grateful for having a place to stay might be a good idea. A lot of adults do not think it is fun to have an adult child stay at home and wouldn’t let you. Once I lost my job and my moms exact words to me where ‘Well you are not moving in back here’

I know it is hard but sometimes we just need to pray for acceptance


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