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What is a Pack Rat?

A Kaminsky
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The definition of a pack rat depends largely on one's point of view. In the wild, it is a small rodent that lives communally, in large nests called middens, and collects any found objects to assist in building the nest. Among humans, this term is used for a person who keeps everything and has a hard time throwing anything away.

Most people who consider themselves to be pack rats hate to throw things away because of the fear that they might be needed at some point in the future. This type of behavior can be practiced to greater or lesser extremes, however; one person might have a difficult time throwing things away but still be able to maintain a clean and well organized home, while another might quickly lose control. Hording may be a sign of mental illness and can cause serious social and health-related problems.

The main problem for a pack rat is what to do with all the stuff he or she accumulates. Organized individuals usually find space to store their stuff in one place and may be able to keep the amount of stuff that they have to a controlled level. Hoarders and other disorganized people usually stores the stuff all over the house — any flat, level surface becomes storage, whether it is the dining room table or an ironing board.

When hoarding behavior gets out of control, it can have serious consequences. Friends and family may avoid the person's home, since it's filled with items; the individual may even be reluctant to invite people in for fear that they may discover the seriousness of the problem. Eventually, sheer amount of stuff can allow it to become a breeding ground for insects and rodents, and mold and mildew might grow on buried items that have become damp. Individuals who keep animals often cannot care for them, leading to them never being cleaned or their waste disposed of.

The term "pack rat" often has unflattering connotations, and some people prefer names like "collector" to avoid the hoarding stigma. Ideally, this person should strive to keep only those things that are truly important, throw away the detritus, and maybe have a yard sale once in a while. Some community education programs offer one-day classes on organizing closets and homes, and these may be helpful if the clutter level is getting unmanageable.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
A Kaminsky
By A Kaminsky
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at PublicPeople. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.

Discussion Comments

By anon274766 — On Jun 13, 2012

The one year rule is absurd. People do collect things and actually use them several years later. Time is what dictates when those items will be used. Where would all the antique furniture be today if everybody tossed the old crap out? There needs to be a balance between people enjoying saving things and people who enjoy tossing everybody else's stuff away. Where I live, my spouse lets me buy it (and pay for it because we both want it) then she has no problem getting rid of it one year later.

The people who get rid of stuff quickly are just as sick as the ones who save too much.

By anon261362 — On Apr 15, 2012

I need to know two names that a packrat can otherwise be known as.

By anon243394 — On Jan 27, 2012

There are reasons to keep items by people who can justify these items inside the house.

I have read the japanese 5 s and it really helped me a lot in my office and in our house.

We studied the 5 s and it's very useful. For example, if you have a box, place all your same items inside this box, whether it's hats, books or whatever. Put a date on it and keep it. If, after a year or say six months, you never opened the box, it means you can get rid of the contents and you don't need it.

I suggest that the pack rats read the 5 S and it might help. Thanks for sharing.

By anon90511 — On Jun 16, 2010

When pack rats shop, they would buy the stuff they think they might need. Then they take it home and if they don't use it right away, they just find a niche or box and just leave it. Sometimes they may never look at it or touch it again. When they shop next time, they forget they already have it or knew they had it but couldn't locate it and will buy it again. Over the years things just pile up.

Organizing or house cleaning most likely isn't part of their daily life. For some pack rats, they don't even recognize they hoard things and would not think of needing to declutter as the commenters suggested.

By anon37446 — On Jul 19, 2009

I love this article. Made me laugh..."may not be a decent housekeeper..putting your feet on the coffee table..." does this writer know me? I found this information encouraging. I don't feel condemned to a mental problem, and appreciate the suggestions. I think more of us than not have piles of clutter because we're living in the fast lane and are pretty much exhausted. Get rid of little bits everyday. Yay. I can do that.

By bigmetal — On Feb 14, 2008

there's one system of de-cluttering and reclaiming your home from the chaos that recommends doing what they call a "27 Fling Boogie." basically, you take a trash bag, and every day, go through your house and find 27 things to throw away. you also attack "hot spots" --those places near your front door, kitchen counter and dining room table that accumulate junk mail, receipts, half finished projects, etc. a couple times a day, patrol those hot spots and throw away trash, put stuff away, etc. by dealing with clutter continuously, you can tame even the biggest pack rat in you.

By somerset — On Feb 14, 2008

I have just read in a magazine how helpful it is to place one to two items that you are willing to part with, next to the door. It is good to do it every day, that way you will slowly eliminate all the items you have not used for a while, and you absolutely don't have to have.

When you leave the house take the items with you and drop them in public trash container, that way you will not have a chance later to change your mind. Slowly you will eliminate all the clutter, and have a more peaceful and pleasant life. I thought that was a good method to help oneself create a more beautiful home.

A Kaminsky

A Kaminsky

Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at PublicPeople. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
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