One of Don Aslett's other books, For Packrats Only, offers some advice on how to address other people's packrat issues. Rather than just copying the chapter here, I'd like to give a few related anecdotes.
I once dated a woman whose car was an absolute mess. Clutter everywhere. This included uncased CDs on the floor. One time I was riding in her car, and she stopped at a place to get something. While I was waiting alone in the car, I picked up the bare CD that was on the floor in front of her seat, and put it in the little compartment underneath the radio. Why did I do this? Because CDs in my experience get scratched when they're carelessly tossed around and not kept in their cases, and this can make the disc skip when you try to listen to it. Keeping a disc off the floor like this would probably minimize the risks of that.
She came back, and got into the car. Then she asked where the disc was that was on the floor. I said "I moved it her so that it wouldn't get scratched." She flipped out, giving me a short lecture on how she has her own "system" on knowing where everything is, and that I made a bad assumption about her stuff and shouldn't have touched it. Silly me, I should have known that keeping CDs open and on the floor was a normal and practical thing for some people!
Lesson #1 in addressing pack rats: DO NOT touch a packrat's stuff without their permission. You might think you're doing the person a favor. You're not. No matter how insignificant you think the displacement is, they will most likely notice. It's just not worth it.
Thinking back, I used to get into the same problems when I was growing up, only from the other side. As I mentioned in a past blog, I grew up in a house that was huge, yet had tiny bedrooms. I didn't have much room for personal stuff. Even my closet was mostly filled with my father's stuff, because my mother had taken over the one closet in THEIR bedroom.
Most mothers nag their children to death about keeping their rooms in order. My mother was no exception.Now before I continue, I'm sure there are some self-righteous soccer mom types out there who read that last paragraph with a smirk, thinking "Ha! See, your mother was always right. Clutter is bad!" No, you missed the point. First of all, mothers are NOT always right. Having offspring does not automatically make you correct about everything. Parents are like any other people: some have a good grasp on logic and can distinguish debate from personal attack, and some can't. My mother falls somewhere in the middle. And if you think THAT'S a personal attack on my mother, then once again, you're in the "stupid" category.
But nothing pissed me off more than having her touch my stuff. Or anybody else who touched it for that matter, for whatever reason: baby sitters, toddler cousins who got to invade my room on Xmas, etc. But when it came to clutter, my most common problem in my final years of living under that roof, was the pile. THE pile. In the center of my room, a pile would develop on the floor. No matter how much I tried to get rid of it, it would eventually reappear. At some point I just accepted it as a natural phenomenon, like a leak in a boat that wouldn't go away no matter how much water you baled. I even tried using that as an excuse once, but naturally my mother wouldn't buy it. Sooner or later she had to vacuum, which meant moving my stuff without any forewarning.
And it was always the same argument about getting rid of my stuff. A lot of nagging parents like to pick one specific example, and bring it up like a mantra. One of my mother's favorite lines was "You have papers in here from the 3rd grade!" My reply to that was
always, "Well if I haven't thrown them out by now, isn't that a pretty
good indication that I want to keep them?" Needless to say, she didn't further engage in logical debate. She'd just fall back on repeating the same commands. Which brings me to...
Lesson #2 in addressing packrats: DO NOT nag. Nagging is much like proselytizing. It doesn't make a person see your way. It only annoys them. If anything, they'll go against whatever it is you're nagging for, just for fun or out of spite. Further nagging only establishes you in their mind as being a nag, not a source of wisdom or constructive information.
And lesson #3 in addressing packrats: don't demean the value of their junk. First of all, the packrat and only the packrat can make the ultimate judgment over the value of a personal item. That's why their called PERSONAL belongings! If you say "Like this thing for instance. This [insert item here]. You don't need this! It's crap!", then you're just going to trigger the person to give their reasoning for keeping it, and make yourself look like the enemy. And especially don't bring it up when the two of your are talking to other people. "Junk? Oh my boyfriend here knows all about that. [Patronizing pat on the back.] He's the biggest packrat in the state."
From the book, here are some other bad approaches to dealing with a packrat:
- Don't threaten. If you threaten a packrat, they're just going to cling tighter to their stuff, and learn to distrust you. If anything they might throw YOU out.
- Don't give ultimatums. Like threats, they don't work.
- Don't withhold favors. I've never heard of somebody who withheld sex or sensual affection as a means of hoping a packrat will clean up their stuff, but considering how many manipulative women there are who do this for other things, I wouldn't be surprised. As Aslett simply puts it, "They might find abstinence is just great - or someone else is a lot better. The only thing that will get tossed is your love life."