Smart SpendingSmart Spending

9 tips from a former pack rat

It's easy to convince yourself you're being frugal by keeping stuff just in case you might use it again.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 8, 2012 10:03AM

This post comes from Meg Favreau at partner blog Wise Bread.


Wise Bread on MSN MoneyI am writing to you from the trenches -- my parents' house in New Hampshire -- where the me of today is engaged in battle with the pack rat me of the past. Our battlefield is the drawers, boxes, and bins full of stuff that I left here.


Image: Home garage sale (© UpperCut Images/SuperStock)Right now, I am happy to say that I am winning -- although the fight has not been easy.


Overcoming my pack rat tendencies over the past several years has taken some serious work. Part of the trouble is that, on the surface, being a pack rat can seem very frugal: It's easy to justify keeping stuff by telling yourself that you're saving it to reuse.


For example, I used to craft a lot -- but when I realized that I had multiple bins of craft supplies sitting around, untouched for years, I had to admit that I had a problem. (See also: "Simple living lessons I learned from 'Hoarders'")


Here are some of the things that have helped me get rid of stuff, and if you've had a pack rat past, I hope they can help you too.


Set a deadline.

People who are able to get things done without deadlines, I salute you. But for me (and for so many people I know), a deadline really helps drive productivity. Whether you're planning something big, like moving, or just agreeing to participate in a neighborhood yard sale, set a deadline to get yourself sorting through your stuff. (Post continues below video.)

Ask when you'll use it.          

This isn't the same as how you'll use it. It's easy enough to look at a bag of yarn and tell yourself, "Oh, I'll pick up knitting again sometime." If you haven't used an item in the last six months and you can't see yourself using it in the next six months, get rid of it. If you do decide you want to knit again, there's always a good chance someone else will be selling their old gear around that time.


Work with a voice of reason.

It's easy to argue with yourself about whether or not you'll use something and become frustrated. Ask a trusted friend or loved one to help you sort through stuff and provide another perspective.


Get excited about making money.

Hey, you don't just have to get rid of stuff -- you can sell it. Whether it's at a yard sale, on Craigslist, or via eBay, getting excited about the extra cash your old stuff might bring in can help you get active.


Experience the joy of giving.

I'm not ready to have kids yet, but many of my friends and cousins have started having children -- while I still have toys from when I was a kid sitting in my parents' basement. Yikes! But that means I also get to be the awesome person who bestows gifts on all my friends' kids, and if you haven't seen a kid open a gift recently, let me tell you, it's pretty joyful.


Take pictures.

Digital photographs don't take up physical space, unlike the piles of middle- and high-school art I have. Now when I'm throwing out art, I always take a digital picture first. That way I can still see my bizarre artwork if I really want to without having to carry things around. And I'm serious about the bizarre part. I recently found a colored-pencil drawing I did of Scully from "The X-Files" standing near a phone booth on an abstract, multicolor background.


Go through your stuff again.

I thought it was a good idea to keep some photos from my college photography class until, when I was going through another closet, I found even better versions of the photos I had decided to keep. Revisit what you've decided to keep. After you have a better sense of the big picture, you might be more willing to part with things you had previously decided to save.


Save some stuff . . . or don't.

There are two ways to approach what to keep, I think, and it all depends on what matters to you. I'm keeping a small selection of photographs, journals and items that really matter to me. Keeping them makes it easier to get rid of other things when I think about how truly important to me these items are.


At the same time, getting rid of everything can really help you focus on the present. The important thing is to spend some time thinking about what really matters to you.

Remember the joy of simplicity.

To not be bogged down with stuff, to not be paralyzed by too many choices, to live without clutter -- these things are wonderful. Remember that as you get rid of things. Even if you can't sell something, even if you have to give it away for free, in many ways you are not losing. You are gaining.


Are you a former (or current) pack rat? What helps you get rid of stuff? Tell us in the comments below.


More from Wise Bread and MSN Money:

Aug 8, 2012 11:05AM
         Ifound that clutter was keeping me homebound,so every Sept.,Nov.,and December,I start packing my car, every chance I get,with perfectly Good Stuff. It stays there,until I have a chance to drive it to Goodwill, or Salvation Army,Or Red Cross,etc. Then I imagine some little boy,buying that Perfect gift for his Mom, or Dad, or brother or sister! Merry Christmas to ALL! Love Me!
Aug 8, 2012 6:45PM

I am definitely a pack rat and I have a garage that has never seen a car to prove it!  I do have an occasional  garage sale and get rid of some things but I always end up buying more.  The problem is that I have a really good eye for great stuff at low prices and I always think that someone else will buy it from me.  Often times that is the case and I am constantly in search of the next good SCORE to resell.  When things get out of hand my best and most efficient method of unloading is by calling my local auctioneer.  It is easier than having a yard sale and there is very little opportunity to change my mind.  Once it is gone, it is gone!  That means no more telling myself that when the garage sale is over the rest will go to Goodwill.  Yeah, right!  I just can't do it, unless it is clothing.  The kinds of things I "collect" are vintage house wares; dishes, glass, etc.  I also love art and pottery but the time comes when a person can just have too much of even the things they love.  I sell a few things on-line, but that is often more trouble than it is worth.  I was seriously thinking of opening a small store when the economy tanked and the bottom fell out of the market for "stuff!"   Most people have had a change of attitude and realize that they no longer want or need a house full of dust catchers.  


I went to an estate sale last weekend.  The deceased elderly owner was a respected member of the community and I have rarely seen such a bunch of junk in my entire life.  She must have kept everything she had from the day she moved in to that house.  She wasn't a hoarder in the way I think of a hoarder.  There wasn't a bunch of old newspapers, junk mail and wrappers lying around; just a lot of things that were not in particularly good shape or of high quality to begin with, and nothing had been cleaned.  My life passed before my eyes and I am proud to say I left without buying anything!  I will be having another garage sale in September and then I have to make a serious effort to pack up a load for the auctioneer.           

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.