Living with a Packrat: How I Make it Work

We just moved from a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment to a 400 square foot studio on a college campus. Nonetheless, for an aspiring minimalist who wishes to live simply, without the burden of stuff (or rent), this is an absolute dream come true. That’s not to say it’s not without its challenges. My adorable little puppy is now on a year (or two-year) long vacation in North Carolina.

Chalk it up to my recent fascination with tiny houses, but I was so excited for this experience. However, at some point during the packing process, I realized that I (and my husband especially) had too much stuff for that tiny space. Even if we sold all of our furniture, I had visions of the new space overflowing with crap. I didn’t realize this at the time, but part of the reason we have so much extra stuff is because we both are working on side gigs. This aside, days before the actual move, my mind set into panic mode. This is not the minimalist life I envisioned. I thought, “He’s not getting rid of enough stuff.” Still, I stayed fairly silent as my mother-in-law packed the rest of his stuff. I’m thankful that she was there to help, because I probably wouldn’t be able to handle packing items that hadn’t seen the light of day in the last two years.

That afternoon, after the 14ft Uhaul was loaded and unloaded, I stared at a room that looked like the most recent episode of Hoarders. Boxes, bags, suitcases and stuff were stacked atop dorm furniture, six and a half feet up the wall. There was a narrow walkway leading to the bed and the  kitchen area. I was drowning in my worst nightmare.

Flash forward a week later, and I was calling myself the “box murderer.” I emptied and struck boxes dead, one at a time. And after putting away what could be up away, I pondered how I was going to get my husband to get rid of the stuff he doesn’t use. I already separated the things I was going to sell or donate, even items I would use in this tiny space if there was enough room.

It must have been the day I started unpacking the kitchen when I had my epiphany. We have a full kitchen worth of cooking supplies that we use!! And this awesome new deep fryer and Kitchen Aid on the way. (Okay, we probably have too many appliances, but we like them, and we use them.) So I just had to make do. I had to make it work. I spent a good portion of the day organizing and reorganizing that tiny space until I got most of our dishes and appliances to fit behind six cabinet doors and four drawers. At this point, none of our dry goods or spices had been put away. I kept telling myself: “I just have to make do with what I have.”  I felt to proud of being able to even find a place for some of those items too.

Originally I had only seen two options in this situation: suffer in the clutter, or force my husband, packrat, grad student, and Grad Assistant (coach) to declutter. After having no choice in dealing with the itty bitty kitchen, my brain was primed for finding a creative solution to my problem. A third option appeared before me: Find a way to make it work. Find a place for his stuff, organize it. Make it work.

So my advice to someone living with a packrat, is to just accept the situation for what it is. If you love them, and want them in your life, you have to start with acceptance.  Once you get into the “making it work” state of mind, things change. That’s what the slow-paced lifestyle is all about.

Happy Herbivore had an idea that worked for me as well. The idea is that you have a clutter free areas. And the other person has their “do whatever” space. I can keep my workstation and wardrobe area however and he keeps his his way. If you have a bigger house, you may be able to have a whole minimalist room to yourself.

What I’m going to end up doing is using an ikea kallax shelf (old expedit) with the 16 square-shaped shelves, and storage bins and baskets to get everything in order. I can store the remaining kitchen items, electronics, books, and my husband’s fifty-thousand shoes (ok I’m exaggerating, but I never counted), and other miscellaneous homeless items on that organizer. In the place of acceptance, I was able to find a vision that would make it all work.  For me, as long as everything has a proper place, and can be put away, I’m comfortable. No, it’s not an ultra-modern tiny house, and it’s not ultra-minimalist, but it works for me.