Confessions of a pack rat

Ed Smith
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

You know those “hoarders” you see on that television “reality” show?

They live up to their necks in garbage and refuse, and trash by any other name, because they refuse to throw out anything. They keep absolutely everything, no matter how meaningless or unnecessary or just plain dirty.

Houses that were once homes are nothing less than garbage dumps full of disease and little animals ranging from cats and dogs to other unidentifiable little creatures.

Thing is, they have this strong addiction to keeping everything, an addiction that’s as strong as a drinking or gambling problem. Although they are more or less aware of what the place looks like and smells like to everyone else, they can’t help themselves.

I haven’t yet been called a hoarder, but I have the feeling that’s only because of politeness and not opinion or perception. Some people associated with my living circumstances are suggesting strongly that I need help.

I have trouble throwing away things.

Take books, for example. Understand I’m not talking about my own books. They’re where they are supposed to be — on other people’s bookshelves, hopefully including yours.

I love books, even books I have never read, even books I will never get to read. I have scads of them. I especially like Newfoundland books, although I don’t get time to read them all as they come out. I enjoy books on religion and faith and belief — don’t get to read them enough either, but I’m hoping that just having them will make me a better person.

However, the major problem is the accumulated debris one gathers over the years, and which is in that purgatory of having no function, but can’t be thrown out. We have friends who plead with me to give them one hour in my study so that they can throw out everything that has no value.

The problem is that what has no value to someone on the periphery of my life could have tremendous significance to me for one reason or another. Some are obvious, some are not.

I have friends who tell me they automatically consign to the garbage anything that has not been made use of within the last six months. I wish I had that kind of discipline or attitude or whatever it is.

On the other hand, I wish I had all the knickknacks that were in the homes of my grandparents so that I could go through it and catch a glimpse into what their lives were like, and what was important to them. And would, as a result, be important to me now.

I hope that some of you have the same situation in your lives and your houses resemble that of a pack rat that’s been operating for at least a century. As is, OH and I feel rather alone in “hoarding” the things we want to save. It would help if our house had a basement 10 feet high and roughly twice the square footage of the house. Or a shed 100 x 84 for storage purposes.

Just glancing around the room where I spend most of my time writing, and OH also has her desk and computer, and Robbie does some of his clerical work, I note a few things that to the casual observer looks like clutter.

To any observer it looks like clutter. It looks like clutter to me.

Over my desk there are three shelves, each eight feet long and more than a foot wide. On the top shelf are framed photographs of my three uncles and my father in his much younger days.

There is also a framed photograph of OH and me at our junior prom in Mount Allison. Plus a picture of daughter No. 3 when she was working for the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, her first job as a lawyer.

Plus a more recent picture of OH and me at a national conference in St. John’s, both of us looking rather sharp if I do say so myself. Plus pictures of daughters 1 and 2 in their university days. Plus a stack of ring folders 18 inches high, a pair of binoculars and a cardboard box full of gadgets, and various electrical “stuff.”

Oh yes, I missed a picture of Sam (she got home from Mount Allison last night on spring break, accompanied by her “significant other”).

Dear Lord, the very paragraph I’ve just written looks cluttered! And is! And that’s just the top shelf. The shelf below it contains roughly 70 books on various theological and human-interest themes.

But it also contains five boxes that used to hold various telephone connections, several souvenir mugs given me by friends and family, a cardboard box containing copies of the columns I’ve written over the last three or four years, a three-hole punch thingy and strange-looking things I can’t identify from my chair.

I haven’t touched on the third shelf above my computer, which has everything stacked on it from books by Newfoundland authors to Tia Maria to Golden Wedding whiskey to a beautifully framed photograph of Marion’s grandmother to things I haven’t seen in years and am afraid to look into.

Or the desk occupied by my computer, my arm bike, scads of papers and files waiting to be filed and, last but not least, the pile of papers comprised of things that are of immediate concern and need to be dealt with right away. Some of it dates back six months.

Perhaps another time we can look into the other five large shelves on an adjacent wall and Marion’s computer desk. We won’t talk about the shared printer and fax machine desk.

If you’re still reading, let me point out that the only reason I’m going through this painful process is to offer you some comfort just in case you’re in a similar situation to mine.

The message is that you are not alone.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.

His email address is

Organizations: Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Mount Allison, Texas Springdale.His

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page