The Pack Rat Gene

A few days ago, I came across Tim Kane’s post ‘Writer or Hoarder‘. It got me thinking whether there was a great deal of difference between a hoarder and a pack rat. He suggested that you’re a hoarder if the junk you collect interferes with your life, so I guess I’m not quite at that point yet. I’m still a pack rat. While I have no biological proof that the compulsion to ‘save things for posterity’ is an actual allele on a DNA strand passed down from one generation to the next, I’m afraid I do have physical proof – LOTS of it!

On my side of the family, I no longer have grandparents or parents, but I am constantly reminded of them everywhere I look in my house. Here in the living room as I write this, I see the mantle clock that was always over the fireplace at our cottage. There is a Wood Shops project that my grandfather did as a boy – an old-fashioned sleigh with horse harness and green padded seats. There’s also the balance scale he made.

Our dining room is filled with the dining set that my grandparents received as a wedding present back in 1922 -a beautiful oak table with six chairs, all with the original leather seats in perfect condition. The table now seats 12 after Grandpa added two additional leaves for it. Along with that is the matching buffet and china cabinet.

On the buffet cabinet sits an old oil lamp, an antique carriage lamp, my Grandmother’s old green teapot and cozy she crocheted, while above it is the mirror my parents got as a wedding present.

On and in the china cabinet are green-glass dessert dishes, Hummel figurines, and vases of my grandmother, rescued from the cottage before it sold.

Up in my kitchen cupboards are other dishes and paraphernalia that belonged to her. While these things are antique treasures, these things are not what makes me think I am a pack rat.

When we were cleaning out my parents’ house after they passed away, we found boxes of papers from my Dad’s parents, as well as all the financial records of my Mom’s mother. Since my Mom did her mom’s taxes, this made sense . . . except my grandmother died 8 years before that! As for my other grandparents’ paper things, there were financial records of my grandfather’s dating back to 1910! It was very interesting to see what he spent his money on back then – and he was very thorough, even including how much he spent for ice cream – but did Mom & Dad really need to keep all that? Dad’s parents had been dead for decades by the time we came across them!

I must admit that it was fascinating when we came across memorabilia from when they took their European Cruise. The letters from my great-great grandfather are priceless and I really want to transcribe them for posterity. There were even speeches that my grandfather wrote for the Outlook Club (like Toastmasters), which talked about issues that concerned him growing up, as well as historical stuff that went on when he was young – all things I want to re-write as a family history or biography of my grandfather. However, there’s only so many boxes of paper that we can store in our small house!

I’ve been intending to clean out our storage room and get rid of all the old notes that I’ve kept from high school and university. After all, I’m close to retirement and really don’t need to keep all that information. It’s too outdated for my children to use, so why keep it?

Just as I am contemplating this huge project, my brother drops by with another box of papers he’d gone through from my Dad’s house. He thought I’d be interested in reading them. So, what was in the box, you might ask? Dad’s old notebooks from as far back as Elementary school! (sigh!)

I went through them this morning and, (dare I say it?) I was fascinated to see the keepsake of the Royal Visit  in 1939, complete with newspaper clippings detailing all their stops across Canada. Okay, that is quite interesting, especially since I’m a history buff. Next, were a couple of notebooks that he used when he was a Cadet, including pictures of airplanes and their names, articles about the war, etc. (I should point out at this time that my Dad turned 18 just as WWII ended, so he never actually had to go overseas to fight in that, thank Heavens!) Among the papers Dear Brother brought me were university essays from his Commerce course. While some of it does have some small historical value, I’m afraid I will be getting rid of the lot . . . some day when I get the gumption to go through everything! 🙂

So, as you can see, I come by my pack rat tendencies honestly. Do any of YOU have the pack rat gene? If so, how do you deal with it? I really need to know! 🙂

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13 comments on “The Pack Rat Gene

  1. It’s a question of discipline isn’t it. My hubby is totally unable to throw things away, bits of wood, okay they are useful, wires, piping, tiles, paperwork, old sheets, even his clothes go down a well established route until they end up so thin and battered that they can’t even be worn in the workshop and then they are made into cleaning rags, and on and on. His dad was exactly the same. I, on the other hand can’t abide that sort of clutter but I do love the things such as you have, the old china, the glassware and so on. My dad has what we believe are important family papers, birth, death, marriage, demob certificates etc. But to he honest, when my father in law died it was fascinating to read personal letter from his grandparents that he had kept, particularly as there had been a major family rift and we didn’t ever know those people. Every now and again we have a ruthless clear out but it’s funny, the things we throw away tend to be the stuff that we have collected and the older things are the things we keep.

    I do love a good old throw out though.

  2. I totally think we inherit our “pack-rat” tendencies. (I include myself in that we, by the way.) And every time I see Hoarders on tv, I get a little nervous and go clean out a closet. But I keep things because they may be useful, or because they mean something to me, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It makes me sad to see how our culture places so much value on everything being new and up to date, when that implies old things aren’t valuable anymore. I love that dining furniture, and we have that exact same oil lamp in our bedroom!

    • We had several oil lamps at the cottage, so my brothers and I each got one. We left the wall-mounted ones it the bedrooms when we sold it, although I almost regret that decision. I like the blue steel base and the silver fan-shaped reflector behind the glass chimney. I did save one of the prettiest Aladin Lamps that had been converted to electric, but kept the chimney and wick assembly so it could be turned back into an oil burning lamp, at some point. I’ll have to post a picture of it as it is lovely cream-colored glass with painted-on orange flowers.

      When it comes to valuing new things over the old, I agree with you, Laurie. I cringe whenever I see someone on those home reno shows painting over antique furniture. The younger generation doesn’t seem to appreciate the beauty in old wood. 😦

  3. Wow. That’s fascinating! I would love to see papers from my grandparents’ school days! Or even diaries/journals or letters from my Pepe when he was in the war. He never spoke of it when he was alive, probably because I was too young and he didn’t wish to bring back those memories. He lost his hearing in the war when a bomb went off beside him. But I would genuinely love to read letters… particularly those that my grandparents wrote to one another. They met while my Pepe was at war. He would sneak out of the camps at night to meet with my Meme who was volunteering as a nurse at the time. Those would definitely be good keepsakes.

    It sounds like you’ve got some very interesting papers on your hands. One could get lost while pouring over those! I could probably sit there for hours upon hours just reading. Even the accounting stuff would be interesting to see what they spent money on. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Glad you enjoyed it. Yours is a fascinating family history, too, Cheri. You should write it down, sometime. 🙂

    And, yes, I could really get lost – probably for days or weeks – just reading all the papers we have. I should make time to do it, soon. 🙂

  5. I don’t have any keep sakes from family history, so I always consider those with them to be incredibly lucky! Although I now have a tendency to save anything like concert tickets in a little box so I’ll never forget I went. I’m not sure that’s the same thing 😀

    • I guess that’s one good thing about pack rats, you definitely get that sense of history. However, despite all the other things my grandparents hung on to, the one thing Mom hoped they kept were all the letters she wrote them about us kids when we were growing up. My Grandfather retired the year I was born, so they had the freedom to be ‘Snow Birds’ (people who go south for the winter). Once the snow flew, we did not see my grandparents again until the spring, so Mom would write them faithfully once a week about what we were doing. She would have loved to re-read those letters. She was so busy with the three of us that she didn’t have time to write in a diary, so the letters would have been like a diary to her, but they hadn’t bothered to keep them. 😦

  6. I read a description once of how hoarders feel a sense of responsibility for the things they collect—regardless of the appropriateness of that feeling. As long as you’re not feeling an attachment to say, plastic grocery bags… you’re probably fine. Me on the other hand, I can see possibly drowning in a sea of mysterious collectables…

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