Pack-rats Have Reasons, Too

Before my wife and I were married, over 21 years ago, she informed me of a number of things, telling me she didn’t want me laboring over any misconceptions about her.  She was totally and brutally honest about herself… and that forced me to do my best to do the same, and what we said will remain between us – mostly.  She did tell me that she was required, by her job, or at least by every job she’d had in twenty years, to be a pack-rat. She also told me that, any time she threw the only copy of something out, or any prop item, she invariably needed it, even if it hadn’t been required for years… and that turned out to be true in the first years of our marriage, and I’m not about to go into details, except to say that she was right.

The past twenty years have confirmed that she was absolutely right.  She’s had to keep a copy of every program on which she has sung, every journal article or review she’s ever written, all the documentation on every opera or musical theatre performance she has directed, all to prove, time and time again, in the name of accountability and proving qualifications, that she can do and has done what she’s done. Part of this was due to the endless tenure process and part has been because of post-tenure review, and part has been because of accreditation reviews, and part because of changes in college deans… and so forth.  Part is because she teaches singing, and because certain sheet music, particularly in the area of classical music, is getting harder and harder to find, and because different students have different needs. So, over the years, the numbers of file cabinets holding sheet music have expanded.

But, unhappily, and sometimes humorously, it doesn’t stop there.  Because she directs a grossly under-budgeted university opera program, our basement storeroom has become over the years the “auxiliary” prop and set storeroom, containing those items she has personally purchased for productions. Most have been used at least twice and some time and time again, but they don’t go to the Music Department storeroom because that storage area isn’t secure and smaller items vanish.  And, frankly, she doesn’t want to spend her own money twice for things the university should have purchased in the first place.

When we moved, or attempted to reduce our volume of stuff in every summer’s “spring cleaning,” I’ve asked more than once if we really need this 1920 telephone or three battered but ornate boxes, or the three canes, or the closetful of dresses not in her size, or… and the answer is invariably, “No. I’ll need that sometime.” And so I nod and replace it and try to find a way to make more space for the props and other items she purchased personally for the last semester’s show.

For the most part, except for the times she’s borrowed my fedora or my Stetson, or my old trench coat, or the time she used the lower family room furniture, all the items are generally part of her pack-rat collection and go back in the storeroom after each production.  Last summer, however, when we were cleaning the storeroom, I came across the old leather briefcase that she’d bought me for my birthday years ago – the old battered one that she’d replaced with a new one the previous fall and thought, “We don’t need this.”  And I threw it out.

Two days ago, she called me from her office and said, “You remember your old leather case… the one I gave you before the latest one…  It’s perfect for the show.  I need a battered leather case…”

Like she said, you never need it until you’ve thrown it out.


7 thoughts on “Pack-rats Have Reasons, Too”

  1. Mayhem says:

    I grew up with a science teacher for a mother. A large amount of our house was occupied with old books, course notes, and various relics of a history of teaching across many years and several countries.
    And it was astounding to many fellow teachers just how quickly Mum could generate a vast amount of coursework every time the syllabus changed with very little apparent effort.
    She seldom told them it was because all she did was dust off her copy of the syllabus and coursework she worked under some twenty odd years before, which was generally being regurgitated by the Board of Education as the latest greatest new turn of the wheel.
    Being a pack rat and working in Education are pretty much essential partners.

  2. Elizabeth A. Mancz says:

    Speaking as a natural pack-rat myself, yes, your wife is absolutely right. Throwing something out means that you will need it within the month. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone in my family has called me and said, “you know that old (fill in the blank) you have? Can I borrow it for a few days?” I tell them yes, they borrow it, use it and return it with many thanks. This does not stop them from accusing me of being a terrible pack-rat with a basement full of junk! sigh.

  3. Therman says:

    I also have the packrat gene but, alas, I am a very frustrated packrat due to my career that requires I move every 2-3 years and the fact that my shipping allowance limits me to 7200 pounds. Being a packrat in such conditions is very difficult or very expensive.

  4. Jon says:

    There is nothing wrong with being a pack-rat. The problem, as some of these hoarding shows depict, is in keeping it neat and tidy. So long as that can be done, there is really not a problem. It is when things start to overflow and either impede movement to things that need to be used, or cause health issues, that there is really a problem.

    This is not to say that living a minimalistic life is bad… different people need different methods in order to survive in this world.

  5. G.Thomas says:

    I am a hobbyist bladesmith and my garage, home and yard are all a testament to the packrat mindset, full of tools, potential tools, piles of metal stocks and wood scraps. I do not believe, no matter how many years (or even decades) I’ve had something laying around unused, the moment I get rid of it a perfect use presents itself within a week.

  6. Tim says:

    Another viewpoint. Try not to inherit the estate of a pack-rat. It has taken years…..

    Also a friend who was a librarian at a college of Cambridge University used to dread getting bequests from old dons. They never threw anything away and yet bequeathed the lot to the University!

  7. Jim S says:

    I’m a bit of a professional packrat, as well. I’ve got paper work going back to my first shift. I probably don’t need all of it — but if I get rid of something, I’m sure an appeal will come up or I’ll get some sort of subpoena for it.

    Of course, I’m also a packrat by nature… I’m trying to convince my self that if I haven’t needed stuff from a box by the next time I move, I should get rid of the contents. Easier said than done.

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