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Avoiding the Packrat Syndrome
by Laura Stack

Perhaps your parents said, "Donapostrophet throw anything away! Everything has value." And youapostrophere still holding on to those beliefs. While necessary during the Great Depression, that type of thinking today will create a society of pack rats who canapostrophet throw anything away but desperately need to.

The underlying drive behind this behavior is an excessive concern that a given object shouldnapostrophet be discarded, as it might be needed later. This behavior can also include excessive acquisition, such as compulsive shopping, extreme collecting, or hoarding free items, such as free newspapers or junk mail. Following the acquisition behavior is extreme indecisiveness about what to keep; the indecisiveness is so extreme that the hoarder completely avoids the decision-making process and ends up keeping everything. Then, the hoarder experiences difficulty figuring out how to best organize all the kept items.

Sometimes hoarding behavior becomes severe. Not only can it extend to the office and oneapostrophes vehicle, but fire marshals have even declared such residences a fire hazard. In one extreme case, a hoarder rented a second apartment to live in because his own had grown too full of belongings. This behavior is more common in men than women. If your behavior is severe -- such as having to create pathways in your home and avoiding having guests -- you can obtain help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.

It is not uncommon for compulsive hoarders to also experience tension in all manner of interpersonal relationships, low self-esteem, weak decision-making skills, poor social skills, and even occupational or legal issues. Treatment focuses on sorting items, developing decision-making skills, analyzing unwarranted emotional attachments, and curbing the acquisition of additional possessions. If your symptoms are mild -- in other words, if youapostrophere like most people -- the ideas below will help clear your clutter and boost your energy immensely.

Unworn clothing, unwanted gifts, ancient paperwork (not needed for tax purposes) -- just get rid of it. If you havenapostrophet used it in two years, ditch it.

* Start a bag or box for charity; keep it in the basement or garage. There are so many worthy causes to choose from: Goodwill, womenapostrophes organizations, Salvation Army, St. Vincent DePaul, church organizations. Add to your box or bag regularly. When itapostrophes full, take it with you to donate when you run errands. Get a receipt each time you drop off a donation for your IRS records.

* Sell it on eBay. If you donapostrophet have an eBay account, set one up on Locate all your possessions that have strong resale value -- but are of no use to you whatsoever and are only collecting dust. Take digital photographs of them. International commerce -- what a fun way to get rid of duplicate or unwanted gifts. Turn your junk into money.

* Write a yard sale date on the calendar. The kids can sell lemonade and get a nice little math lesson about making change, plus a little lesson about earning a profit. Get the neighbors involved, and turn it into a fun multi-household yard sale to boost your profits even more. Donate whatever is left over to a local charity.

* At the office, keep only one hard copy of final documents. Recycle the rest. If you have a digital version, only keep the paper copy if required by company policy. Be sure to do a daily backup of all your computer files.

* Keep financial documents only as long as IRS regulations require. For tax returns, thatapostrophes six years from the filing date. The same holds true for investment purchase and sale records, from the tax filing deadline in the year of sale. Cancelled checks and bank statements should likewise be kept for six years. Shred documents that have become outdated at home and work. Devise a plan to repeat this process at the same time every year; just after the New Year is a great time, when youapostrophere in the mindset of making a fresh start.

* For non-IRS documents at the office, decide how many years that youapostrophell keep things on file. Certain things may have historical value, such as annual reports. But for anything that doesnapostrophet possess inherent historical value, get rid of it. You donapostrophet need that coffee-stained piece of paper with a rusty paper clip on it. Go through all your files and recycle everything thatapostrophes now outside your time frame or from the job of the lady who had your office before you. This will also prevent you from having to keep buying more and more filing cabinets, which also helps retain ample space. Again, devise a plan to repeat this process at the same time every year.

* Look at your possessions through your childrenapostrophes eyes. Pretend what itapostrophes going to be like for your children when you pass away and they have to sort through your belongings. Do you really need those love notes from sixth grade? The lock of your motherapostrophes baby hair? Keep it. Your grandmotherapostrophes retro red diva suitcase? Keep it. Do you really need that box of photos from the junior high field trip? Youapostrophere not even in any of the photos. Your children wonapostrophet even know who these people are.

Do you keep unwanted gifts due to a sense of guilt, simply because theyapostrophere gifts? Do you have rented storage units to hold all the stuff you never use? Do you have boxes of things in your crawl space you havenapostrophet used in years-if you even know whatapostrophes in there? Worse yet, do you surround yourself with things that make you miserable? Do you keep a "thin section" in your closet? You know-the things youapostrophell wear again once you lose twenty pounds? Every time you look at an item of clothing that doesnapostrophet fit, you feel deflated. Your energy plummets as you focus your attention on how fat you are versus finding something attractive that fits your "real" body.

Instead, accentuate the positive. Thereapostrophes a reason women burn photographs of their old boyfriends. If youapostrophere hoarding tangible proof of emotional baggage, youapostrophere sabotaging your energy, not to mention your mood. Youapostrophere keeping that figurative negativity hovering around your life. Clear the air. Get rid of it. If thereapostrophes one particle of anger attached to it, get rid of it. Why take up valuable space with outdated physical negativity? Donapostrophet keep mementos of failed relationships. If itapostrophes a legal issue such as divorce, or custody dispute, keep only the bare minimum of final legal documents that you need. Out with the old, and in with the new.

About the author:

© 2008 Laura Stack. Laura Stack ( is a motivational speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time™. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has given presentations on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces, for companies such as Microsoft, Starbucks, and 3M. She is the bestselling author of The Exhaustion Cure (2008); Find More Time (2006); and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). To have Laura speak at your event, call 303-471-7401.