Walking The Line Between Frugality and Pack Rattery

A lot of frugal people have stashes and stockpiles of items that they are keeping for use “someday.” These may be retail items acquired for free (think free samples and toiletries acquired through couponing or rewards programs). Other items frugal people keep are things like spare parts, extra hardware, magazines with useful articles or tips, fabric scraps, bread bags, plastic storage bins saved from deli meats and butter, jars, rubber bands or other things that may be useful. Some people even keep big things like lawnmowers or appliances they find on the curb that still function.

It’s true that a big part of frugality is saving useful items and not wasting materials that can be reused. By keeping things you can sometimes avoid a visit from the repairman, find creative solutions to problems that crop up, and save yourself money by not purchasing things you can get for free. However, there is a fine line between keeping things that you will realistically use or need and keeping things for needs you haven’t really identified. The former is part of a frugal lifestyle. The latter leads down the road to pack rattery.

I know many frugal people who have gone too far down pack rat lane. They have houses crammed to the rafters with items that they swear will be useful “someday.” Their backyards are overflowing with spare parts, extra appliances, and loads of bricks. They’ve got enough plastic bags to last a hundred years and enough jars to can a thousand jellies. They’ve gotten enough free toilet paper and deodorant to outfit a college dormitory for a year. The problem is, this level of stashing requires space these people simply don’t have. In some cases, it’s downright unhealthy because clutter is a haven for mold, dust and insects. There is nothing wrong with being frugal and keeping items that you will use and that you have the (reasonable) space to store. But when your frugal stash is pushing you out of your home, it’s time to rethink what you really need to keep in order to keep your frugal plans on track. Here are some things to think about and actions to take.

Periodically go through your “stash” and cull unneeded, broken, or useless items: Don’t just let stuff pile up on you without at least occasionally going through it and getting rid of things you no longer have a use for. Keeping parts for a certain vacuum cleaner isn’t worth it if you no longer have that cleaner, for example. Keeping butter tubs for starting seeds isn’t useful if you no longer garden. If the item needs a lot of repair or cleaning before it can be useful, it might not be worth keeping. Get rid of the stuff you no longer have a use for or that is of questionable value.

Before stashing something, ask yourself if you will honestly have a need for it in the near future: Sometimes we get in the habit of saving things because our mothers did or because we read somewhere that we should. But if you won’t honestly use those things, then you’re simply engaging in pack rattery. Only keep what you will really use; preferably only that which you will use in the near future. Stowing things for a once in a lifetime need or a need you can’t really foresee may not be cost or space effective.

Is the item you’re stashing rare/expensive or something you can easily get more of? Things like rubber bands, bread bags, butter tubs, screws, etc. are widely available and stashes are easily accumulated of these items. You may be able to toss or refrain from adding more of these items from your stash without much damage to your frugal plans. Things like parts for specific appliances, hard to find hardware or other rare/expensive items should get first priority when it comes to what you choose to keep.

Will the thing you’re stashing result in significant savings, relative to the amount of space required to store it? Some things, like spare parts or tools can save you big money if they save you from a visit from the repairman. Keeping big things like that perfectly functional lawnmower you found on the curb can also be worthwhile because you won’t have to buy one when your current mower kicks the bucket. Things like this can be worth giving up some space in or around your home in order to save that money. But other things, like extra newspapers, butter tubs, bread bags, and small hardware are inexpensive, commonly found, or free to acquire and typically save only pennies. It may not be worth using up the space in your home to keep things that won’t save you a lot of money. Save the space for things that will save you big money.

Do you already have a large number of the items? More than you can use? If you already have a huge stash of something, ask yourself whether keeping more of them is really worthwhile and something you can use in a timely manner. If the answer is no, stop saving the item until you really need to rebuild your stash.

Figure out alternative ways to keep what you need: If you want to keep articles/plans/recipes from magazines, do you have to keep the whole issue or can you just clip out the part you need? Better yet, can you scan it into your computer and toss all the physical paper? Try to think of ways to store your frugal needs while cutting down on the amount of space they take up.

Keeping items that you will reuse or that you’ve gotten for free is a great way to be frugal. It’s great to not have to buy something new every time you have a need. And it’s wonderful to keep useful items out of the landfill. Unfortunately, your stash can get out of control if you’re not careful. So keep an eye on your stashes and make sure that you’re not crossing the line from frugality into pack rat city.

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10 Responses to Walking The Line Between Frugality and Pack Rattery

  1. This is a good look at an important aspect of frugality that rarely is examined. Your guidelines for keeping on the frugal side of frugality (as opposed to pack-rattery :) are very helpful and quite sound! Thank you so much for this post.

  2. ~Dawn says:

    The questions I ask:
    Will I be using this right away?
    Can this replace one that is being worn out?

  3. JC says:

    Perhaps one thing you can do with the junk you’ve been saving that you don’t need is to start a garage sale and sell some of them. For example, if you upgraded your RAM or video cards, somebody else might find an use for your old RAM sticks or cards.

  4. Diane says:

    I agree that some people get carried away in stockpiling readily available items in the name of ‘frugality’.

    My feeling is that my living space has VALUE, and it is not necessary to hoard things in case of future need. We keep a few butter dishes & sherbet containers and recycle the rest. When we get low, we keep a few more. I keep a 4″ stack of old newspaper on hand and get rid of the rest.

    I know there’s always more coming, whether it’s magazines, newspaper or plastic containers.

  5. Hilary says:

    I was so happy that my apartment has a built-in shelf in my closet that is literally 8 inches from the ceiling (and sticks out about a foot from the wall). It’s perfect for stashing away toothpaste, contact solution, etc. so I can buy it up when it’s on sale. My kitchen is less fortunate… I have an entire shelf of chick peas. There’s definitely a trade-off.

  6. Lisa W. says:

    Two things I try to keep in mind:
    1.) Is it useful, beautiful, or do you love it? If not, out it goes.
    2.) On “Clean House”, the host refers to clutter as “mayhem and foolishness.” Who wants that in their home?

  7. Anne says:

    One way to avoid becoming a pack rat and keep only what you truly need/use is to live in a small house!

    My apartment is only 390 square feet in size and I live in it with two other people…lol. There is no room for what we don’t absolutely need.

  8. MaryAnn says:

    Excellent post. A few ideas for what to do with the stuff that you cull from your stash:
    * If you have toiletries above and beyond what you will use in the next 3-6 months, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters welcome these items.
    * If you have butter tubs, cardboard tubes, fabric scraps, baby food jars, etc, ask local preschools, elementary schools, or religious education programs if the teachers can use these items. In my county, there is actually a clearing house for these kinds of items, and local businesses and nursing homes donate everything from wallpaper sample books to florist foam to pickle jars. My husband and I are both teachers, and we love to visit the Wishing Well and discover treasure!

  9. Mary Murphy says:

    To get rid of all or any items you don’t want or need, join your local freecycle.com group online. You’d be amazed at the things that other folks will take off your hands, and give to you if you ask. There is no money involved in the exchanges. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth checking out.

  10. Pingback: Want New Stuff? Look to the Curb. « Take the Dollar Back

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