Working as a professional organizer has taught me a lot about possessions. I’ve learned that physical belongings serve a variety of purposes, including:
- Connecting us to our past (e.g. a varsity sport jacket)
- Embodying dreams for the future (e.g. a book on how to buy a boat)
- Keeping us healthy in the present (e.g. workout gear, food)
- Serving practical functions (e.g. a plunger, a dog leash)
- Providing entertainment (e.g. video games, books)
- Recording choices and decisions (e.g. wills, advanced directives)
- Evoking feelings (e.g. children’s drawings, souvenirs)
- Investing and saving (e.g. artwork, real estate, collections)
- Facilitating hobbies and recreational activities (e.g. sports gear, knitting supplies)
- Meeting emotional needs (e.g. photographs, a baby blanket)
The reasons for owning things are many. Having enough of what we need and love is good. However, having far more than what we need and enjoy can be a problem.
When I work with a client who has too much, it can be helpful to uncover the root of the problem.
- Sometimes an individual is simply going through a life event, such as the arrival of new baby, a relocation or the onset of an illness. These scenarios require the introduction of new systems to manage the emerging complexity.
- In other cases, there can be an emotional issue, such as hoarding disorder, that is causing the problem. These situations are challenging, and require a team-based approach to manage the situation. Key players include family members, therapists, organizers, social services providers and others.
- Other times, people simply have accumulated belongings that need to be shed. People who regularly struggle with moderate clutter are often what I call Acquirers, Keepers or both.
Acquirers are people who regularly bring new items into their environment. Buying new things and getting deals brings joy to the Acquirer:
- An acquiring parent loves to bring a stuffed animal home from a business trip to give to a child.
- Acquirers may thrill at the newest technology and most modern tools.
- Acquirers glean as much pleasure from buying supplies for a new hobby as in pursuing the hobby itself.
For Acquirers, the process of acquisition is pleasurable, relieving stress and connecting them to others.
Keepers are those who find comfort in holding onto things. Physical objects often carry significant emotional and sentimental value. Keepers also resist letting go of any pieces they have anxiety about needing it in the future. If they let it go now, they might not be able to obtain (or afford) it again in the future. Sometimes Keepers are referred to as “packrats,” but I don’t like this term. There are many positive reasons for holding on, beyond the simple piling up of goods. For example,
- Keepers can tell the story of an old sweater or a family heirloom.
- Keepers enjoy collecting and collections. They preserve the past.
- Keepers tend to have plenty of supplies and tools that come in handy.
For Keepers, the process of holding on provides a sense of significance and peace.
Individuals can be Acquirers, Keepers or both. In couple relationships, it is not uncommon for an Acquirer or Keeper to be involved with someone who is of an opposite persuasion… someone who sheds easily. On one level, this can create tension. One partner feels they are always trying to “clear out the junk,” while the other is trying preserve important memories and make sure the family has what it needs. Negotiating some ground rules (e.g. “his room” and “her space”) can be helpful, and also remember that opposites attract for a reason. They balance each other out.
If you are living in a space that is overwhelmed, consider whether you or a family member might be an Acquirer or Keeper. Healthy boundaries can be helpful in finding a peaceful middle ground.
Use a physical object as your limitation.
I can only buy shoes that will fit on the shoe storage rack in my closet. If my shoe storage space is full, I must eliminate one pair before bringing in another.
Impose a time restriction between shopping and purchasing to reduce impulse buying.
– I feel like I want to buy this now. I will make myself wait 2 days. If I still want it then, I will buy it.
Limit your purchasing to what you can pay for with cash.
– If I have to incur debt, I can’t buy it now. Once I’ve saved enough, I will get it.
Avoid mindless shopping.
– I will only go into Bed, Bath and Beyond if I need something specific, not to browse.
Establish “acquisition free” days on your calendar.
– I will only buy things on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Take someone with you into tempting situations.
– I won’t watch QVC alone at night. If I want to watch, I’ll invite my girlfriend over.
Make yourself “earn” the acquisition.
– Once I have exercised faithfully for six weeks, then I will let myself buy new running shoes.
Limit to one the objects you keep to maintain a common memory.
– I will keep Grandfather’s antique rod and reel but will let go of the old net, his fishing hat and the bag of broken lures.
Use photographs as ways to remember items that are large, unusable or decaying.
– I will take a photo of my old ballet shoes that are falling apart, frame it, and hang it in my bathroom where I can look at it every morning.
Scan and digitally store documents and images.
– I will can my favorite photos from this old, yellowing album and have them made into a book for my coffee table… and then I will throw the old album away.
Remove sentimental items from prime storage locations.
– Since I’m not wearing this old uniform, I will move it out of my closet and into a cedar closet in the attic.
Restrict your number of collections, and only collect what you can easily access, display or use.
– I will only collect one thing instead of five.
Set limits on how much you will allow yourself to keep as supplies for the future.
– I will only keep 6 reams of printer paper. Even if I see a great deal on paper, I will only buy it if I have fewer than 6 in the house.
Assign a “probability of use” to assess whether an item is worth keeping.
– What is the chance I will actually use these old curtains? If I need curtains, I will probably buy new ones that match my current décor, so I might as well donate these.
Resist saving items for someone else unless you are certain that he/she wants it.
– I’m going to ask my daughter if she wants this old dresser. If she doesn’t – even if I think she should – I will give it away.
* * * * *
When you feel like you’ve accumulated too much, consider where it is coming from. Are you an Acquirer or a Keeper? What tips do you have for keeping yourself from having too much?
16 thoughts on “Acquirers & Keepers”
After reading this, I conclude that I am a keeper. The best example is my guitar. I received it as a teenager, and I haven’t played it in quite a few years, but I don’t intend to ever part with it, because I know I’ll never buy another one.
It’s never too late to start playing it (if it is playable). I started playing later in life and although I don’t play often, I love picking it up now and then:)
I love the various boundary suggestions that you’ve shared for keepers and savers. And even if you aren’t hardcore of either, the boundary ideas are still useful. I particularly like the “acquisition free” days. What a brilliant idea for those that tend to acquire for fun. The other suggestion that resonated with me was about resisting the temptation to save items for someone else before checking to see if they actually want it. I see this dynamic frequently with parents and their adult children. The parents are often more sentimental about keeping something than their kids. A simple ask can prevent the parent from over saving…and potentially inspire them to let go of other things they might be saving.
Even I saved things in my attic that my oldest girl didn’t want, and I’m realizing my younger girl probably won’t either. It seemed like the smart, loving and frugal thing to do, but I honestly didn’t think to ask my girls if they even liked what I was keeping. I also have a spouse who is reluctant to let go, which further complicates things. But we are making progress, little by little. The struggle is real, even for organizers:)
I am genuinely a bit of both of these as I tend to acquire new when I need or want to. But I also like to keep stuff for sentimental reasons at the very least. So I appreciate your tips for both here as both could most definitely apply to me in differing scenarios.
I’m sure we all have a little of both! When we look around and see a pile-up, it is helpful to consider how it got there, and how can prevent it from getting any bigger:)
This is such a clear and easy way to understand “why clutter.” I am definitely a keeper (I really, really don’t like shopping, so I’m not an acquirer). Taking photos of items has been such a wonderful solution for me personally and for my children as they outgrew toys but had an emotional tie to the toy. As my one daughter said, “Mom, it’s hard to get rid of toys with eyes looking at you” for stuffed animals and such. Taking photos of my daughter with these toys made it easier to say good-bye to them.
Oh, I am touched by your daughter’s comment. It is actually so true! There is a paint commercial out right now where a young man is painting the walls of his new home, and has to paint over a dolphin (or something) that was painted by the previous owner. He pauses because the animal is looking right at him… same emotional hit! What a fun little photo book your daughter could have of her with all her favorite toys:)
Hi Seana, I think that I don’t fall strongly into either category now, but I think I used to be an Acquirer at least when it came to clothing. I used to regularly buy new clothes even though I didn’t really need them and rarely wore many of the pieces. After I moved, I got rid of so much of my clothing and now rarely buy new pieces. In terms of Keepers, I keep brochures, tickets, pieces of paper, etc. that I think are relevant from all our travels that I think we may need for future articles. I could probably keep less of this stuff as we have drawers and boxes full of it! However, it does seem to come in handy, just yesterday we dug through and used it for a project, so that reinforces my wanting to keep it 😉 Best, Jessica
Jessica Norah recently posted…Palamós Travel Guide: 10 Things to do in Palamós Spain
Yes, I hear that. When there is a payoff for a behavior, we tend to perpetuate it. And if you have the space for these work-related materials, then it is smart to keep them, right? Where space is an issue, there is also the option of scanning and digitizing items like that for easy recall. Of course, some of these items may have sentimental value as well, and you really want to feel and touch and look at the original. It all comes down to having a quantity that you feel comfortable with!
I think I’m both, but more of a Keeper. I can see how it can become a problem. My parents both held onto so many things from our childhood and there are FIVE of us. And they did it because we all lost a parent, and they felt clueless at doing the sorting and de-cluttering ourselves. It makes for an overrun basement, but not much damage beyond that.
I can see how loss of a parent would complicate the situation. There is an extra layer of anxiety that something important might be lost, on top of the loss of the loved one. If there is plenty of space, then holding on may not be a problem. At the same time, it is possible to hold onto so much that you never look at/enjoy any of it. Hopefully all that was saved will bring warmth to your heart in your future!!
This was great—I am a keeper while my husband is an acquirer. I see now that we have our work cut for us…..
Yes, that is a powerful combination:) My husband is the acquirer. I was more of a keeper when I was younger (kept way too much up in my attic). Working as a professional organizer has definitely turned me around to be more willing to let go. I come home from work every day and tell myself, “I need to get rid of more!”
All good suggestions. I am trying to follow them!
That is music to my ears! Simply making the effort often gets the ball rolling. Also, it is my experience that once you begin shedding unwanted items, the process gets easier and easier!