Baby Boomers – Collectors or Pack-Rats?

Reprinted from March 8th, 2009




Speaking as a Baby Boomer – Why do we have a hard time throwing things away?  While some of us consider ourselves “collectors”, others consider us “pack-rats”.


Remember the saying “Waste not, want not”?  That’s the credo we live by.  But when does it become just too much?  Look at all these self-storage facilities around town.  Some of us are actually paying to rent out storage units to store our stuff!  Wouldn’t it be more economical to just dump the stuff?  And if you need something you had previously dumped, use the money that you saved by not renting out a storage locker and buying a new one?


Don’t tell me we’re all sentimental fools and that the meaning of our “stuff” is the reason why we keep it.  Or is it?


Let’s take a look at where we Baby Boomers are.  Most of us in Hawaii are sansei or of the 3rd generation.  Our grandparents immigrated here with hardly anything.  They worked hard in the plantations to provide barely enough for the family to get by.  Their children, our parents who are of the 2nd generation, worked to provide a better life for us.  But most of us grew up in a single income household as our moms stayed home to raise us.  With mostly only enough to provide for food and shelter, we grew up with very few luxuries.  And the few luxuries we did have, such as a bicycle, we learned to cherish it and fix it if it broke – as there wasn’t money to buy a replacement.


We leaned to make do with what we had.  And that’s the key: what we had.


So we throw nothing away – because the more we have, the more we can make do with.  We may never know when the stuff we saved will come in handy.  But if/when we do need it, we’ll know that it’s always there – somewhere.


Our parents taught us to throw nothing away.  From the old aluminum Zip Pac containers – which could be used for storing anything from desserts to jigsaw puzzle pieces, to old bread wrappers which make for excellent lining in the slop pail.  And of course the slop pail was the plastic tub that Royal Danish ice cream used to come in.  To this day, we save the plastic bags from the market that’s used to put your produce in.  Those too make terrific slop pail liners.


Remember when mom and pop grocery stores used to pack the groceries in boxes?  And they’d flip the flaps of the box up and tie string around the outside to make the box that much deeper to hold more groceries?  And when we got home, the string was always neatly untied and wrapped around the huge ball of string from previous visits to the market.  Because who knows when we’ll one day need that piece of string.


We grew up observing our parents keeping everything, so in turn, we keep everything.


Now if that theory is true, wouldn’t our children also keep everything?  No, because our society has become a throw-away society.  So it appears that the pack-rat cycle has been broken.  Our children are better educated and can afford to replace rather than repair.  And technology has enabled goods to cost less where it’s more economical to replace rather than repair.


So when people say that our generation are pack-rats, there’s good reasoning behind it.  That’s how we were brought up and that’s how society was back then.  We worked hard for our stuff and we treasure our stuff.  We don’t throw it away because it reminds us of how far we’ve come to enjoy these things that we didn’t have growing up.


And we mask the fact by calling ourselves “collectors”.


What do you think?  Any truth to my theory?  Do you have as hard of a time throwing away your stuff as much as I do?  Do you sometimes look at your accumulation of stuff as a symbol of how far you’ve come?  And does it bug you – like it does me – when your children simply throw away their stuff – almost like a lack of appreciation?

64 Responses to “Baby Boomers – Collectors or Pack-Rats?”

  1. cmo says:

    Oh yeah, Santana! –thanks, Mark! Now cannot donate my Santana CD’s, gotta keep ’em but CD’s is one category I gotta clean out some more…somehow.

  2. Mark Shelby says:

    Mark’75… are correct. Emails to follow! Thank you man!


    Mark Shelby

  3. Mark Shelby says:

    One more for the good old days!!!!!!! You just know that we loved this!

    The Master of the Guitar!

    Santana – Oye Como Va (Live HQ – Carlos Santana)

  4. Mark Shelby says:

    cmo…..I wish I could be there. But I am too far away right now. This was the very first album….large black round disc I ever bought! I think that was 1968! Santana! Keep Going Bradda!

  5. cmo says:

    Friday at Ige’s: Rod–We will definitely do Summer Sun if you show up, and other MLC favorites like If That’s The Way That You Want It, Suavecito, some War, Santana, Twist & Shout by Beatles to give a nod to the 50th anniversary of their Ed Sullivan appearance, classic rock stuff like Bad Company and Badfinger and lots of dance music to fill the dance floor…and “What I Like About You” by the Romantics for the first time so everyone can jump up and down like kids. The place will be packed (lots of folks from various high schools showing up in groups) so good to make a reservation if need to. Thanks to Ron Ige for all those year’s of live music in Pearl City and we’ll give it one more hurrah!

  6. Mark Shelby says:

    Jan 8th 2014……I threw nothing of Historical Value away! And Proud of it! Whew!

  7. Rodney says:

    @cmo – You ready for Friday’s big RKSB (Royal Kunia Street Band) finale at Ige’s? We’ll try to be there! Summer Sun! Gotta play Summer Sun! 😉

  8. Rodney says:

    @HbH – Sorry for the late reply. Go right ahead!

  9. volleymom2 says:

    I like that- No Look Just Throw! But hard to do… you have to blindfold me to do that!!

  10. volleymom2 says:

    I guess I am both, but it also depends what it is. Although , my husband says I am a pack rat. Today’s generation? I am not speaking for everybody, but its throw a way and buy a new one. What happened to the “fix it” people? Nice to have them around.

  11. KAN says:

    @Rodney: I am living proof of that saying “Mess expands to fill space available.” Aigoo.

  12. cmo says:

    This turned out to be an enjoyable topic to read about, with helpful ideas too, especially for those of us who are hopelessly sentimental pack rats!

  13. Yoshi says:

    Funny when we bump into our ex’s – I share with you later

  14. keoni says:

    @ Linda Mahalo for checking. 🙂

  15. Mark'75 says:

    “NO LOOK JUST THROW.” check!

  16. HbH says:


    Hey uncle its dark, cold and raining here in Oregon. May I share some aloha by sharing some things I just found that might bring joy to MLCs on here and bring me joy. I wantted to ask you first before i just post. Is its ok? Its O.T.

  17. KAN says:

    “NO LOOK JUST THROW.” Words to live by.

  18. LINDA KATO says:

    2014 is the year we are organizing our home…. give away, toss, or donate to some organization….. would like to have a room open for our “guests”…. we’ve been having lots of visitors from the mainland stay with us so it would be nice to have a cleared room ❗ 😀

  19. LINDA KATO says:

    @Keoni, sorry we do not have an extra crock pot, but we have lots of other stuff…. Have a nice evening ❗ 😀

  20. Rodney says:

    Funny yeah – The more room in your house, the more junk gets collected. After we built our extension – it quickly filled up with stuff.

  21. Ynaku says:

    We are not pack rats we are recyclers 😆

    Some stuff that we haven’t used for years are either tossed, sold or donated to Goodwill.

    My wife used to harass me about my tools TELLING me to sell them. My answer is always “NO!!!! I may not be using it now BUT there will be a time when I will need it.” She will remember that the next time we or her family has a plumbing problem or something like that. How would she like it when there is a water fountain in the bathroom and she told me to sell my tools and I couldn’t change the fixture? 😀 hee hee

    I got rid of a lot of clothing after I retired. Now all the clothes fit 🙂 Cleaned out my garage closets of junks.

    When I cleaned out my dad’s place, we had a dumpster backup up to the house and we just tossed stuff in there. NO LOOK JUST THROW!

  22. Jibo's Brother says:

    Lessons from my parents:
    1. Never throw out stuff, you might need it.
    2. Live within your means, if its broke, try and fix it yourself.
    3. Buy a house, so you can save more stuff.
    4. Save for that rainy day, its gonna come.
    5. Marry a smart girl-to tell you we have too much stuff, clean up.

  23. LINDA KATO says:

    Rod: I still have my Dept. of Labor notes from 3 years ago, thinking I would go back and help them…. but have been too busy going to VEGAS. And, I have not set a toe in my former office since I retired so I decided 2014 would be the year that hubby shreds my notes from my job….. I will never go back, unless there is a hurricane and they really, really need my help with disaster unemployment claims…… I would help…..

  24. LINDA KATO says:

    Good afternoon, MLCers ❗ Happy Tuesday ❗ 😀

    Have a great day ❗ 😀

    Loved reading all of your responses ❗ 😀

    @Keoni, I don’t know if we have an extra crock pot, will ask the “hoarder” and get back to you ❗

  25. Kage says:

    @KAN – I liked the story about the bone. It only reinforces why we do not throw away things. LOL

  26. KAN says:

    @Rodney – as if!

  27. Rodney says:

    How come – the one thing I have a hard time collecting is money?

  28. Rodney says:

    @Yoshi – you and your wife have cards and pictures from former lovers boyfriends and girlfriends? And nobody makes a fuss over it? Congratulations – That’s a healthy relationship!

  29. Rodney says:

    Let’s see – The Honolulu Advertiser shut down about 3 and a half years ago. I brought home 10 bankers boxes of “stuff”. I still have the 10 boxes taking up space.

    Like KAN, I commit to clearing them out this year so you folks can hold me to it too.

    One box is filled with notes, cheats, tips & techniques, shortcuts, – basically a knowledge base on RPG II, RPG III, RPG/400 programming. Do I need to keep it? Will I ever be programming in RPG again? Perhaps. But it’s probably more efficient to find the answers on-line. Besides being quicker and more up to date.

    There is so much information at our fingertips – that we no longer need to keep the notes that we’ve compiled over the years.

    * Sorry for rambling on – trying to justify to myself about throwing out old documentation.

  30. Rodney says:

    @KAN – Your mom got the big bone to make sure your dad behaved. j/k!

  31. Rodney says:

    @4G – So, I should just take pictures of my old Little League trophies, then dump them? That’ll work! Then I can always look at the pictures if I need to reminisce.

    Thing is: “Now, which folder did I store those old trophy pictures in?”. LOL

  32. KAN says:

    In my own defense, I sorta blame my mom for my tendency to keep anything that might be useful. She has what my Aunty calls “elementary school teacher syndrome”–the tendency that teachers have to keep stuff for arts and crafts/science projects because schools are so underfunded.

    My favorite story about my mom: When said Aunty decided she was going to dress up with her work posse to be the Flintstones, my mom said “oh, good, you can borrow my bone!” My mom had a foam rubber bone about a foot-and-a-half across. Even mom has no idea where she got it from or what she intended to do with it otherwise. But it was useful to someone!

  33. KAN says:

    @4G: no hinting, but if there was a Hoarder’s Anonymous, maybe I should go! 😉

    I’ve gotten better at getting rid of stuff. Case in point: last year, I came across a box of old Christmas stuff that I hadn’t opened since Sweetie & I became a couple (over 18 years ago). I kept some stuff I wanted, separated out stuff I thought other people might enjoy, and am going to donate the rest.

    I’m still in the “cannot clean because of the New Year” period, but starting tomorrow, I’m making a list of “rat’s nest” spots in the house where I need to pull everything out, take out stuff I don’t use, and donate/trash them. Check back with me in about 5 months’ time – keep me accountable!

  34. Mark Shelby says:

    James Taylor, Secret O’ Life ……

    Carry On! MLC’ers! God Bless You!

  35. Mark Shelby says:

    Choose Wisely…. NaPueo

    Good luck!

  36. Mark Shelby says:

    Great song Mark’75……I always loved that! Even when I was just 10 years old I knew that song was very special. Keep Going!

  37. NaPueo says:

    I’m a pack rat. I inherited this trait from my grandfather and parents. We had a basement full of stuff. Now I have a condo with a lot of stuff. Need to toss a lot of it. Wish me luck.

  38. Mark Shelby says:

    I would consider myself not only a collector but a saver. This story is more about nostalgia, and why I became a saver and collector. I got my first job in Honolulu in 1964. I did TV commercials for Wigwam Department Stores, for the toy Department. We filmed at KGMB. I was just 9 years old and I made $1.35 per hour. By 1967 Wigwam was showing our TV commercials on the Checkers and Pogo show. I was still making $1.35 per hour. Then that summer in 1967, I was just 13 years old and I worked that summer at our Wigwam Store on Dillingham Blvd. Cleaning the parking lot and inside store for just $1.35 per hour. When I would go to buy something, I would calculate in my head how many hours it would take me to buy that item, to see if all of that hard work was worth it to own that item. Since I made so little, I took care of everything I bought to make it last as long as it could. I was very proud, that at the young age, I never had to ask my Dad for money. I wanted to be like Dad and work hard for what I owned. So I took care of everything special thing I bought and made it last as long as I could. I would call the collector side, the sentimental side. Yup, that’s me too. So fun to have something from your past to give you all of the fun memories that it will stir up. I know what to throw out, that’s the things that are not special to me. As somebody said above, kids these days will just throw anything out. At times I feel that the sentimental feeling of our generation and parents hard working past has now been lost, along with the hard work ethic in some. Carry on you good Collectors! You are the Savers of OUR Past!
    ~Mark Shelby

  39. cmo says:

    I think there’s something to Rod’s packrat-boomer theory. For me, as a UH student many years ago, just about all my belongings fit in 1/2 of a pie-shaped room in the “rubbish can” round dorms (Aloha Towers). Then as I moved into a one bedroom apartment, then two bedroom condo, then into larger homes, I collected stuff and more stuff. Now I realize I have too much stuff and I’ve dedicated time to cleaning and organizing sections at a time but I still end up with too much stuff! So I guess I’m a living example and I’m going to keep working at simplifying, organizing, and cleaning out my things in 2014.

  40. keoni says:

    Eh Linda, you get one extra crockpot? I could use that! 🙂

  41. dihudfan says:

    I love to keep things… just in case… but, my other half is a neat freak… so one day I might have a lot of junk I collected, and the next day it is gone… like magic, things disappear now and than… no sense grumbling, things keep disappearing…

  42. Yoshi says:

    My wife and I, both have pictures and cards from former boyfriends and girlfriends. Does that count as collector?

  43. Mark'75 says:

    A pack rat’s delight:
    Classics IV – Traces

  44. hydroman72 says:

    I always said our generation is the luckiest generations. We grew up, understood, and work with our grandparents & parents’s generation where everything was a struggle but somehow we made ends meet. Then we got to see the “electronic age” generation where everthing is fast, exciting and online. We had to learn and keep up with the new because if you didn’t, you basically couldn’t keep your job, or even get a job.
    We also see on TV, the things which we played with when we were kids, are not worth big bucks if we kept it in the box. (Yeah right, when I got a new toy, it was worth playing with it)
    Our generation has the best of all generations, we have pack rats, collectors and “neat” (lk’s) people.
    We can’t help but keep things because at one time, we did toss out that old ball of string and the next day, we need a strand of string. So we go out and buy one.
    We can’t help but keep things because it’s worth $$$$ to someone out there and it’s not made anymore.
    We can’t help but clean out all the crapola because that’s how we grew up, keep things clean, neat and in order.
    I think our kids are growing up with buying anything they need, when they need it. They won’t even change the car’s oil because it’s more convienent to go to Jiffy Lube. I do get upset when my kids don’t show any appreciation for things they just toss out because it’s “junk” or “ugly”. “It still works, make use of it”.
    On the other hand, I learn from my kids on getting rid of things that are no longer needed or will never get fixed. “Dad, you had this for 2 years, and you tried to fix it twice and it still don’t work, are you seriously going to spend another $$$ to fix it? And when it’s done, are you actually going to use it?” Ok, point made. LOL
    I agree with 4G, take a picture, pdf a letter, keep everything electronic file. It may take a while but it’ll still be there and we can reminisce. (We call also say, I told you, I should have kept it!) LOL

  45. Mark'75 says:

    @LK: CRAPOLA ❗ 😆

  46. Mark'75 says:

    @4G: “Easier to deal with 15-years of crap rather than 40!” Sound words to live by. buuuuuuuut…hold onto that memory box!

  47. 4G says:

    A little over two-years ago, I went through a serious downsizing effort. I went from, essentially, a good sized “house” space that I had occupied for a good 15-years into a tiny, sub-600 square foot one-bedroom condominium. I am happy that the circumstances evolved such that I was forced to do that. Heaven knows I would have had to have done that sooner or later, anyway, and I am quite relieved that it has been accomplished. I’m pretty sure that the effort required that I ended up having to “unload” well more than half of the physical items that I possessed at the time.

    For me, the choice was pretty simple. Many factors were already decided. The space I was in was way larger than I needed and the reality was that my “stuff” had expanded into that space to make it live-able and there was no need to “unload” because there was enough storage around to accommodate all the “stuff”. I had to move for a couple of reasons, and, there were only a couple of months to perform the downsizing (had to coordinate both normal trash pick-up and bulk item pick-up [to say nothing about multiple runs to Goodwill]). I had to downsize and do it relatively quickly.

    There simply was not going to be enough space to store all that I possessed in the new location. I thought about commercial storage options, but had a hard time justifying spending something like a $1,000 per year to store stuff that I really had not touched in years.

    To be honest, it was a bit painful to get rid of some of the old stuff. There were “memories” and “sentimentalities” connected with a lot of the stuff that I needed to get rid of. I think it helps if the downsizing effort is predicated on necessity – that way, you don’t have a lot of “choice” in the matter. It gets easier after you get started. It also helps if you know that the stuff you get “rid” of will be put to good use by someone else.

    The reality is that the really fond memories don’t necessarily go away just because you got rid of the stuff. If anything, you might lose the “surprise” of stumbling across some article from long ago that you had completely forgotten about and that might trigger a memory. But the way I figure it, if you don’t remember, you won’t know you lost it, right? LOL. Oh – take the time to reminisce (one last time) as you sort through and finally get rid of that “treasured” item! 😉 You might be surprised how little time you actually spend reminiscing . . . . Oh – hey, you could also take a picture of that item. Next up, hard drive clutter! LOL!

    Basic rule of thumb – if you have not needed it/used it for a year, or worse, multiple years, it’s a good candidate to go. There’s nothing like a physical lack of space to force the issue. 😉 Is it really cheaper to keep holding on to something that you “might use” when you factor in the storage cost, the inability to actually find said item when you need it (to say nothing of the effort/aggravation involved in the “search”), and the fact that it might not be good anymore by the time you get around to actually needing to use it? That, and, how much does it really cost to go buy the thing that you need, should you need it?

    Bottom line – if I had the space to store more stuff, I likely would, but I can’t, so I don’t. 😉 LOL. I ended up getting rid of a lot of, (@LK’s word) – CRAPPOLA! LOL.

    Oh, motivation was also helped by previously helping to “downsize” my parents from their home of over 40-years into a little one-bedroom condominium in a retirement community. Lesson there? Easier to deal with 15-years of crap rather than 40! LOL!

    I’m sort of at the point where any significant acquisition requires that something else goes (to make space for it).

    It’s also nice knowing that the final clean-up upon your final curtain call won’t be too imposing on whomever has to do that . . . . 🙂

    Oh – I should add that I do have a “memory” box. It’s totally reasonable in size (it’s like a medium-sized storage container) and physically limits how many “memories” (and how large) can actually be stored at any given time.

  48. eddyo says:

    Happy New Year MLCers!

    Interesting topic esp. for Japanese with da curse of no throw away cuz someday you watch you goin’ need em & den wat no mo’! I’m nearing retirement (less than 3months) and so have started to clean out & clear out stuff. The hardest is old letters, from friends, loves, pen pals & family. No one writes letters & postcards anymore…
    My dear friend died of cancer a few years back& rather keep the letters, I burned them with the first big rain & hoped that the smoke & ashes would mix with the rain & give life somewhere else.
    Hopelessly sentimental, but boomers still remember how to be sentimental, eh?

  49. 4G says:

    Hi, KAN! 😉 LOL!

    Hmm – wonder if this hints at any meetings I might have attended? LOL.

  50. KAN says:

    Hi, my name is KAN, and I’m a packrat.

  51. Rodney says:

    @Gareth – Hi Gareth! Welcome and thank you for posting the the MLC blog. You’re a very insightful person and I welcome your thought, ideas, and memories!

  52. LINDA KATO says:

    Definition of “CRAPOLA”… stuff one doesn’t need or use!

    My girlfriend asked for a table to use for her sewing! I have a long white table we have saved for 24 years, unused….. she’s taking THAT! Yay! One less stuff of CRAPOLA in our home! She can sew on it and then put paper over it and throw a party and use that nice long white table. Anyone else needs stuff??? Just ask!!! The time is NOW!!! Price is FREE!!!

    What’s so wrong with NEAT and nice! I found another bunch of vinyl records! We took half a cabinet to Jelly’s and practically gave it away! Now I have to go again, found some more! Endless CRAPOLA! As you can tell, I’m NOT sentimental….. I just want a NEAT and clean home ❗ 😀 It’s easier to clean when the room is empty!!! 😀

  53. LINDA KATO says:

    Hubby is a packrat and I am not! Hard to live with someone who likes NEAT and someone who saves everything! That is an understatement!!!

    We recently completed renovation of our 2 bathrooms and our master bedroom. Our bedroom now looks like a pretty hotel room with no crapola in it…. only because I won’t let back in all the stuff that was previously there so all the crapola is in our living room still waiting to be sorted through! Lots of stuff…. told hubby give away or throw away it’s not going back into our very nice room! Very hard for him to do…. he wants to SAVE everything!!! Well he has until my next Thanksgiving party to get rid of it since all that crapola is NOT going back into our room!!!

  54. Kage says:

    My dad used to save the little plastic scooper thing from the cheese and cracker snacks. Not sure what he ever did with them.

  55. Kage says:

    I used to be a pack rat. I now go through things and think less sentimental about certain items. Yes, I made that turtle in the 3rd grade. Uhmmmm…. I do not need to keep it anymore. I enjoyed it, my parents enjoyed it, but it was not prize winning awesome. Time for it to go.

  56. jaydee says:

    Oh sure, we “re-purpose” almost everything. Reuse the plastic utensils, even the containers they give you in take-out restaurants if theyre good plastic. I get a whole box full of assorted screws, nuts, bolts etc. because you never know when you have need.

  57. 4G says:

    I agree with you, @Rod. In addition, I think we need to also think about and factor in the impact the Great Depression had on this issue as I think that period also added significantly to the mindset/outlook of those that came a generation or two before us – and, therefore, influenced us, as well.

    I want to make a better entry on this topic, but that will have to be done a little later.

  58. Hawai'ian by Heart says:

    Lol Im both. Im a paper packrat :-). Anything paper, documents, old letters, photos, old mail lol. It all goes in a box or drawer! Because you never know when you will need an old bill to prove you paid it or like Mark take a trip down small kid time.

    I also can make do with what i have. Fixing things etc. But a big gift I learned, is how to live simple without tons of stuff or tons of stuff to buy and I love it. My mother and tutu were serious packrats! Not for the faint of heart. 🙂

  59. Gareth says:

    We baby boomers were born into a time of relative peace and prosperity; WWII had ended, Ike was President, and Dad and Mom ruled our universe. All that was swept away in the late 60’s; many of society’s values were discarded or remade in the Vietnam War protests and the Woodstock/Summer of Love. So, we boomers hold onto possessions and artifacts from the 50’s and 60’s, as nostalgic and comforting reminders of a bygone era.

  60. Lowtone123 says:

    My mother-in-law used to wash and reuse take out wooden chopsticks.

  61. Lowtone123 says:

    My parents were not the packrat types. I grew up learning what to keep, what to give away that was in good condition to the Salvation Army and what to throw away was an annual spring cleanup chore. My mother-in-law grew up in wartime Hiroshima and had to raise seven kids with one paycheck so she kept everything and reused or repurposed a lot. I applaude my wife for trying, but her idea of cleaning up is to put everything into a bags and stuff it into the closet to go through later (which she does eventually, usually much later).

  62. Mark'75 says:

    Your mention of string around boxes reminds me of growing up and bringing ‘omiyage’ home from Hilo. Boxes, and I mean BOXES of stuff bound with cords or thin rope were brought home each time and the bindings were saved for tying up stuff like old newspapers and magazines for rubbish.

  63. Mark'75 says:

    Very true Rodney, very true. I’ve kept things of sentimental value over the years and do have a hard time throwing THAT stuff out. Things that no longer hold much value gets tossed over time. I still have a few boxes in my old bedroom closet that mom ‘reminds’ me to throw away that hold things like my old Duncan Imperial and Gold Award yoyos, bicycle license plate, plastic shapes like twisted diamonds and hearts made in 8th grade shop class, a bag of old track shoe spikes, an old “Sgt. Rock and His Howling Comandos” comic book, intermediate and HS school newspapers, “Youth Unlimited” newspapers, etc. To me, the boxes are like time capsules that I like to look at from time to time. Hard to throw away? You bet!

  64. Mark'75 says:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *