The Pack Rat: a Study in the Behavioral Sciences


HABITAT

Found in a variety habitats in a broad range of climates, the pack rat is a highly adaptable species. Urban life in particular offers a plethora of collectibles for one to snap up and squirrel away. Waste is a natural byproduct of a crowded city and the pack rat is able to fully embrace the mentality that “one person’s trash is another’s treasure.” Empty boxes. Shipping pallets. Crushed cans. A bit of ribbon. A shoe without a mate. These things that others throw away will only add to and distinguish the pack rat’s abode.

The pack rat’s motto of “you never know when you’re going to need it” reminds neighbors to be mindful of the saying, “use it or lose it.” Items discarded in the hallway or carelessly stowed in the basement go missing. Built for speed, with shifty eyes, the pack rat snitches and snatches at anything that is not nailed down. Things that are nailed down will be sought after as well, they just take a little longer—a little more finesse—to be commandeered. Entering the pack rat’s apartment, visitors are struck with a sense of wonder. Trash, cleverly disguised as a collection of trinkets, lines the shelves. Opening drawers reveals a wasteland of odds and ends, meticulously stowed by the pack rat.

BEHAVIOR

Single staples. Scraps of paper. Used tin foil. A spool of thread. All sizes and colors of rubber bands. The pack rat is as fully stocked as Office Max, if not more so. Stopping by the pack rat’s desk at work, a colleague asks, “do you have a…” “no” is the pack rat’s immediate response, loathe to share their wealth.  “Isn’t that my pen?” the same colleague asks. “I don’t think so,” the pack rat replies, tucking the pen behind an ear before it can be further scrutinized for identifiable traits. As the suspicious colleague walks away, the pack rat will open their top drawer, counting to make sure all ten rolls of scotch tape, each of the four staplers, every binder clip, post-it, and tack is precisely arranged.

To an obsessive-compulsive pack rat with an eye for organization, saving a complete magazine would be absurd. Rather, the pack rat regularly buzzes through a stack of magazines, snipping and filing in a flurry of activity: pictures, quotes, articles. All ideas to be saved for later, filed into an elaborate system of categories which appears senseless to the untrained eye. (Never fear though, there are also uses for the discarded clippings—they are just the thing for an upcoming craft project). Files are stored in boxes which are in turn stored on the top shelf of the closet, where they will not collect dust. Oh no, on the contrary, they will be retrieved and pored over in spontaneous episodes of late-night fact-checking.

Often frazzled and high on caffeine at the office after such a raucous bout of nocturnal activity, the pack rat attracts stares and rumors about their home life. The pack rat might find that others stop speaking when the pack rat enters the room. Maybe they eye the pack rat’s watches, or the pair of phones the pack rat always carries.

 

RECOMMENDED RESPONSES

For the pack rat, it may be important for the health of work relationships to learn to share. To stop taking things from other people’s desks or apartments, and to try to refrain from treating the storage closet as an all-you-can-carry buffet of office supplies.

As for those living and working with the pack rat, it is advised to resist the urge to shake the pack rat until Christmas ornaments and coffee stirrers fall onto the ground. Rather, it is recommended that loved ones (or maybe just concerned ones) broach the subject carefully, perhaps offering small and frequent gifts of appreciation to discourage the pack rat from taking what is not theirs. When addressing the pack rat, keep in mind that the pack rat is a hoarder and their first inclination will be to distract you, grab everything in sight and escape quickly. Keep your voice low and don’t make any sudden movements.

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