Pack rats in fiction: Through the Looking Glass

Many months ago, reader John directed me to re-read the Alice adventure Through the Looking Glass. John said there was a terrific example of a pack rat contained in the book, and I discovered it exactly as he said I would. In chapter eight of the tale “It’s My Own Invention,” Alice encounters the White Knight, a man with a nasty manifestation of Just-in Case syndrome.

The White Knight’s character description begins on page 122 of the book — a book you can access for free on Google Books, since the book is in the public domain. An example of his pack-rat ways:

“You see,” [the White Knight] went on after a pause, “it’s as well to be provided for everything. That’s the reason the horse has all those anklets round his feet.”

“But what are they for?” Alice asked in a tone of great curiosity.

“To guard against the bites of sharks,” the Knight replied. “It’s an invention of my own. And now help me on. I’ll go with you to the end of the wood — What’s that dish for?”

“It’s meant for plum-cake,” said Alice.

“We’d better take it with us,” the Knight said. “It’ll come in handy if we find any plum-cake. Help me to get it into this bag.”

This took a long time to manage, though Alice held the bag open very carefully, because the Knight was so very awkward in putting in the dish; the first two or three times that he tried he fell in himself instead. “It’s rather a tight fit, you see,” he said, as they got it in at last; “there are so many candlesticks in the bag.” And he hung it to the saddle, which was already loaded with bunches of carrots, and fire-irons, and many other things.

The White Knight has “so many things hung round the horse” that he falls off the horse every few feet. Most every time he falls from the horse he hits his head on the ground. His clutter and irrational collection of Just-in Case items keeps him from living the life he desires (certainly one where he is an amazing horse rider).

Are you keeping things you don’t need, like the White Knight, just in case you might one day need them? You probably aren’t falling or hitting your head because of these items, but is storing them causing problems in other ways? Are you wasting money on a self-storage unit? Are you sacrificing storage space in your home or office that could be used in other ways for purposes you value more? Would letting some of these items go improve the quality of your space? Only you know if you would see the White Knight if you looked in a mirror.

13 Comments for “Pack rats in fiction: Through the Looking Glass”

  1. posted by Amy on

    I soooo needed to read this today. I am sorting thru my skinny clothes right now. I have already listed my fat clothes on eBay. I guess it’s easier to give up on a nightmare rather than a dream.
    I keep hoping that once the menopause is settled, the menopot will be gone. (Off with its tummy)HAHA.
    At least that’s the plan.

  2. posted by Cindi on

    I could just cry at the friends and family around me who are living the life of the White Knight and just don’t see how badly it’s affecting the quality of life for themselves and their children…this is a fantastic description of someone with a problem.

    Been thinking lately how I need to do a strong purge in my own little apartment cause it’s starting to look messy, just procrastinating is all.

  3. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    Been working hard to purge my own packrat nest. Pleased with how it is turning out! Next is my laundry/storage room/pantry/throw-everything-else-you-don’t-know-where-to-out room!

  4. posted by Gal @ Equally Happy on

    I’m about to move houses and, in the process of packing, I’ve discovered several items that remained boxed up from the previous move (four years ago). I’ve also found a few items that were placed in the garage when I moved into this house and then promptly forgotten. It surprises me because I’ve always thought of myself as someone with very little clutter in his life, but apparently, I was wrong.

    No worries though, no time like the present to take care of the clutter 🙂

  5. posted by priest's wife on

    hmmmm- time to declutter some more

  6. posted by *pol on

    In answer to all the questions… “yes”.

    I am emotionally ready to live an uncluttered life. More than ready! The clutter is sapping so much out of me where it used to give me comfort.

    I was the White Knight, but I am seeing how ludicrous it is at this point in my life. I was always afraid of NEEDING something. Now I know that what I need most is the people I care about, and the “stuff” is just dead weight for the most part. Now I have more faith in my own abilities to provide, so I don’t have to keep as much “just in case”.

    The toughest part of the transition from packrat to uncluttered is getting rid of the past what-ifs. Aquiring new what-ifs just doesn’t seem to be a problem, its the past clutter that haunts me the most.

  7. posted by ecuadoriana on

    The craziest example is that the White Knight has metal anklet on the horse’s feet “To guard against the bites of sharks.”

    That reminded me of a friend I have who lives on the third floor of an apartment building & keeps a 5 gallon bucket of fertilizer on her back (3′ x 6′ facing an alley) terrace for the day when she can finally move into her own house & have a real yard & garden. She is going on 60 and has been in that apartment almost 10 years now.

    The point is, some things just ain’t ever going to happen! So, shed the junk, get out, and live the life you can have right now! Don’t give up on dreams, but be realistic to your situation & reality. I even tried to encourage my friend to join a community garden (and call a haz mat company to get rid of that bucket of fertilizer!). But she insists on saving it for that “big day” when she buys her own home & plants her own garden! Meanwhile, she just watches gardening shows on TV.

    She will probably have the bucket of fertilizer spread across her grave. Then she’ll have her garden.

  8. posted by Zen friend on

    LOVE IT!

    Erin – This might be the perfect intro to the “10th anniversary Edition” of your book…

  9. posted by JC on

    For me it’s accepting that I will most likely never find the time to start, let alone complete, various projects. Years ago when I purchased (or was given) many of the materials, I had more disposable time and the desire to do these things. Now, having adopted two children one of which has some special needs, the materials are taking up space and inducing negative feelings for not getting things done. I’ve recently started an inventory list of these projects and materials. I’m prioritizing them using a calendar with deadlines, and being truly realistic about completion. For those things I’ve determined not important, but are inducing negative thoughts/feelings for being incomplete, I am purging them from my home. For the rest, I’ve set realistic deadlines and marked them on the calendar for purging if I’ve not completed the project or used the materials otherwise.

    While cleaning the garage in our old house I came across several buckets of nails my husband was saving. I saw no need for them and wanted to get rid of them. DH insisted that we keep them. Eight years later, we used them building our current home and he has not let me forget that we actually did eventually need them.

  10. posted by Lisa Zaslow on

    Hysterical! As a professional organizer I have seen sooo many examples of “shark anklets” (that may be my new term for the Just in Case items. One favorite: a woman’s closet was overflowing with sheet sets. She pointed out the queen size sheets. I asked her about them, since she had a king sized bed. “They’re for my country house.” I was suspicious, since if they actually were, they would probably BE at the country house. So I asked, “Do you have a country house?” She said she hoped to have one some day. I said when the happy time came that she could afford her country house, she could easily buy new sheets. Relieved and enlightened, she tossed those anklets that had been cluttering her closet for years.

  11. posted by Julia1060 on

    This is a great thread! Lots of good reminders from all and sundry about why and what to do with cluttered thinking. As I get older, I realize that my “eyes bigger than my stomach” mentality just won’t deliver the time to complete all of the ideas I’ve prepared to complete.
    @Amy: My personal favorite is “menopot”- finally, the word I’ve been looking for!

  12. posted by Teresa on

    I am a HUGE proponent of organization (a better means to contain clutter) – i have TONS of stuff; Reading this caused me to have an “ahh hah” moment. I will be moving next year and I’ve been contemplating the horror of it all! I have 15 years of accumulation in my possession. I’m happy to report that while I have more than my share of possessions, I tackled the paper problem long ago; mail comes in the door, is immediately sorted over the trash can and what is kept is put in its home “the bills folder, (every month has a pocket, an Action folder and a Reading pile that has a finite amount of space so that it doesn’t overflow and become overwhelming. Any paper I need to keep gets scanned for electronic filing and I use my friend “evernote” (best thing ever) to keep notes on everything.
    However, for all the good I’ve accomplished, I am like the white knight — I have a house full of “just in case” items – add to that the “one day I’m going to” items (all those wonderful crafting things and the recipe files that are overflowing!!!) and it a far cry from my good practices around paper.
    This article motivates me to separate everything I have into categories:

    I use all the time
    I use sometimes (these are for tools, seasonal and other household things you use regularly but not high frequency and you don’t want to replace every time you use – like i don’t use flashlights all the time, but i need ’em)

    and here’s the opportunity to lighten the load:
    the almighty “just in case” this is different than the previous category because the last time (if ever) the item was used is a distant memory and it can be replaced at a reasonable cost should you actually need to use it.

    lastly those hard to let go of
    “one day” – you know, for that future life we’re going to have that is full of free time; this is an opportunity to either DO IT, or get rid of it!

    thank you for making me think about this!

    p.s. just found your blog and I love it!

  13. posted by Dia on

    Ha – I’d forgotten this part of the story!!
    Gives a whole new meaning to white knight, doesn’t it now??
    I’ve spent much of the day on my living room, having given the kitchen a good clear/clean just before Thanksgiving – feels so good! & (though I took a dinner & art break a bit ago) looking better too!

    Tee hee – ‘menopot’ – good one!!
    I have been quite delighted to find that mine melted away after I stopped eating gluten about 18 months ago, & I’m now back to my early adulthood size & shape!! (+ 20# lighter!)
    Woo hoo gluten free – talk about ‘clearing the clutter’ … it also tends to fog the mind, so for folks having trouble getting motivated, I highly recommend trying a week or two ‘glue(ten) free, & see if you feel less ‘stuck’ 🙂
    Thanks for all your inspiration!

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