Posted by: cassymuronaka | January 17, 2009

Genetically-engineered packrats

Twelve years ago I moved into the house in which my husband was raised amid a family of unrepentant packrats. We began as renters, eventually purchasing the house.  And from the day we crossed the threshold until this very moment, living here has been like participating in an ongoing archaeological dig.

For one thing, no one ever officially moved out.  Family members just seemed to drift away, leaving the house frozen in time.  The first to go was the oldest daughter, who followed a boyfriend up to San Francisco and never came back.  Then my husband’s widowed mother remarried and her husband, understandably, wanted a new home with his bride.  That left my husband and his younger sister, then college students, happily spreading rubble through a  four-bedroom house. When love finally found him, my future spouse moved in with me.  The remaining sister almost immediately began living with her own future husband in his apartment.

For eight years the house remained, as one friend put it, “a monument to the 1960s.”  Gardeners and pool men tended it, the telephone remained in working order, the power bills were paid, but no one actually lived there. People just visited it occasionally, so it wouldn’t get lonely. When we took ownership, every closet was bursting and you could only move far enough into the garage to reach the washer-dryer because of the bounty of the room’s contents.


We still can’t park our cars in the garage, and to this day I have no idea what is in all those boxes in the attic. Last year, we used a fruit picker pole to extract a couple of things out of the latter, including a four-foot high “GO CONQUERORS” cheerleader megaphone that amused us very much to wrap up and present to my husband’s younger sister, now 48, for Christmas. 

For one fleeting moment I felt a wave of guilt, as I saw the look of pain cross my brother-in-law’s face. Of the three of us who married into this family, he has been the most vigilant about keeping his own house pruned of excess nostalgia. The home of my other sister-in-law doesn’t look all that different from my own: clean but on the verge of being overwhelmed by Stuff.


My late neighbor, who watched the three crafty little Muronakas grow up, once told me that they came by their packrat tendencies “genetically,” meaning, straight from their mother. 

Too true. I’ve been conducting my own little scientific observation for the last seven years.  Its origins date back to when my mother-in-law was widowed for a second time.  Her husband, beloved by all, had run a pretty tight ship in his own quiet way. Within months of his passing, my mother-in-law’s home began to revert to what I can only assume is her natural habitat.  Clothing racks began to appear in the hallways and hundreds of pieces of paper started piling up on her dining room table.
One day, a filing cabinet magically appeared in that same dining room.  The fireplace also became cluttered with boxes containing scores of ceramic plates and pots, the handiwork of my mother-in-law, a very fine ceramic artist. I have no doubt that as I write this her house continues to steadily bloom with new and rediscovered treasures.

Meanwhile, the artifacts unearthed in my own home slowly began going on eBay a couple of years ago, as the reality of his environment finally began to dawn on my husband, and the necessity of generating money for his son’s college education loomed large.

Observing my beloved make these changes is not unlike watching someone grudgingly enter a 12-step program.  He recently was able to let go of a 300-lb. car lift, when he finally realized that he would not be restoring any vintage automobiles in the near future.  Conversely, he has not been able to throw away a perfectly good Skipper doll box because he anticipates finding the actual Skipper doll in mint condition any day now.




  1. It WAS a clever coffee table! I liked that coffee table!

    STICKY RAT TRAP??? Cari and I banned them from our house years ago, after seeing what they do. My janitors at school still insist on using them (poisons are illegal, for some silly reason)…just wait till you see a mouse stuck. I now insist that the instant one is caught, the janitor take the trap outside, flip it over, and smash it in one feel stomp. (They used to throw it in the trash…WITH THE LIVE MOUSE STUCK AND SUFFERING.)

    Okay, more later…gotta go do my Day of Service for Barack. I’m helping some foundation pack up school stuff for poor schools in other countries. CARI’S GOING, TOO!

  2. one FELL stomp.

  3. you have an attic?

  4. I congratulate you on your efforts to de-clutter.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always found that the most effective way of getting rid of less-than-useful belongings is to throw a party. Nothing focuses me like on getting rid of crap like the potential embarrassment of a friend coming by and thinking, “What a slob.”

  5. I really needed this belly-laugh today while I fill out report cards! It’s so me. too!!!

  6. It’s true. Anticipating any form of company is the fastest way to light a fire under a family’s rear end to get up and clean. My house is never more picked up than right before Thanksgiving or Christmas.

  7. […] (see blog post: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: