The Two Reasons Why Artists And Creatives Make Virtuoso “Pack Rats”

John Maeda
6 min readAug 9, 2022
Rodent saying to themselves, “Come to think of it … I might need that thing I was just about to throw out. Phew!”
Does this sound familiar to you?

“Come to think of it … I might need that thing I was just about to throw out. Phew!” — me

Whenever I visit my 86-year old Mom, she is always showing me something sparkly and new that she’s collected. Or, more recently … because she’s preparing to die … Mom wants to give me the things that she’s held onto from when she was much younger. For example, on my recent trip she gave me this beautiful doll that she’s owned since she was 18.

Wooden Japanese-style doll with carving of blossoms.
A doll that my Mom purchased in the 1950s while visiting Japan from Hawaii just before her arranged marriage.

Like my Mom, letting go of things that I’ve collected over the years doesn’t come easily.

I used to lament how I inherited this unfortunate habit from Mom—who would feature on the Emmy-nominated TV show “Hoarders” if her collecting skills were better known. But I realize that it’s a kind of superpower that she inadvertently taught me so that I might be able to survive in life.

Mom is like a lint brush for random stuff that can range from a shiny Hawaiian keychain with puka shells to a myriad of Franklin Mint porcelain collectibles to her twelfth mini-massaging device to try and relieve her constant neck pain. She’s always proclaimed herself to be a “pack rat” as something she was slightly embarrassed about. Though to her credit, this latest massager seems to really do the trick. So the hoarding ultimately led to a positive outcome; and all I need to do is to convince her to let go of the 11 other massaging devices that sit silently in a pile. That said, she seems to enjoy talking about each of them so I don’t expect them to go anywhere soon. Hopefully.

How Artists “Think Differently” In A Nutshell

It was at an Aspen conference a while back when a cognitive neuroscientist explained to me that creative people tend to do a few things differently than more “linear” people. He didn’t have scientific evidence to prove it, and I can’t remember his name to see if he ever got to a proof, but it made sense to me given everything that I’ve experienced…



John Maeda

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Currently VP Design and A.I. at MSFT.