Most people struggle with clutter at some point, but when clutter begins to interfere with everyday activities, such as cooking, bathing or sleeping, it may be due to a hoarding disorder. Compulsive hoarders find it impossible to discard items that have no value, are unsanitary or create a hazard; a hoarding situation might even lead to eviction by a landlord or health department. Due to the severity and complexity of such a situation, hoarders might need the assistance of a therapist and a professional organiser to begin to declutter.
Take it slow. Because hoard and clutter syndromes are deeply rooted in the psychological make-up of the hoarder, attempting to clear the clutter in one fell swoop is a traumatic and disturbing experience. Reduce the anxiety regarding the perceived value of items and unwillingness to part with them by approaching the task in small increments.
Focus on one area at a time. Organising and cleaning an entire house all at once is impossible without a team of workers. Designate a target area, and don't get distracted with other areas until you've finished the target area.
Allocate receptacles for different categories of items. Use large plastic bags for collecting items to throw away or recycle, cardboard boxes for items to give away, and plastic bins for items to keep.
Determine whether or not an item is worthy of keeping. Honestly ask yourself if you truly love the item in question. If you don't, ask yourself if you need it or if it has any use to you. If you don't love it, need it or use it, it qualifies as clutter, and you need to let it go.
Donate or sell useful items. A hoarder finds it difficult to discard items that might come in handy. Set aside items to be donated, and box up items that are suitable for a garage sale or consignment shop.
Organise in broad strokes. In the beginning of a substantial organising effort, it's crucial not to micromanage your efforts. Aim to place like items with like, but don't get stuck on the concept of perfection.
Taking the first step in dealing with a hoarding problem begins a powerful transformational process. While it is upsetting to deal with the unresolved feelings related to the clutter, a sense of empowerment pushes you forward as you make progress.
Removing clutter may not be enough. Because hoarding is a psychological disorder --- a unique type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD --- behavioural therapy or medication might be the only help for hoarders who have experienced a relapse.
Tips and warnings
- Taking the first step in dealing with a hoarding problem begins a powerful transformational process. While it is upsetting to deal with the unresolved feelings related to the clutter, a sense of empowerment pushes you forward as you make progress.
- Removing clutter may not be enough. Because hoarding is a psychological disorder --- a unique type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD --- behavioural therapy or medication might be the only help for hoarders who have experienced a relapse.
Things you need
- Trash bags
- Cardboard boxes
- Plastic bins
- Squalor Survivors: Decluttering
- International OCD Foundation: Hoarding Fact Sheet
- Online Organizing; Do You Have Hoard and Clutter Syndrome; Peggy Hoehne
- Cornell University Environmental Geriatrics: Best Practices; Decluttering Tips
- Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland: Understanding and Treating Hoarding
- Home Organize It: Declutter Forever... Well At Least for Now
- Reader's Digest: The Hoarding Syndrome; Deborah Branscum; March 2007
- USA Today; Hoarding Behaviors Can Signal OCD, Lead to Health Problems; Barb Berggoetz; August 2010
- Straighten-Up-Now: Are You a Compulsive Hoarder?
- International OCD Foundation: Self Help
- Landlord Association: Hoarding and Cluttering Information for Landlords