THE KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HOARDING AND CLUTTER – AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
Updated: Mar 10
With the advent of so many home improvement and lifestyle shows like the marvellous Marie Kondo, it’s easy to get caught up in the craze of purging excess belongings for a cleaner, more minimalist lifestyle.
Never in history have op shops been so well stocked as they appear to be now. People are becoming more conscious of their relationship to what they own; learning how to live more sustainably and gaining better mental health for instance.
This is of course fantastic!
I’m noticing, however, that perhaps people are getting a little carried away with their efforts to create a simpler life, both for themselves and others.
Often when I mention what I do in conversation, a person will say, “Oh, I should get you to work with my mother. She’s a real hoarder.” I then ask the question, “Are your mother’s things affecting her quality of life?” to which the person’s response is invariably no, but they have too much stuff and never throw things away.
This is where it’s important to know the difference between clutter and Hoarding Disorder (HD).
The Cambridge Dictionary defines clutter as “to fill something in an untidy or badly organised way”.
Clutter is very much in the eye of the beholder. Everyone has a different degree of clutter they are comfortable with and organisational styles can vary greatly between individuals, influencing the way things are stored, or not stored as the case may be.
Clutter can take many forms, whether it be papers on the kitchen bench - to boxes of fishing gear and old computers in the garage.
People may have lots of things, either visually displayed or otherwise, that might seem excessive to you, but to them, those items are valuable. Ultimately, that person won’t have a problem throwing away everyday rubbish like chip packets, which is key for a healthy home environment.
Clutter can be the result of someone going through a transition period or time of stress, interrupting the tidy system they used to have. Sometimes the person has incurred an injury or illness and is simply unable to physically tidy up, and so an accumulation develops.
Hoarding Disorder was named as a distinct mental illness in 2013 and can take the form of an obsessive compulsive disorder. It is a debilitating illness that compromises the persons’ quality of life.
The person has significant trouble deciding what to keep and throw away and may hoard animals as well as household items. The excessive acquisition of items coupled with the strict retention of them often leads to conditions of squalor not to mention financial stress, the deterioration of health and strains on family relationships.
Other features are:
The sheer volume of clutter fills entire hallways, rooms and fittings to the point where they can’t be used for their intended purpose any more e.g. Tupperware filling a bathtub and shower. The overflow can also extend outside onto the veranda and yard, raising issues with neighbours and the local council.
The person who hoards feels a strong emotional bond with their items, like we would our loved ones or pets and can feel a deep sense of grief when parted from them.
Sufferers of Hoarding Disorder (HD) may also have ADHD or dementia.
What this means for you:
If you feel that you have a problem with the clutter in your life:
Take a moment to think about whether it’s an actual problem for you or whether you’re comparing yourself to Pinterest and Instagram worthy lifestyle pics that may not actually be a realistic fit for you.
Leaving judgement at the door, list a few specific areas you feel you could improve on e.g. "I really need to be more conscious of the paper I bring in to the house" or "I need to corral my hobby supplies into just one room."
List a few areas where you know you are already successfully organised e.g. Your coffee making supplies are always neat and replenished, you always know which part of your bag has your business cards, pen and keys.
You don’t need to block out hours a day to make progress with your clutter. You could start off by organising a drawer or a shelf while you’re waiting for something to bake. Time yourself to 15 minutes. Start with an area/drawer that you use a lot and bugs you. This way you’ll feel that quick sense of accomplishment to encourage you to continue.
If you’d like an objective point of view and someone by your side to help you through the process, which can be an emotional one, you can contact me on 0478 031 602 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. No job is too big or small.
If on the other hand, you think someone you know could use my help, I’d be happy to have a chat with them. Firstly though, think about whether they have expressed an interest in decluttering and how likely it would be for them to accept outside help. The person must want the change for themselves. Forcing it on someone may cause resentment.
While I don’t work in the hoarding area myself yet, I do have professional contacts who would be more than happy to help you or a person who is showing signs of Hoarding Disorder. There is so much support available.
Take the opportunity now to think - where in your life are you already successfully organised, and how might you apply this in other areas?
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Have a great week,