Some people have no problem with throwing things away, which are old or worthless. Others find it hard to separate from things and tend to accumulate piles of clutter over time.
Collector vs. Hoarder
Collectors collect items that are aesthetic and are selective when they are looking for something specific. They find it a joyful experience to create displays, showcasing their items in an organised or creative way. They have a sense of pride in their possessions.
Hoarders often enjoy compulsive bargain buying or the acquisition of free items. They get attached to things and believe that each item is valuable and useful. Most often they hoard items like ornaments, sale items, old clothes, containers, magazines and newspapers. Their homes are filled with unattractive clutter, often at the expense of their liveable space.
Reasons why some people can’t let go of stuff are:
- they have sentimental attachments to most things
- they believe everything has a “hidden” value
- they believe that things might be useful in future
- they think old and worn clothing still looks fine
- they want to fix old or broken items
Everyone has some attachment to the things they own. Possessions represent who we believe we are now, and who we want to be in the future. Our materialistic society influences us to buy things so that we can be “happier”. We can easily accumulate a mass of things we don’t really need. Eventually, it turns into clutter, which starts effecting our living space negatively. Physical clutter can be a sign of mental clutter, which keeps people from feeling productive and happy. Having to decide what to keep and to get rid off can leave us feeling emotionally paralysed. Things end up controlling us rather than benefiting our lives.
Hoarding sets in when things keep accumulating and when people are unable to throw anything away. An extremely cluttered home makes it more difficult to move around and carry out normal functions like not being able to sit down at the dinner table because there is no space. They find it difficult to organise their possessions and get upset when someone tries to remove anything. This can cause conflict with other family members who feel frustrated by the lack of space and are ashamed to invite others over.
There are different degrees of accumulating possessions. It often starts with a cupboard or room full of clutter. Over time the entire house can be full of clutter, affecting the functionality of the rooms. It may also lead to serious financial problems. In extreme hoarding cases, people end up living in unhealthy or dangerous conditions and are isolating themselves from the world. Especially when they live alone.
Hoarding is actually a disorder and is often linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression or dementia in older people. A traumatic event or serious loss may lead to a worsening of hoarding behaviour. It is also linked to fear of losing security and memories when we throw things out.
How to treat an accumulation or hoarding problem:
- Acknowledge that there is a problem that is becoming unbearable for you and your family.
- Be willing and motivated to treat the destructive behaviour by reading up on it.
- Don’t feel ashamed to seek help from a professional coach. There are many people with this problem and it’s easier to have support than trying to overcome it on your own.
- Understand that there is no benefit in keeping items that have no value. Only acquire anything new when it has a clear function in the present-day, not the future.
- Go through the Organised Spaces Checklist, which will help you to determine if an item has value or not.
- Start getting rid of clutter, ideally with the help of a clutter removing coach. Take small steps and each day, try to do a bit of decluttering, in order to form a new habit. Focus on the important functional areas first, e.g. kitchen, dining area and lounge.
- Go to shops and restaurants without buying or picking up new items.
- Understand that relapses can occur, but stay willing to beat this destructive behaviour
- Developing a plan to prevent future clutter. Have someone you can be accountable to and who can support you through the difficult moments.
Some might read this article and think of someone who might have an accumulation problem. Don’t try to push them to “clean out” their home. Families or cleaning agencies may spend a lot of time and money only to find that the problem recurs, often within a few months. Not only will you cause them extreme distress, but also cause them to become further attached to their possessions and they will refuse any help in future.
When dealing with a person who has a serious problem with accumulating things, subtly try to share how you or others are benefiting from an organised living space. Help them to recognize how hoarding is interfering with their life. When the person is willing to talk about it, sympathise and encourage them to start the process. Offer your help and be patient if they don’t want to let go of something worthless. It will be a slow process, as they have to rewire their approach to possessions.
“Clutter is anything that doesn’t belong in a space – whether it belongs elsewhere in your home, or it doesn’t belong in your home any longer.”
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Source: International OCD Foundation