Day 80: Clutter Crisis or Hoarding? How To Tell The Difference.

8,000 things gone, only 2,000 to go

Recently, the subject of hoarding has garnered a lot of attention in the media. So, when you find yourself in a bit of a clutter crisis like I did, it’s hard not to wonder where your problem rates on the grand scale of clutter.

my worst area of clutter

80 days and 8,000 things ago, if you asked me if I was a hoarder, I would have unequivocally said: “No,” and promptly pointed the finger at my husband, Squirrel.

So I was shocked to discover that while I lack the compulsion to excessively acquire things that is characteristic of hoarding, I have a number of traits that psychology professor,Randy Frost, describes as causing hoarding problems. What’s more is that I seem to have unconsciously tailored my 100 things 100 days project to circumvent these habits.

I am a visual spatial organizer.

– I have to see something to remember it. Reducing my possessions via 100 things 100 days means I can spread things out in my closets and drawers where I can see them. Knowing where everything is “in space” really helps me remember where stuff is when I need it. That leaves me few things to organize categorically like bills, health records, travel documents, insurance papers etc. I should tell you that Squirrel took over the care of  important papers around about the time I lost the kids health cards.

I have trouble categorizing objects.

– I purposely left organizing and categorizing out of the project. Keeping focussed on the goal of moving unwanted or unneeded things out of my home helped me from getting lost in a myriad of organizing dilemmas. The best part is that only keeping things I use regularly means that they practically organize themselves. I keep everything close to where I use it the most. Easy!

I exhibit perfectionism.

– I used to delay throwing things out because I didn’t want to toss anything that can be recycled or vice versa. Yes, I want to do garbage perfectly. A few google searches was all it took to compile a list of resources that answered most of my recycling questions. Now I do my best to find a good home for my stuff and, failing that, I toss it. I’d rather take the guilt hit myself than donating something that charities have to spend their time and resources disposing of. And 100 things is just 100 things, it’s neither good nor bad.

I have difficulty concentrating on (and sticking to tasks) that require decision making.

When I started the project, I knew I had not stuck to anything long enough to solve my clutter problem. All those decisions were exhausting! So, I pared down the questions that used to plague my organizing sessions (Where does it belong? What other things go with it? How should I store it?  Will someone’s feelings be hurt if I donate it? Where did we get it? Don’t we have another one just like this? Could we use this somewhere else? etc. etc. etc.) to two:

1) Do we want it or need it?

2) Where can I recycle/dispose of it?

And when deciding whether I want something I ask myself one more thing: Do I want to dust, launder, fluff, move, find, fix, clean or otherwise maintain this? It has to add a lot of value to my life to inspire me to dust!

A year ago, I felt so defeated by my stuff that I was ready to hire someone to deal with it. Now, I’m glad I didn’t. Having all 8,000 things actually pass through my hands gave me invaluable insight into my purchasing and cluttering habits.

What’s the greatest gift of the project so far? It’s realigned my priorities. I have an active family and we spend a lot of our weekends away mountain biking or skiing. As much as we all like our stuff, none of us would trade any of our freedom to stay home and maintain it.

If you’re as fascinated with your habits as I am, this video by hoarding expert Randy Frost is required viewing.

And if you wonder where your clutter falls in the grand scheme of things, you can view Frost’s clutter rating scale here.

Good luck and let me know how it’s going – whatever your number.

What I tossed today: A circus worthy assortment of stuff from Squirrel’s garage which was so random that it will undoubtedly be the subject of my next post!


13 thoughts on “Day 80: Clutter Crisis or Hoarding? How To Tell The Difference.

  1. It’s so interesting to read the triggers because I exhibit many of the same myself (perfectionism, difficulty concentrating, visuospatial memory, etc.). I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only garbage perfectionist (actually wrote about that very subject a few weeks back!). Although most say we lack clutter, it still feels overly cluttered to me. You are doing SO well, and you really give me and so many others hope!

  2. “A year ago, I felt so defeated by my stuff that I was ready to hire someone to deal with it. Now, I’m glad I didn’t. Having all 8,000 things actually pass through my hands gave me invaluable insight into my purchasing and cluttering habits.”

    This is wise. If someone else swoops in and fixes the problem, how would you prevent it all from piling up again?

    My grandma was a real hoarder; when I was a child, we could spend the night at her house and sleep in beds, on couches, in sleeping bags on the floor. By the time I was in college, there was only a walking path through her fairly large house, stuff stacked everywhere, dead cars and a van crammed with junk, an entire garage you could only enter if you sucked in your gut and turned sideways… scary. When she died, I have NO idea how they got a stretcher in to remove her body.

    I am not a clutter person. On the contrary, I am a stuff-purger, and get rid of things for fun. I’m uncomfortable owning too many things. As a child, I organized mom’s things and picked fleas off of cats for fun. It’s hard to know if this is some inevitable part of my hard-wiring, or if it was an unconscious reaction to my grandma’s house…

    • I sure could have used you around here when my kids had lice. It’s odd how getting rid of those nits became a challenge and an obsession.
      I read that hoarding behaviour starts to accelerate around the age of 50, so that could have been the case with your grandma. I’m the kind of person that shouldn’t live with a lot of stuff, it overwhelms me and I can’t organize it effectively. I can’t believe that it took me so long to discover that “tossing it all” was an option.
      It must have been difficult/frustrating seeing your grandma get bogged down by all that stuff.

      • “I read that hoarding behaviour starts to accelerate around the age of 50…”

        Interesting! Did they say why? Even when I was little, Grandma had several dead cars + a dead van + a large garage stuffed to the gills, but she didn’t let things take over the house so much until later in life.

        Stuff IS overwhelming, and when you’re overwhelmed it’s hard to get started, and once the clutter starts building it gets MORE overwhelming, and so on.

        It WAS hard to see Grandma live that way— harder still when I had to live with her for a few months in college. I fell into my mother’s arms sobbing and begged her not to leave me there, but to no avail. Not surprisingly, I quickly found a boyfriend and went to great lengths NOT to be home, which caused my uncle to leave a pamphlet about “Sexual Purity” lying on my bed… but that’s a story for another day. =)

      • Sounds like a pamphlet that needed decluttering : ) I’m sure it’s an entertaining story. Let me know if you blog it!
        If I remember correctly, 50 is about the age when organizational skills start to decline and the person has greater and greater difficulty deciding what features make something worth keeping.
        By the way, a boyfriend can be a good coping strategy. I hope he had a nice clean place.

  3. Hmmm… I can REALLY relate to this post. I too am a garbage perfectionist. I’m getting better though… I really am. But paperwork is still my nemesis. My desk always has a “deal with it” stack, which soon turns into a pile, which inevitably turns into a mountain. And quite often stuff just sits at the bottom of said mountain until it becomes irrelevant and then gets tossed in a fit of purging. I’ve tried designating a file or a drawer for things that need my attention, but I’m such an “out of sight out of mind” person, that once put there, they never see the light of day again.

    I think your plan is very wise… don’t try to make all of the decisions right now, just decide if you’re keeping it or not. Because it can literally take me days to go through one single drawer as I get so totally overwhelmed by all of the decisions involved in cleaning/organizing/dealing with/bla/bla/bla….

    The other day I did successfully tackle a drawer in the basement that hadn’t been opened in 7 or 8 years. It was all because I was looking for spare parts for the storm windows which I KNOW I have SOMEWHERE but god knows where. I didn’t find the parts, but I did get rid of a bunch more stuff.

    I fear this is a journey I may never complete at the rate I’m going though. Sigh… I’m gonna go watch that video and check out the clutter scale. Maybe it will give me much needed inspiration.

    • ” I’m such an “out of sight out of mind” person, that once put there, they never see the light of day again.”
      I hear you! It’s the decisions that kill me too. Hope you find inspiration. I hesitate to compare my situation to hoarding (it’s far from dangerous or life altering) but boy, can I relate to some of their struggles.

  4. Thank you for your inspiration. Yesterday I grabbed a plasticbag and filled it with 14 items and gave to charity (I figuered if you can get rid of 100 things a day i could at least fill that bag). Today I updated to a paperbag, because it´s bigger. Half of it is now full with toys and the other half with my junk. It feels so good. Did I mention I consider my house rather empty right now since we´re moving out and most of our stuff (junk) has already been removed? I can´t wait to move to our new house and start decluttering even more!

  5. Christine….Christmas is coming…..and so will an influx of toys toys toys! Have you a plan for dealing with this and not getting ruffled?

    • Fortunately, everyone who knows me knows how much work I’ve put into decluttering. And, Squirrel does the toy shopping for both sets of grandparents. He wouldn’t dare! Would he? Oh boy, I better have a talk with him…
      What’s your plan? You’ve done a lot of decluttering this year as well.

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