Clutter, Hoarding, Pyschological Diagnosis or a Busy Family
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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively - often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts - he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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Clutter, Hoarding, Pyschological Diagnosis or a Busy Family

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I like stuff.  Lots of stuff.  I have key collections and church key collections.  I have scissors collections.  I have cast iron pots from old wood burning cook stoves.  I have political memorabilia – like my George Wallace ’68’ Tie.  And check out my books.  I moved to this home about five years age – and I brought two thousand books with me.   Hey, I like books.   So what is it with people who hoard ‘things’ – who place their ‘things’ around the house with indiscriminate frivolity?  Is this just a value system learned in childhood, the symptoms of a life too busy to sort through the ‘things’, or are these people nuts and require treatment with Tiger Woods?  And the more important question:  Am I one of  ‘those’ people?

The book shelves were custom built by me.  Measurements were taken and shelves spaced accordingly – with the intention of maximizing space.  By strategically aligning the shelves I was able to put about fifty more books on each four foot by six foot cabinet.  What I did not realize at the time was that I was designing a wall of clutter.  There is very little wasted space – but in hindsight it is quickly obvious that the book shelves look like a wall of clutter.  About twenty of the books are in the category of self help.  Two of those are about avoiding clutter.

The book shelves are in ‘my room.’  This is the place where I entertain myself.  I read, play around on my keyboard, and every third day I lift weights (I can carry the keyboard with more ease than I can actually play music).  The room is organized according to my wants and needs.  book cases non clutterThis second picture is of shelves purchased at the local home-building store.  Notice the extra space.  This wall has a more appealing visual presence.  I fixed that – I put my homemade weight bench in front of the shelves.  My chair sits beside my cluttered lamp table.  A blanket is flung across the chair arm.  Music is scattered on top of my keyboard – I usually have three or four new songs I am practicing.   Notice there are three lamps beside the keyboard – it is not like I need that much light – I just did not have anywhere else to put the lamps.  A spare bedroom was converted into an office where I have more book shelves (and the desk where I presently sit).

None of my clutter is the result of being too busy.  One might readily note that I have time to write this drivel – how busy can I be?  But that is not the case with others.  My children for example.  My three children are all in their thirties – each of them with three children.  School age children and toddlers.  Now we are talking busy.  My grandchildren are keyboardin sports (basketball, football, baseball), boy scouts (pine wood derbies, shirt badges, …), extracurricular  school programs (Christmas plays, science club, science fair…), church (youth groups, Sunday serving…)  Each of my children’s homes are two income – both parents work.  The definition of clutter is different for these people than for old folks like me.  For instance – yesterday my daughter came home from work, had to get her son to basketball practice at 5:30 and then to Cub Scouts at 7:00  (and she has two other children).  Somewhere in there she had to prepare supper, help the children with school work, make sure showers were taken, and prepare for tomorrow.  (You might note that I don’t take the time to set the date on my digital camera).

A psychological cottage industry has evolved from the busy life of modern parents.  Here is a quote from

Anxious people might have a need to hold on to things, depressed people might not have the energy to get rid of things, perfectionists might have a hard time because they fear the result won’t be perfect, and older people might have down-sized their living space without down-sizing their possessions, she says.

Depending on the severity of the cluttering, people might need professional help, or they might just need to take a good, hard look at themselves. If they don’t, they could find themselves in a vicious cycle.

“Clutter can cause depression and anxiety, and vice-versa,” Ragan says.

I have to ask myself – Am I anxious?  Do I have a need to hold on to things?  Am I depressed?  Do I need professional help? (probably – but not necessarily because of clutter).  And which came first, the clutter or the depression?  I am that older person who downsized my living space without down-sizing my stuff.

The most important questions seem obvious to me – Does my stuff interfere with my life?  Does my clutter inhibit my daily life?  Am I embarrassed to have people come to my home to visit?  (I invite my children over for dinner at least twice a year – their impending visit motivates me to clean my house).  I should be more honest here – the only room in my house that experiences measurable clutter is ‘my room.’  And even in that room one might note that I am able to walk freely to take pictures.  The pictures accurately reflect how the room looks on a daily basis with no visitors expected.

So when does clutter become hoarding?  When does clutter disrupt your life?  Well – that depends on your life.  In my case ‘my stuff’ is not a problem (am I in denial?)  Most people who hoard or have cluttered homes deny that there is any problem.  Or they simply dismiss the clutter as a temporary situation.  (I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.)

The Denver Post has a good article on clutter – here is a quote:

Getting organized may have more to do with psychology than piles of possessions, according to professional organizers and the people who hire them. From low self-esteem and an inability to make decisions, psychology shapes a person’s relationship to his or her space and stuff. So the key to more organized lives may lie within the gray matter of the mind.

Leeds has logged 20 years as a professional organizer. “Your home should be your sanctuary, your buffer against the world,” says this author who also calls herself a Zen organizer. “It is torture if you’re living in chaos.”

On a daily basis, organizers like Leeds suggest clients make simple, positive habit changes — such as washing and stowing dishes immediately after use, and making beds each morning to establish a foundation for an organized, healthy, effective life.

Assuming we consider our clutter has reached explosive proportions – when we cannot find our shoes on the bedroom floor because of the laundry strewn about – we need to take some action.  And it appears to me that much of  the action might be the same whether the cause is depression, anxiety, or a busy life.
I like the Denver Post recommendation that we start with simple, positive habit changes.  We will present a few of these ideas here – and we hope to hear more ideas from our readers.
  • Set aside a couple of hours each week to do laundry.  When the clothes are removed from the dryer immediately fold them and put them away.
  • Clean kitchen utensils as you go.  For instance, while the soup is cooking clean the cutting board and the food processor – and put them away.
  • Fold and hang towels after your shower.
  • Keep a clothes hamper – and use it.  Make sure it is big enough to manage all of your clothes.  Perhaps a clothes hamper in every bedroom.
  • Teach your children positive habits.  Clutter grows exponentially with the number of people in the house.  Likewise, lack of clutter improves exponentially with the number of people with positive habits.

A good site for ideas is Neat and Simple Living.  I particularly liked one of their quotes:  “When you change the way you see things, things change.”  Here are a few more ideas from Neat and Simple Living:

  • Learning to see yourself in a new way – fully accepting the things you cannot change about yourself – your strengths, limits, needs, differences
  • Learning how to work with yourself effectively
  • Developing your ability to plan, prioritize, make decisions, establish personal boundaries, and say no
  • Becoming more mindful
  • Identifying patterns of distraction, impulsivity and paralyzing inner conflict, and improve your ability to manage them
  • Discovering your personal sources of energy and motivation and learning how to harness them
  • Organizing your life and environment using simple, easy to maintain strategies that work with your unique style and personality preferences – and that are easy for you to maintain

Some life changes are as simple as planning, organizing, setting priorities, making lists, and setting reasonable goals.  Sometimes we have to look at ourselves and ask what motivates us – or conversely, why we are not motivated.  And remember this – there are people as unbalanced on the other side of the coin – we call them neat freaks.  I don’t know any of them.  Well, maybe one, but she is too busy cleaning her house to talk to me about this post.

Murphy’s Law states:   If anything can go wrong, it will.

A variation of Murphy’s Law:  Clutter will expand to fill the space available.

Is your house cluttered or not?  Try this.  Walk through the house with your digital camera – take pictures of every room.  Upload the pictures to your computer.  Study them.  Would you post these pictures on the internet?  I took the above pictures with the intention of writing this post.  After examining the pictures I had second thoughts.  When I am done with this post I am going to go clean up ‘my room’.

Any good hoarder or clutterer will readily note this is a perfect example of why we have privacy in our home.  My home is none of your damn business.  Does that sound defensive?  Or is it the simple truth?

Here are some valuable thoughts from the Denver Post:

Four kinds of clutter

Teri Lynn Mabbitt, a professional organizer in Denver, believes there are four categories of clutter.

Technical: Clutter that causes space restrictions and an overall lack of storage space.

Life changes: Clutter caused by a new baby, a death in the family, a move or anything that has thrown a life out of balance.

Behavioral/psychological: Clutter caused by depression, attention deficit disorder, low self-esteem or lack of personal boundaries.

Time/life management: Clutter caused by the need for better planning.

Of these, the behavioral/psychological-driven clutter is the hardest to solve.

Regina Leeds, author of “One Year to an Organized Life,” says there are three basic steps to organization: Eliminate, categorize and then organize. Among her tips:

Start with closets. If you are holding onto a piece of clothing that belonged to someone who has died, consider keeping a swatch of fabric in a shadow box instead.

Clutter control

Here are some ideas from the domestic gurus at Better Homes and Gardens magazine for gaining control of common home clutter zones.

Let storage components climb the walls of your home office, and rearrange your work space so regularly used supplies are accessible and others are out of the way.

Use the “handle it once” rule to keep papers from piling up. Immediately toss, file, pass on or mail off paperwork rather than revisiting it later. Labeled hanging files provide a quick, tidy place to stash paperwork.

Correspond via phone or e-mail to prevent a paperwork backlog.

Stash office supplies out of sight. Choose small-scale tape dispensers, staplers, pencil sharpeners and the like; full-size ones hog more space.

Store clips and rubber bands by the batch. Spice jars, secured with commercial grade hook-and-loop tape under cabinets, will do nicely.

Put an end to a jumble of jewelry in the bathroom, bedroom or closet with a ceramic egg tray found in the kitchen supply aisle. Tuck earrings and necklaces away in little cups so they will never get lost or separated again.

Reserve a drawer in the family room for board games. A divided bin is a winning solution for corralling all those tiny game pieces.

Replace door panels with pegboard in the laundry room for storage on both sides of the door.

Build plywood cubbies in the garage to span an entire wall. Be sure to attach them to studs.

Add adjustable shelves in the garage to accommodate camping gear and other bulky stuff. Smaller knickknacks and holiday ornaments are for stackable containers.

Ask yourself these questions when deciding what to keep and what to throw out: Has it expired? Is it used? Is it a duplicate? Is it a good fit?

There Are 2 Responses So Far. »

  1. This post cost me. People who know me well have pointed out the various pockets of clutter around my house. It seems I have a generally clean house with certain area that collect clutter. Any shelf or table top seems to attract ‘things’.

    I helped my grandson with his pine wood derby boy scout car last week. My cordless drill is still sitting on my dining room table. It does not bother me – but others note these indiscretions quickly. Most of the time people who visit me do not care – until I write about clutter and claim to have a clean house.

    Be careful what you write. What do they say? Be careful what you pray for – you might get it.

  2. I could have written this. As friends are downsizing, I am still garagesaleing & enjoy my ?stuff? Give a lot of it to charities for their fundraising. If something besides my cats lays on the table for 3 days, who cares. I put stuff away so that I can find it, not to please anyone else. I like your chatroom.

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