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Clutter vs. hoarding

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

How many people have pristine homes that are sparkling clean with a place for everything? Not many I’d bet, as life can be a pretty messy business. It’s not uncommon to have bills and papers all over the place, washing drying on the radiators and knick-knacks gathering dust in nooks and crannies.

We may have accumulated clutter over the years too. It could be broken toys, old clothes and holiday souvenirs, or even a collection of a particular item may be causing the clutter.

There’s a distinct difference between mess and a bit of clutter and hoarding. For hoarders it’s a far more complex situation that can’t be resolved by simply having a good tidy up or clear out.

What’s clutter?

Most of us have clutter to some extent. It’s normal to have a drawer of 'bits and bobs' that you don’t exactly need but don’t know where else to put them. When your whole house is full of what should be kept to a single drawer you’ve got a clutter problem.

In a cluttered home you’ll still be able to differentiate which room is which and although it may look full and untidy it can still function as a home without any health and safety problems.

You may want to deal with the clutter if it’s causing family arguments, if you can’t ever find what you are looking for, or if it’s making you feel guilty and out of control.

Sometimes we hold onto clothes for when we’ve lost weight or when they come back into fashion, and end up with an over-stuffed wardrobe and drawers. You may not want to discard items that were gifts, even if you have no desire or use for them. You may have stacks of videos or records without any machines to play them on!

De-cluttering and getting rid of items you don’t use or want anymore can be cathartic and make you feel less overwhelmed.

Help for clutterers?

If you feel you can try to de-clutter your home by yourself, start on a small section at a time. Trying to tackle the whole place in one go may be too much to handle and make you feel overwhelmed.

Adopt a new system for bills and letters. Put them in a basket and always go through them at a particular time every day and take appropriate action there and then.

There is a US based organisation called Clutterers Anonymous which operates a 12 step programme for de-cluttering.

Professional help is available. Organisers can come into your home and give you advice on how to get on top of things, what to keep and what to discard, and talk to you about ways to improve your household systems to keep things in order.

"They will give you hands-on help with the process of de-cluttering, as well as the organisation of the items that you keep," says Cassie.

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