When Does Clutter Turn Into Hoarding?

Judging by the covers of nearly every issue of nearly every womens’ magazine, most people have at least a little bit of trouble keeping the level of clutter down in their homes.

But as the television show “Hoaders” has made known, for some people it is more than a bit of a problem; it can be the symptom of a psychological condition that calls for understanding and sympathy, expert advice, and professional help, not ridicule or shame.

How can you tell when a problem with accumulating clutter goes beyond mere disorganization and/or procrastination, and is a symptom of hoarding? The answer to this question is not always crystal clear, but there are resources for those who are concerned or who want to find out more. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (previously known as the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) provides professional organizers as well as the general public with fact sheets and other helpful information about cluttering. And the International OCD Foundation Hoarding Center has a picture scale that can either help reassure someone that clutter in a home is within normal limits, or let them know when it may be time to seek professional help.

There are also several authoritative books on the subject. These books, written by experts in the field and based on scientific research, go beyond the “get rid of it, throw it out, throw it out,” message of most books on this subject, and provide practical resources for both assessing and working with people who have exceptional difficulty in doing just that. Buried in Treasure: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Skeketee, and Gail Skeketee’s workbook, Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Treatments That Work are two such excellent resources.

When confronted with the sad spectacle of true hoarding, most of  us can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that our problems with getting rid of clutter fall within the realm of the ordinary. But what we can’t do is relax and let clutter build. Constant vigilance, and constant action in keeping the piles down and the accumulation of clutter in our homes under control is required.

There are lots of good tips and resources to help with that too. We’ll be calling some of them to your attention in future posts, and invite you to let us know about any  that you’ve found especially helpful too.



3 Responses

  1. Hey, well written article. I know it is just SO hard to just get rid of stuff, and I mean for everybody. I, as a matter of fact, have a whole bunch of boxes of stuff – STUFF – that I just need to give away or dump. Just a matter of making the time to do it. I think you all are doing a great service with these articles. Check out my website blog there too – it’s related but a little different. Hal

  2. Hello,
    Wow, where to begin… I guess I should just come out and tell you, I have ALOT of clutter, and it’s effecting my life to the point that I just give up. I’ve been with my husband for about 12 yrs, married 8, we have a amazing son that’s 10, and a 20 yr old beautiful daughter, there’s where I’m sure lead me to my husband, and to keeping everything that has something to do with her. She’s basically lived withy mom and step dad. I feel I have failed her as a parent, and has put me in such a depression, I cry so much for her, to the point she can’t handle it.. But back to my husband, Long story on how we met, and pretty much the reason we married. He’s 13 yrs older than I. I don’t know where to start, and just get so overwhelmed, I have gotten rid of alot of stuff, but it seems like I hadn’t made any progress. I need help… My husband will probably be furious if you can help me and my family.. I’ve seen the Hoarding show, and on a scale of 1-10, I feel my clutter is a 6+. We don’t have alot of money. Before I got married, I never lived like this, I’m despite!!! :”’ (
    Can you help me and my family? I’ve giving up!! My son is a Blessing, he has saved my life in so many ways, but I want him to be proud and healthy!!
    Lia Warren

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