The difference between clutter and hoarding and the 5 things you can do to follow up on your spring cleaning.

The difference between clutter and hoarding and the 5 things you can do to follow up on your spring cleaning.

March is here.  ‘Spring cleaning’ is in the air.  So, how are we doing on the ‘cleaning-out-our- (fill in the blank)’ resolution? Are you cluttering or hoarding?

The Howell Foundation invited Dr. Saxena to speak to us about clutter vs. hoarding last January.  More than a behavior pattern, hoarding is now diagnosed as a stand alone disorder –vs. being diagnosed as a sub category of OCD.  You can read more about his research here.

The many faces of clutter vs. hoarding.

Dr. Saxeen speaks about hoarding at a Howell Foundation event

To better emphasize that hoarding is not a ‘lazy’ attitude, Dr. Saxeena explained that what seems normal for us, discarding items of little or no relevant value, is difficult for many.  It is estimated that between 12 and 19 million individuals suffer from a hoarding behavior in the US.

The reason why Americans hoard varies; some have a percieved notion of needing the items (trying to fix an item for a later use or to sell it), others save an item because it may be used some day, and yet others save it because it was expensive.  The strongest characteristic of hoarding is the emotional attachment that accompanies the need to save an item (because it reminds us of someone).

As to what items we hoard the most, Dr. Saxena mentioned a few:

  • newspapers
  • books
  • clothes
  • magazines
  • bills/receipts/statements
  • bags/storage containers
  • mail
  • catalogs
  • ads
  • notes and lists
  • memorabilia

Hoarding typically co-occurs with other mental disorders including depression, bipolar disorder and other personality disorders.  Alcholol dependence and obsesive compulsive behaviors complicate its treatment.  Other diagnoses that often accompany hoarding include ADHD, PTSD, phobias, eating disorders, kleptomania, social phobia and anxiety/panic disorder.

The difference between clutter and hoarding lies in a couple of things: additional neuropsychological disorders, and the ability to get rid of items in an easier manner.  The first step in addressing hoarding is to work towards eliminating the stigma that accompanies it.  No, hoarders are not lazy, or losers for that matter. Here is what is known so far:

  • Recent research shows that hoarding can be genetic.
  • Research has also shown that hoarding tendencies start during teenage years.
  • Hoarding is more present in men than in women.
  • Hoarding is inversley proportional to income levels.
  • There is a strong co-relation between hoarding and obesity: hoarders are 3 times more likely to be obese.
  • Hoarding is not exclusive to objects, although animal and object hoarding come hand in hand.
  • Hoarders are, in general, socially withdrawn and are older in age.

The risks of hoarding behaviors can be disastrous  to your health, anywhere from the ability to exit a building in case of a fire to hazardous substances accumulated.  Along with the hoarded items, many unexpected or residual items can build up, including rat and other animal feces.  If you suspect a friend or family member has a hoarding problem, find a professional in your area that can guide you in understanding the process of hoarding; both physically and mentally. Remember that hoarding is a neuropsychiatric disorder, and that there are specific indicators that can help determine if the problem is hoarding, or an excess in clutter.  Attempts to do a friend or family member a favor by cleaning out the clutter can exacerbate the psychological stress if the situation is a hoarding issue.

Clutter often times has an emotion behind it as well.  It is said that the difference between clutter and hoarding is only one degree.  According to the article written by Sara Solovich, experts agree that a “hoarding disorder is present when the behavior causes distress to the individual or interferes with emotional, physical, social, financial or legal well-being.”

If this is not the case and, on the other hand, you find yourself dreading walking into a storage area and cleaning it out and do not know where to begin, experts recommend the following:

Have a plan, and stick to it! Mentalize the task.  Set a date.  Set a schedule.  It is easier if you set achievable goals vs. what seems an impossible task!  Decluttering shouldn’t be a marathon!  One hour a day either goes by fast, or leads you to continue cleaning away!

Get prepared:  Use this 4-box method to get organized: Sell/Donate, Keep, Throw Away, and Store. It is easier to walk around your home or office with a designated place to place your items.

Removal plan:   Start with small areas and then move to bigger projects.
All of us have a ‘junk drawer’ full of unused or unneeded items.
Consider your closet and the items you no longer wear or need.
Larger projects?  The garage or the basement.

Clutter prevention:  Clutter is also about getting new itemsor storing new things that have sentimental value.  Think about the need for vs. the sentimental value of an item, where you will store it, how much space it will take.  And most importantly, remember what got your clutter so out of control that you had to spend all this time de-cluttering in the first place!

Make it a habit! Research shows that it takes between 21 and 66 days to create a habit.  Without counting exactly the amount of time, repetition is key.

Alternatively, if you suspect this is a true hoarding problem, we are fortunate to have one of the world’s experts in our back yard!  Dr. Saxena is very active in meeting with people to better understand and treat the disorder, and is enrolling subjects in clincal trials.  If you are interested, information about the clinical trials can be found here.


About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:

The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.

The organization does so by funding scholarships to students researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, and researchers to convey timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that improve the health of under-served women and increase awareness and advocacy in the community.



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