Clutter vs. Hoarding

During the shutdowns over the past couple of years, I found myself working from home more than usual. It became my primary work base. As we gradually return to our on-site work locations, I find myself swinging between two workspaces. As a result of this shift, I started accumulating clutter and creating, quite simply, a big mess at both locations. I was finding it difficult to focus and stay on task while I was working. Deep down I knew that I was not working as efficiently as I could be. My workspace was unorganized, messy, and stressful. I knew that I had to make some changes to my work environment to improve my productivity.

This past Monday morning, I was determined to clean up my clutter and tackle the mess head on. I moved piles of loose papers scattered across my desk, created organized files for active projects, filed away information that might be helpful later and happily recycled unnecessary paperwork. My desk looked tidy, organized and ready for business with little effort and a 45-minute time investment. I am now working more efficiently than ever thanks to this simple cleaning and organizing exercise.

According to Psychology Today, a messy environment leads directly to stress. Clutter and disorder can:

  • Bombard our minds with excessive stimuli, causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important
  • District us by drawing our attention away from what our focus should be on
  • Make it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally
  • Constantly signal to our brains that our work is never done
  • Make us anxious because we are never sure what it’s going to take to get through to the bottom of the pile
  • Create feelings of guilt and embarrassment, especially when others unexpectedly drop by our homes or workspaces
  • Inhibit creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brainstorm and problem solve
  • Frustrate us by preventing us from locating what we need quickly (e.g., files and paperwork lost in the “pile” or keys swallowed up by the clutter)

Dealing with simple clutter can be easy once we decide to make it happen. I enjoy throwing things away or taking a load of unused items to the thrift store. I love looking at a previously overfilled closet and seeing order in place of chaos.

What happens when clutter and disorder take over more than your work or living space? What happens when it takes over your life? Where is the line of separation between being a bit messy and disorganized and having hoarding disorder?

Hoarding disorder has been identified as a distinct mental illness in 2013. Many people who suffer from hoarding disorders also struggle with other mental illnesses, including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Hoarding behavior is often triggered following a traumatic life event. Such an experience can range anywhere from the death of a loved one to divorce, eviction or loss of possessions due to a fire or natural disaster. People who have had such an experience can become depressed and if their depression is not treated, hoarding behavior can result. Severe clutter threatens the safety of those who live in or near the home, causing health problems, structural damage, fire, and even death.

Helping a person who is living with excessive clutter can be challenging. It’s not a matter of simply walking in and cleaning up the mess – as many of us want to do. We all have the right to choose how we live, regardless of whether our friends and family approve. Helping a person to reduce clutter, while respecting their right to self-determination and making every effort to understand the underlying issue is critical.

SeniorCare offers one-on-one mentoring for people aged 60 and over who are living with excessive clutter. SeniorCare’s goal is to work with consumers in a respectful, non-judgmental manner to reduce risk, support independent living, and improve the quality of life.

If you would like more information on SeniorCare’s Compulsive Hoarding, Cluttering and Acquiring Program call 978-281-1750.