People tell me that their husband thinks that they are a hoarder, or they may think that themselves. I’ve been a professional organizer for a long time, and 99% of the time, these people are not hoarders. In fact, I’ve only met 3 in the last 13 years. Hoarding is a mental disorder, an aspect of being obsessive-compulsive (check ICD Clutter – Hoarding Scale), and it requires the help of a therapist and medication. An organizer cannot work alone with a hoarder successfully. When I do run into a hoarding situation, I always refer those folks to a specialist. Usually the people I meet are in fact, pack rats or collectors, or years-long recipients of relatives’ stuff, and now they are stuck with it all. I did actually work with one couple in Amawalk a few years ago, who may have been displaying some hoarding tendencies, but it could have also been a combination of personal and professional pressures and they used shopping as a way to soothe their anxiety. We were able to clear out years’ long piles on the tables, floors and stairway, find the floor and open the front door, which had been blocked for some time. I was told that working with her saved the marriage. I’m not sure about that, but it did relieve the pressure of the situation and I hope they were able to maintain some order after I left. I have not seen them in a few years.
Sometimes people are just loathe to give up on stuff that was once valuable or that they spent a lot of money on. It’s hard to let go of something you paid dearly for and never used. If they hang onto it, they can find a way to justify the purchase or accumulation of the problematic object. At some point, it’s time to let it go and move on.
A lot of times, people hold onto stuff for sentimental reasons. If this extends to a teapot, a mirror, or something useful, then enjoy! If you are only holding onto it because it was Aunt Sylvia’s and you have no use for it, then let it go. It is not your job to be The Smithsonian Museum for everything that has come into your family’s history. Often, people don’t even like the particular style of the inherited objects and would much rather have something simple from IKEA, etc. This is particularly true for the post-baby boom generations, like your kids and grandkids! They have no use for fancy China that has to be hand-washed. So I would encourage you to let the extra China and family inheritances go to a local thrift shop, where someone can use it. Local churches and community thrift shops welcome your donations, and use the sales to pay for the church electricity or fund the scholarships they provide to local students.
If the quantity of what you have is impacting your quality of life or relationships, it is time to start weeding your house and send the stuff packing. Stuff in a home becomes clutter when it is not loved or used and can become a source of friction in a relationship. If you can’t have friends over for coffee because the dining room table is filled with paper—it’s time to get organized. If you have more than 3 months of Oprah, Prevention, or National Geographic magazines, then it’s time to cull your stacks. If what you have is spilling onto the floor or countertops and making it a hazard to walk through the house, then it’s time to get organized.
Many people feel embarrassed by the disorder in their homes and will not invite company over, and are too embarrassed to have someone try to help them. Clutter has no socio-economic boundaries—it plagues everyone, from Bronxville to Brewster, from retired school teachers to retired executives (and sometimes, the executives even more, because they think they should know better). Managing your home and clutter is not something that comes with an MBA, but it is a skill that everyone can learn and apply. When the time comes, and it all gets to be too much, it’s time to get focused and get organized.
Why People Get Stuck When Organizing
- Guilt, especially if it was a gift or inheritance
- Just in case, they need it someday
- May have value – verify that!
- If they put it away, they can’t find it
- Need to find it the “right” donation home
- Getting organized is too overwhelming