Clutter and Hoarding

Accumulation of Clutter and How to Clear It

Photo credit: Radu Razvan Gheorghe,

Do you really need that many umbrellas?


Photo credit: Grap, Wikimedia Commons

Clutter quickly turns into hoarding


Hoarding Symptoms

  • Keeping objects seen by most people as worthless or unnecessary (not considered ‘collectibles’).
  • Treating all objects as equally valuable (regardless of sentimental, functional or financial value).
  • Compulsive shopping or saving numerous quantities of any item.
  • Anxious to even think of getting rid of possessions.
  • Obsessing: “What if I need it later?”
  • Housekeeping suffers.
  • Amount of clutter makes areas of the home unusable.




Almost everyone in the western world, at one time or another, has allowed clutter to accumulate in their home or work spaces. Some of this is due to procrastination: “I don’t have the time to deal with this right now”, so it is added to a pile.

Despite every intention to sift through that pile at some point, it tends to just get bigger and bigger. Before you know it, you’ve got clutter.


Stacks of paper or boxes, unopened mail, piles of dirty (or clean) laundry… to the subconscious mind, clutter represents the feeling of being stuck in a rut. It’s an energy that resists change, movement or free flow in our lives.

When Clutter Becomes Hoarding

It may start out as an innocent nickname, ‘pack rat’, because someone likes to collect and keep certain things. It’s important that everyday clutter is dealt with, because it can quickly get out of hand.

Hoarding is excessive clutter. It is the compulsive acquisition of items that may not even have any particular value to anyone but the hoarder. They may even be unsanitary or hazardous to health (food wrappers, beverage containers, garbage).

Attachment to Stuff

The hoarder develops an unhealthy relationship with stuff. It makes them feel safe. On some level, the stuff becomes of greater importance than relationships with people.

Because of the exaggerated attachment and meaning the hoarder has given the items, it is very difficult for him to dispose of any item. Each is as precious as the next, even though to most people, the item may be useless. The hoarder has developed an emotional or mental attachment to each item, and to part from it brings on high anxiety.

The Stress of Clutter

At the same time, being surrounded by the clutter brings on stress and difficulty in functioning. People living in the hoarding space are unable to carry out activities of normal daily living, such as bathing, cooking and sleeping. The hoarder may feel ashamed or disgusted and unable to live with his own stuff. He may even leave the premises for long periods of time during the day in order to avoid it and not have to deal with it.

Hoarding as a Disorder

Hoarding is a pathological disorder with deep-rooted issues. It may be associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Some people also have associated compulsive buying habits. There is anxiety raised by obsessive doubts about letting go of objects. These behaviours ultimately adversely affect relationships and family life. Self worth, financial, health, and legal issues may occur and cause distress to the hoarder and their family.

Deeper Issues

The difficulty in letting go of items is often associated with a bigger loss. A death of a loved one can often trigger (completely unconsciously) a hoarding behaviour. The person is substituting possessions for the lost loved one, or projecting human relationship-like attributes to the relationship with the object. They may be in complete denial of this connection for a very long time. However, if the person is able to recognize such a connection, they can move on to processing feelings of grief, and eventually make peace, disassociate unhealthy attachment to possessions, shift the energy of their entire life, and move on in a true sense.

Traditional Treatments for Hoarding

Simply helping someone to throw out the stuff often provokes tremendous anxiety and is rarely a long term solution. If the underlying issues remain unaddressed, the hoarder is likely to refill the space very quickly.

Psychotherapy helps to explore the motivating factors and triggers for the behaviour. An understanding of this can lead to management of the issues in a more constructive way.

Exposure therapy involves discovering new ways to deal with the discomfort that surfaces when hoarding behaviour is challenged. The hoarder learns to allow himself to experience the anxiety without resorting to finding comfort in his attachment to the objects.

Any co-existing conditions, such as depression, should also be addressed alongside this behaviour.

Transforming Hoarding Behaviour

It’s not always about ‘why’. A person may not know why they began to hoard, and any answers to that question could be pure speculation. It is not essential to know why. Rather, it is better to focus on where the hoarder would like to be, and how they might best achieve that goal.

Acknowledge that feelings of anxiety come and go. It’s okay to feel anxious. Observe it, maybe even rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Allow it to be, without acting out any behaviour to calm it. It will and does pass. Practicing this improves the management of the feelings.

Make distinctions between things of value or consequence, such as keys or credit cards, versus junk mail and newspapers. Keep them separate. Decide what is useful and functional. Get rid of what is broken. If you have trouble deciding between what is enough and what is excessive, or between what is essential and what is inconsequential, have a trusted friend or professional help you decide what is appropriate toward attaining your personal goals.

Any object being sorted should be handled once, a decision made to keep, throw away, give away, recycle or sell. Each decision should have certain rules. For example, if the decision is to give away, decide to whom straight away. If it will be sold, decide where and when. If the item is kept, develop an organized system by placing things together in a designated place where it can be managed well. If thrown away, leave it permanently. Don’t doubt or retrieve it. Adopt an attitude of “it doesn’t matter”.

Once a space is clear, decide on the space’s intended purpose. Proceed with some of the space clearing techniques on this website and commit to keeping the space with vibrant clear energy.

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