Clutter, Pack Rats and Hoarders
“Someday I might need it!”
"That old TV (computer, toaster, printer) is still good!”
“Don’t touch my stuff!”
“I haven’t finished the newspaper yet.”
“I can’t get rid of that. That’s my senior prom dress!”
Let’s face it. Many of us refuse to get rid of an awful lot of stuff, even when we admit that it would be better if we did. Instead, we amass piles. We collect junk. Our closets are overflowing. We have an abundance of clutter. We’re embarrassed our place is a mess.
Sure, we think about getting more organized. But what do we do? Do we roll up our sleeves and finally let go of some of our junk. Do we whittle our piles down to nothing? Do we organize our closets so that we can truly find what we want when we want it?
Some of us do. But unfortunately too many of us do just the opposite. We keep those yellowing newspapers, as they may contain an item of interest. We hold on to those magazines as we tell ourselves that one day we’ll get around to reading them. No sense getting rid of those gift boxes; they’re sure to come in handy one day. And so will those aluminum foil pans and other junk we’ve collected.
What about those pants that don’t fit? Can’t part with them! Those are your skinny clothes; some day you’ll lose those 20 pounds! And what about your children’s art work and greeting cards? How could you dispose of those precious items?
Stuff, stuff and more stuff. How are you going to deal with all that stuff? Somewhere within the deep recesses of your brain, you know what you should be doing. Create categories for your stuff by deciding what to keep, what to toss, what to file, what to organize, what to put back in its place. Do this and soon your closets, your bedroom, your basement, your garage may actually look like “After” photos in a “House and Garden” makeover article.
Wow, wouldn’t that be great! Go ahead; revel in your illusions a little longer. But soon, you’ll return to reality and recognize that it’s not so easy to change your patterns. Far easier to throw up your hands, heave a deep sigh, and tell yourself it’s too hard to change.
And you’re right. It is too hard to generate a total personality makeover. But it’s not too hard to generate a new improved, upgraded version of yourself. So, aim not to become a neat freak but to put into practice a few ideas that just might make your life easier.
- Lower your goals. Forget about having a model home. Aim instead to tackle a task or two that makes your life easier, your place less cluttered, your stuff more organized.
- Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then make rapid-fire decisions about what to do with clutter in your messiest area. Toss it, file it, put it back where it belongs or create a home for it. Rush around and do as much as you can until the timer goes off. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done when your adrenaline is pumping.
- Take a deep breath and tell yourself, “it doesn’t matter,” when you get stuck on what to do with a particular item. When cleaning clutter, it’s more important that you do something rather than get stuck on what’s the right thing to do.
- Put your ambitious side in charge. Though you may be more familiar with your lazy side, you also have, undoubtedly, an ambitious side. For at least a half an hour a day, let your ambitious side give commands and demand follow-through, until you see visible results.
- Regret for wasted time is more wasted time. So, if you’re feeling regret for what you “should” have done, stop. Instead, focus in on what you could do right now to move forward.
If you define yourself as a pack rat, you may put a lot of energy into defending your lifestyle. After all, in our highly disposable society, isn’t it a virtue to see a treasure where others see trash? Is it truly a problem if you hold on to what others let go of?
As with many behaviors in life, whether it’s problematic depends upon the degree. Mild clutter, a bit of a pack rat, controlled accumulation is one thing. If, however, accumulation is excessive, it becomes a mental health issue. Compulsive hoarding results in chaos. Stuff, literally all over the place, can create health and fire hazards. In its extreme, it can reach a point where you cannot have friends in your home, nor a cleaning crew to assist you, nor repair people to fix what’s broken, because one's home cannot be entered -- literally.
Though much is still unknown about compulsive hoarding, some things are obvious. Hoarders tend to:
- Have enormous anxiety about throwing things away;
- Give excessive importance to inanimate objects;
- Compulsively acquire things by buying, saving, or getting stuff for free;
- Defend their disorganization and clutter;
- Attach emotional significance to items that others view as junk;
- Organize their stuff according to visual or spatial cues. (i.e. keeping items on the floor where they’re visible, rather than in a closet.)
If you feel that your cluttering, acquiring or keeping things is becoming out of control, do not take this behavior lightly. Such traits become worse as we get older, so seek out professional help sooner rather than later. On the other hand, don’t think you need to go overboard in the opposite direction. No need to become a neat freak. A mess is okay. But a mess needs to be cleaned up, if for no other reason than to make room for the next day’s mess. A mess piled on top of another mess which is on top of still another mess creates chaos that becomes debilitating to live with.
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach. She specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns. Contact her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.PsychWisdom.com.
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