Am I a Hoarder? The Difference between Hoarding and Clutter

People often ask me what is the dividing line between hoarding and clutter, usually because they are feeling some anxiety about whether they might be a hoarder. The following material was developed for the book I wrote, Overcome Hoarding and Transform Your Life, How to Choose Hope and Life Instead of Things.

“The line between clutter and hoarding may be hard to distinguish, particularly if it’s your problem. Here are some benchmarks you can use to determine whether your accumulation has crossed the line. Any one of these behaviors is a probable indicator of hoarding; having two or more of them is conclusive for hoarding, and having all four means that the situation likely needs concentrated effort to overcome it:

· Anxiety – clutterers do not experience anxiety about getting rid of things; they are often overwhelmed, have no organizing skills, or criteria for making decisions, but once they get help with these issues, they can get rid of things without a lot of drama or emotion. Hoarders find getting rid of things difficult or impossible or experience intense anxiety if something is thrown out. Hoarding indicator examples:
- becoming hysterical if something is thrown out or even touched
- having anxiety at the mere thought of having to give something up
- staying upset for a long time (sometimes years) after an item is lost or taken away

· Pain tolerance – clutterers become distressed by the mess and piles fairly quickly and will act to reduce their distress. Hoarders have a much greater tolerance for living in uncomfortable or compromised circumstances because of the accumulation. Hoarding indicator examples:
- sleeping on the couch because the bed is piled with belongings
- having restricted walkways, entry, or fire exits because of piles of objects
- being unable to use the kitchen or bathtub in a normal manner
- having pest infestations that cannot be controlled because of the volume of stuff

· Denial – clutterers denial of the pain of excess belongings is usually less and they are more likely to respond to risks with action. Hoarders risk losing or damaging their home, family, finances, health, or life because of their belongings and often seem oblivious to the risk or refuse to acknowledge its significance. Hoarding indicator examples:
- being at risk for or threatened with divorce or eviction (and often still not taking any action to prevent the adverse outcome)
- missing payments or insurance claims because the paperwork is lost in the piles of stuff
- being deeply in debt from acquiring things that are not used
- having a high risk for fire, falls, or falling objects because of the accumulation

· Acquisition – clutterers don’t usually keep deliberately getting more once the discomfort threshold has been crossed. Hoarders continue to acquire more belongings even though their living circumstances are already difficult or dangerous because of the volume of stuff. Hoarding indicator examples:
- adding more things to existing piles of belongings
- going deeper into debt buying things when there are already too many
- bringing in things from the street despite all the risks
- spreading out from storing things in an over-flowing home to the porch, yard, car, or a storage facility

· Volume – clutterers usually have some sense of proportion relative to what they use. Hoarders often have great volumes of particular items, far beyond what could be used in a week, month, or even a year. Hoarding indicator examples:
- having lots of cleaning supplies even though little cleaning is done
- buying many duplicates of the same item of clothing, even though there are already many unworn articles of the same type
- buying duplicates of an item when the first one has not been tried”

Previous | Next

Articles Index

Home | Newsletters and Articles | Services | Workshops | Resources | Contact

Office Organization | Time Management | File Systems | Hoarding


©2011 Gloria Valoris