Getting Organized When You Struggle With Hoarding
Jill – Thank you so much for your blog! I have already learned some helpful hints. I am such a messy housekeeper, always procrastinating because it seems so overwhelming. I tell myself, “Oh, it’s too much to start today. I’ll do it when I have more time.” My parents are big hoarders who never part with anything so I never really learned how to keep a clean home. I do keep the dishes and clothes washed and I make sure things are sanitary.
I just have too much stuff. I’m a pack rat. There is stuff everywhere in plastic containers and in drawers. I have enough clothing to dress all of the neighbor women for a couple of weeks each. This stuff is mine and I see a use for all of it. I just can’t bring myself to throw away any of it. I like it all! I really wish every space in my house wasn’t a collect-all. We don’t even get to sit at the table as a family. My husband complains, we hate to have unexpected family, we eat out because there is no space on the counter to cook, important papers get lost and we buy more stuff because so many things get misplaced. Everyone passes the blame on someone else. To top it all off, we live in a small ranch home with little closets. How will I ever overcome all of this hoard? I want to live like the normal tidy person– Stuff is ruining MY LIFE. Can you give me any suggestions about where and how to start?
It’s hard to give a good answer to a question like this when I only have a few sentences of information, but I will try to point you in the right direction. Because I’ll be addressing the whole group, some of the things I say may not apply to you specifically but I’m including it in case it might help someone else.
How to Recover From Hoarding:
If you struggle with hoarding tendencies, getting organized must be a group effort. Have a family meeting and see if everyone is willing to pitch in and change your lives in a big way.
Deal with the emotions. When people do anything extreme, there are often emotions involved that they aren’t dealing with. Many people try to use “stuff” to make themselves feel better, more secure or more loved. Sometimes there is a serious emotional trauma involved. When people struggle with negative emotions, they often try to fix emotional things with physical things. This won’t work at all. It simply makes the problem worse because it adds another whole set of problems. In your case, you have to go out to eat, can’t have people over, can’t find your bills and so on.
If you came across a man dying of thirst in the desert you wouldn’t hurry over to him, give him a great big hug, tell him he is loved and expect that to fix his problem. His problem is a physical one and he needs water. People often have an empty emotional gap in their hearts and they think “stuff” will help fill that emotional gap. It just won’t work. You need to solve emotional problems with emotional solutions, physical with physical and spiritual with spiritual. We often mix these up so get honest and identify what is the real problem in your life.
Sometimes people are angry or rebelling because their parents were too strict about keeping the house clean. (I know this wasn’t your case.) Recognize it.
Then again, being overwhelmed with clutter may simply be a case of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.
Our site has many articles that go into step by step detail about how to get organized and clean and also how to get rid of that overwhelming feeling and get motivated to start. I will include 2 articles at the end of this post to help you get started. Spend an hour or so and read them and some of the others recommended articles on our site. Don’t spend hours reading about it, though. Spending hours learning about something can give you a false sense that you are doing something to address the problem but it quickly becomes just another excuse to put it off. Be careful not to get caught in that trap.
Try to get a friend or family member who is organized to help you with it. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you are serious about getting organized, set aside your emotions (fear and embarrassment) and get the job done. You might be surprised to discover that most organized people love helping others get organized. I don’t know why but, if I walk into a messy room, my fingers just itch to get started picking things up. I really don’t judge. I just want to help.
Put on some comfortable clothes and some pleasant music and get started. After you have finished reading this article and the others you will hopefully be mentally and physically prepared to just get up and do it. You may want to spend a day getting yourself and the “troops” ready or you might clean off just one section today, like your kitchen table. The important thing is to get up and move.
There is more detail about this next point in the articles linked below but I will briefly mention it here. One thing that helps me get rid of things is to know that there are people out there who really really need the things I am just storing.
I have been on the other side. When I had my second baby I only had one dress to wear and it wasn’t even a maternity dress. I had to wear a dress four or five times a week and it was embarrassing to have to wear the same thing over and over. I had a neighbor who decided to get rid of some of her stuff and she gave me a whole wardrobe full of clothes. It meant so much to me that I wanted to sit down and cry. This has happened to me many times over the years. Now I look at my closet full of clothes and, even though I do wear most of them, I ask myself, “Do I really really need that many clothes? Maybe someone else could use them more.” Even though we do wear that pair of black pants once every six months, do we really need to keep it when we have five other pairs of the same type?
You say that as a result of your hoarding you go out to eat, lose important papers and struggle with many other things that probably cost you money. If you were organized, you could use that extra money that you currently waste as a result of keeping the extra stuff to help someone else, too. I don’t want to sound harsh because I think you are really trying but consider this: If you had a child with a mound of toys clutched to her chest and another poorer child was in the same room with nothing, what would you do? What would you think about that child if she said, “I want all of my stuff and I don’t care that the other child has nothing. I’m not going to share or give up my toys because they make me happy and feel good.” We often practice a grown up version of this without thinking about it.
Sometimes, the little girl clinging to her toys will give away one toy but the sad thing is she doesn’t realize that clinging to that many toys is not giving her the true happiness she thinks it is. While she is holding tightly to the armful, she can’t really play with any of them or enjoy them properly. She hasn’t learned that by sharing, giving and sacrificing she will step into a whole new world of joy and happiness that giving and sacrificing brings, not to mention the relief she will feel when she gets rid of the heavy burden that comes from carrying around and managing all of those things. How much easier is the little girl’s burden if she only has one toy to hold instead of juggling an armful.
One of the comments we most often hear from people who have gotten rid of excess stuff is that they didn’t realize how much of a burden their possessions had become. They feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off of their shoulders. You said it yourself– The stuff is overwhelming you. Not a good feeling. Now it’s time to get up and, with a little discipline and work, get it done. Do it in stages if that helps but get it done. If discipline and work sound too hard, ask yourself if they are really any more difficult than what you’re dealing with now.
You can do this! You sound like you are now at the point where you really want to get it decluttered, organized and cleaned up and that is half the battle! Read these articles and then, before today is over, get up and at least clean off your kitchen table.
A Most Wonderful Treasure – This is more of a motivational article you might want to read first.
For lots of helpful tips to make organizing, cleaning and laundry easier, take a look at our Keeping It Clean e-books.
photo by: valeriebb