How to Begin to Declutter a Hoarding Situation

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When clutter takes over, it's hard to know where to begin.
When clutter takes over, it's hard to know where to begin. (Image: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Most people struggle with clutter at some point, but when clutter begins to interfere with everyday activities, such as cooking, bathing or sleeping, it may be due to a hoarding disorder. Compulsive hoarders find it impossible to discard items that have no value, are unsanitary or create a hazard; a hoarding situation might even lead to eviction by a landlord or health department. Due to the severity and complexity of such a situation, hoarders might need the assistance of a therapist and a professional organizer to begin to declutter.

Things You'll Need

  • Trash bags
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Plastic bins

Take it slow. Because hoard and clutter syndromes are deeply rooted in the psychological makeup of the hoarder, attempting to clear the clutter in one fell swoop is a traumatic and disturbing experience. Reduce the anxiety regarding the perceived value of items and unwillingness to part with them by approaching the task in small increments.

Focus on one area at a time. Organizing and cleaning an entire house all at once is impossible without a team of workers. Designate a target area, and don’t get distracted with other areas until you’ve finished the target area.

Allocate receptacles for different categories of items. Use large plastic bags for collecting items to throw away or recycle, cardboard boxes for items to give away, and plastic bins for items to keep.

Determine whether or not an item is worthy of keeping. Honestly ask yourself if you truly love the item in question. If you don't, ask yourself if you need it or if it has any use to you. If you don’t love it, need it or use it, it qualifies as clutter, and you need to let it go.

Donate or sell useful items. A hoarder finds it difficult to discard items that might come in handy. Set aside items to be donated, and box up items that are suitable for a garage sale or consignment shop.

Organize in broad strokes. In the beginning of a substantial organizing effort, it’s crucial not to micromanage your efforts. Aim to place like items with like, but don’t get stuck on the concept of perfection.

Tips & Warnings

  • Removing clutter may not be enough. Because hoarding is a psychological disorder — a unique type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD — behavioral therapy or medication might be the only help for hoarders who have experienced a relapse.

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