How To Avoid Becoming A Hoarder

By Mae Davies / October 20, 2014
How To Avoid Becoming A Hoarder
I normally don’t watch television, but like my good friend who only occasionally watches a few select reality-based television shows, I devour the show “Hoarders.” In each episode, Hoarders showcases 2-3 people from different areas in the United States (there is also a UK version), and they show their living conditions, how they ended up hoarding stuff, how it is most often triggered by psychological complications, and how it is resolved toward the end of the show with the help of a psychologist and family of the person featured.

In many cases, it is extreme, the person being literally buried under mountains of clutter and not being able to sleep in their beds or use their kitchens or bathrooms. You might wonder how they ever reached such an extreme state. How come nobody pointed out to them that they were already living in such unsafe and unsanitary conditions?

Well, most of these people are living alone, with family living far away from them and some of them abandoned altogether by relatives who have chosen not to visit or help as they feel that they cannot do much to help or change the person anyway. Each episode becomes emotional for everyone, especially if the hoarder refuses to accept help or recognize that he/she needs to change his/her lifestyle.

How do you know if you’re becoming a hoarder and how can you prevent yourself from ending up like one? Below are simple steps to follow to do just that:

Evaluate your place of dwelling

Are you living in a 2,000-square-foot 4-bedroom house or a 200-square-foot studio? It doesn’t matter the size; either place requires organization so you won’t feel overwhelmed with stuff that 80% of which you probably don’t use all the time. Yes, living in a tiny space requires more effort than a big sprawling house; the irony is, in Hoarders, most people they feature live in big houses with more than 3 bedrooms and not people in single-room apartments. So it doesn’t mean that the more space you have the less likely it is that you will end up being a hoarder; on the contrary, these people seem to ‘lose track’ of their space and take the space they have for granted. They end up filling up all the space with their hoards. Ask yourself: am I comfortable in this space or am I being overtaken by stuff lying around that I rarely use? Am I holding on to stuff that I can do away with anyway, that someone else may need more than I do?

Ask another person to evaluate your place

This is hard to do for most, not because finding someone is hard but because the idea or possibility of someone critiquing our organizational skills – and our lifestyle – is hard to swallow. But trust me; it is needed if you want an unbiased and honest perspective. We are so used to where we live, we have slowly adjusted to the conditions, whether good or bad, and other people may see it differently than we do so it helps to get an outside opinion. hoarder

Sort and organize

Now that you have done the important task of evaluating your place and getting another person’s opinion, chances are you need to do some organizing and de-cluttering. Now comes the task of sorting and organizing what you currently have. Keep it easy by assigning 3 places; try to use big boxes if they fit and label each box with: ‘Keep,’ ‘Donate,’ and ‘Throw.’ The ones that are really valuable like photos and memorabilia are stuff that you can keep and store. The ones that you’d like to keep but can do away with you can donate. Keep in mind that you don’t need 10,000 articles of clothing as you probably will use only 500 at any given time. Give it away to charity and remember that you’re donating them rather than throwing them away, so don’t feel bad over what you are letting go. The last box is for things that you need to throw. You’ll be amazed to see how much garbage you are keeping. While sorting, I have found empty tubes of toothpaste and shampoo bottles. Things that can be recycled obviously need to go in the recycling bin, but everything else can go to the trash.

The very first time you re-organize your place, you’ll be surprised at the amount of trash you’ve been holding onto. The first time I did this, I filled up 5 big bags of trash liners on the first day alone. That number easily went up on succeeding days. I definitely felt ‘lighter,’ and knowing that other people can now use the stuff that had been lying around unused for ages in my place felt so rewarding. For some people, it can be hard to find motivation to re-organize their stuff, but just do the first step and the rest will be easy to follow. Taking time to do this is worth it; reorganizing your stuff will result in re-organizing your life. And who doesn’t want a more organized life?

About the author

Mae Davies

BA, MA Psychology (and Conflict Resolution), University of Cambridge (2007). With a decade of trial and error in psychology and 33 years of navigating my own complex (that's one word for it!) relationships with family, friends, co-workers and men, I hope I have some useful knowledge and skills to share with my readers about making sense of relationships and trying to become a better person every day.