In part to popular television shows such as Lifetime’s (formerly A&E’s) Hoarders, A&E’s Intervention, and TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive, most people are quick to associate haphazard mounds of material items as a telltale sign of compulsive hoarding.
Severe hoarding behavior likely affects roughly one in 50 people (though it may be as high as one in 20). The International OCD Foundation defines compulsive hoarding as collecting items that appear useless or of little value which clutter living spaces and render rooms unusable for intended purposes. The habit can cause distress or problems in daily activities.
In the past, hoarding was grouped into the classification of OCD as a symptom of the disorder. However, recent research indicates that hoarding can be categorized as its own distinct condition. While a percentage of individuals with OCD have do have some compulsion to hoard, not all compulsive hoarders have OCD. In the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Hoarding Disorder is its own category, although it’s still in the chapter, Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorder.
Hoarders tend to possess intense emotional attachments to inanimate objects and they may have issues parting with their possessions. They typically have high levels of various anxieties and have great trouble with decision-making. A person may begin to exhibit hoarding behavior along with the development of other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and dementia. The habit of hoarding can exacerbate or soothe anxiety.
Meg Wolfe, author of the blog The Minimalist Woman, tells BTR that she was fortunate enough not to endure the most severe symptoms of hoarding before adapting to her minimalist lifestyle.
“I used to keep a lot of things, but it never digressed into keeping things that were actually garbage,” she continues, “or so much stuff that any area of my home was unusable or uncomfortable.”
Wolfe explains that she held onto certain items “for sentimental reasons, for ‘just in case’ [scenarios], because I spent a lot of money on them, or because they were things I had made.”
After Wolfe downsized to a smaller house, she recognized the hoard as “unwieldy.” She found herself wasting a great deal of time searching for things she needed.
“Digging around for one specific thing would result in spending a day or two putting everything else back into place,” she remembers.
Bringing more stuff into the house only stalls the process of organization. Wolfe’s first piece of advice to those struggling with excess clutter is to stop shopping.
“The cycle of recreational/impulsive shopping can be broken, to give way to a much more mindful consumption,” she tells BTR. “Going as long as possible without buying anything other than absolute necessities will give you the time and the right frame of mind to begin assessing whether or not to keep or get rid of what you already have.”
As for removing items from the house that carry sentimental value, Wolfe suggests taking photos of the possessions before letting go of them.
Wolfe even has a pragmatic approach when she discusses the belongings that take up space in her own home. While she admits to owning several items that she doesn’t necessarily need or use, she already has a plan as to how she can eventually remove them from her life when she feels ready to do so. Her collection of gardening and cookbooks, for instance, will probably be donated to the library at some point.
When asked if she keeps count of the items she owns, Wolfe says that she did initially when she first began to unclutter her wardrobe. However she no longer finds a strict numerical tally to be essential to maintaining her lifestyle.
“For those who are curious, I have a capsule wardrobe of around fifty items, which evolves with my needs and is suitable for year-round,” she explains.
Wolfe says that the extra space she’s created in the home brings her “serenity, clarity, and efficiency,” but also reduces stress, confusion, and wasting time and money.
She emphasizes that minimalism carries great advantages, allowing people to focus more on relationships than material possessions. She dispels the idea that minimalism is a “cold, stark lifestyle,” and that she resides in a “warm, colorful, and cozy” house.
“There’s art on the walls, pillows on the sofa, a centerpiece on the table, family pictures on the piano, a box of toys for my granddaughter,” she tells BTR. “That’s my take on minimalism–defining what you need and love, and only keeping what you need and love. Once that’s done, it pretty much sustains itself.”
Featured image courtesy of Kevin Utting.