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The Psychology of Excess Clutter (And What to Do About It)

Many of us have spent the overwhelming majority of our time at home over the past year, and all that extra time means tackling those cleaning projects around the house that you otherwise haven’t gotten around too. It could be building and tending a garden in the backyard, or power washing the driveway and deck. But today we’re going to address the elephant in the attic or in the spare bedroom: hoarding clutter. By eliminating clutter around the house, you can maximize your living space and make your home more enjoyable to live in. 

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is defined as the persistent difficulty to discard with possessions because of a false perception for the need to keep them. A person with a hoarding disorder experiences severe stress or anxiety when facing the task of parting with personal items. Because of this fear, people who hoard end up accumulating an unhealthy amount of, often worthless, items. A recent study indicated that between five and 14 million people in the US are compulsive hoarders (roughly three percent of the population), suggesting that up to 1.2 million people in California could be compulsive hoarders.


As mentioned above, hoarding is sometimes classified as a symptom of a persisting anxiety disorder. The act of accumulating the items could be spurred by a traumatic life event, such as the untimely death, divorce, or loss of possessions from a weather event such as a fire or flood. People with a hoarding disorder will save these tokens of lost ones because not only are they difficult to part with, but also they are reluctant to accept the reality of the sudden change. 


The primary difference between hoarding and simply collecting items is the organization of the items. Someone who methodically collects valuables such as baseball cards or stamps usually categorizes and organizes their goods, whereas a hoarder allows the clutter to overflow and interfere with their day-to-day living. Some with hoarding tendencies can leave hallways, rooms, and even entire floors (think basements or attics) with useless clutter which poses a health and safety hazard.

How to Remove Excess Clutter

If you or a loved one have hoarding tendencies, or simply have excess clutter impeding the storage or functionality of your living space, there are plenty of options at your disposal for relief. 

The DIY Approach

Attacking this project alone can feel like a daunting approach, but if you develop a plan and break down the process into steps you can make tangible strides in a short amount of time. Before you get started, be sure there are no potential health risks by entering this room (such as expired food that might invite rodents, or mold in the air). Once you feel comfortable in the space, experts recommend creating three piles when sorting through excess clutter: keep, trash, and donate. Once you’ve got your buckets, start tossing the easy stuff such as old toys, old or broken electronics or worn out clothing/linens. 


Just because things are old, doesn’t mean they are useless. One person’s trash is another’s prized possession, so if things are still functional, consider donating to your local Goodwill. This applies to things like books, clothes, electronics, furniture, etc. However, if they are in poor condition, it’s better to just throw them away. When it comes to paper clutter, it’s dangerous to get rid of old financial or health related documents. Experts recommend developing a file system and sorting through stacks with a ‘keep’ and ‘shred’ pile. 

Calling in the Pros

Unfortunately the state of California doesn’t have any state-funded assistance programs in place to help people who have been stricken by hoarding tendencies. However, there are commercial options in place that can orchestrate and execute a hoarding cleanup service in a single day. This type of service can alleviate the mental stress and anguish associated with a large-scale cleanup. 

Local experts can also get rid of potential health and safety risks by removing biohazards associated with the cleanup, as well as working with homeowners to remove clutter and sort through valuables in a timely fashion. Experts recommend phoning a professional service for larger jobs such as an estate from an elderly family member. 



Addressing excess clutter around the house is a stressful venture. But the relief once you’ve completed the project is much greater. Not only have you checked a very large box on your housing projects list, but now you’ve unlocked an area in your living space that you can better utilize going forward. Maybe you will turn your attic into a workout room. Maybe you can remodel that spare bedroom into an office. Either way, with those hoarding tendencies addressed, and your momentos properly sorted and stored away, you can live with one less thing causing you anxiety around the house. 

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Buying or selling a home is among the largest financial decisions a person makes in their lifetime. We are here to ensure that you are confident in your decision. Reach out, and let us show you how we can help!

John and Melissa Steele, San Diego Real Estate Agents

John and Melissa Steele