Over 10 years as a Declutter Consultant and Personal Organiser I've worked hundreds of people in their homes. People in pain, people with too much stuff, people surrounded by chaos, living a state of overwhelm and paralysis. Their home stresses them out and they're seeking help (from me) to resolve it.
Because people open their hearts and share life stories with me, I've come to understand a lot about the common reasons that lead them to end up in the state they do. I'd like to share them here. You or someone you know with a clutter problem might recognise some of them:
1. You have a busy life
Strange as it may seem, maintaining your possessions is as much of a job as acquiring them.
What if you asked yourself, each time you bought a new pair of shoes: do I have time to look after these? As if you were buying a guinea pig or a dog. Okay, they don't need feeding but they do need walking and cleaning (like a dog), plus somewhere to live. Being thrown in the bottom of your wardrobe isn't good enough for a dog or a pair of shoes - especially not those Prada heels!
If your life is crammed and active, you might employ a gardener to manage the weeds on your flowerbeds. But who manages the overgrowth in your wardrobe?
2. You're comfortable with mess
Sometimes people call me because their partner is at breaking point and refusing to live in chaos anymore. But you may be unconsciously trying to recreate and honour the memory of your childhood home because a cluttered space feels familiar, safe and normal to you.
Or perhaps shopping was a way you spent time with loved ones, the 'language of love' your parents or grandparents shared with you? Shopping was love, or chaos was home, so you instinctively recreate that and some part of you feels at home within it.
3. Your life is out of balance
Perhaps you love to do creative work - reading, collecting or making things - but in a slightly obsessive way that takes up a lot of space and pushes other elements of your life to one side.
Decluttering my own home showed me clearly how my life was out of balance. When I sorted all my papers and projects into sections, I realised it was time to focus some of my energy on other things. Too much of anything - reading, working, collecting, crafting - is not good and your home or workspace will reflect that back to you.
Sound familiar? Do you like to gather research articles, recipes, art supplies... anything? It's time to work out if you're actually using them. If you decide to keep them, write a 'use by' date on them commit to binning them if you haven't actioned it when it expires
4. You've suffered an illness or a bereavement
When we are bereft, some part of us shuts down in order to cope. We go into functional survival mode and live on automatic pilot, as the grief is often too much to bear. Unfortunately, life doesn't stop: post keeps coming, plants keep growing and dust keeps gathering. And after a while, the neglect starts to show.
Following bereavement, you might have inherited items which carry emotional weight, which you find too challenging to deal with alone. Perhaps you've tried but emotion has stopped you thinking straight enough to make decisions - or other things have distracted you.
5. You or someone close to you has cared for someone through a period of depression or illness
Helping another person through a (possibly prolonged) period of ill-health can understandably sap your energy or desire to care for your own surroundings. Your personal resources may feel stretched enough, leading you to react in the ways outlined above in No.4.
6. One or both parents was a collector/hoarder/inventor or creative
Our parents provide models for our own behaviours - we either rebel or adopt them. Depending on your siblings' behaviour and your relationship with each parent, you might unconsciously adopt similar behaviour around your own house.
If you're lucky, you either rebelled and became orderly and tidy, or your parent modelled a healthy relationship to the home for you. If that doesn't sound like you, you might be struggling right now.
An obsessively tidy parent can be very oppressive so it can feel good to rebel and live in a less ordered way, but sometimes we need to embrace a Buddhist philosophy of the middle path. Try to find your own middle way and choose the relationship you want to have with your space. Changing habits is hard, but when you realise you have a choice you're nearly there!
6. You've gone through major life changes
Say you've retired, downsized, divorced, the kids have left home or you've started a business from your spare room. You don't need all the stuff in your living space anymore, it's suffocating you. Now's the time to scale it down.
7. You're struggling with loneliness
They say people carry excess weight as a protective wall to keep themselves safe and others out. For the same reasons a person comfort eats and gains weight, we may comfort ourselves with shopping.
But any overconsumption has a consequence. If your home is cluttered or too full, you'll always find reasons not to invite anyone in.
8. Your personality type
Creative people who have lots of ideas often live in their heads. They may follow a muse or a 'flow' and get distracted from dealing with practicalities. Some see the innate value and creative potential in every single object: a broken umbrella, a pile of magazines... I could mend that or make something with those someday!
Clutter is mainly a distraction from making a big change or relates to deep pain or trauma that has left a haunting emptiness someone is trying to fill. So we get into the habit of filling what we believe is a void in our life when really the clutter serves as a distraction from moving on to the next stage.
9. We live in a consumer society
With new products and fashions appearing all the time, it's not surprising we regularly add to our stuff. Sometimes it's the "letting go" part of our personality that isn't working so well. People are generally afraid to let things go for the following reasons:
• Emotional attachment: I can't possibly throw that out, Aunty Jean gave me it (in 2005!).
• Resourcefulness: Those too-small jeans/old newspapers might come in handy one day!
• Trauma: When something happens to interrupt the natural flow of things, the 'letting go' cycle gets stuck. But it's natural to things let go, we do it every day.
If any of the above reasons struck a chord as you were reading this, hold on to that feeling and do something about it! If you don't make start making changes now, then when? I'd be glad to help advise you on how to get things moving again - just get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are the big 9 reasons I've uncovered, what are the main things that cause your clutter?
To start using my mindful method to a stress and clutter free home, check out homedeclutterkit.com