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Clearing Out the Clutter: Help Is On the Horizon for Pathological Collectors

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I will never forget the way my dad cleaned out his old shed. Instead of taking the time to sort through dusty and mysterious piles of what had been collecting for umpteen years, he figured out a clever and more efficient way to purge. He siphoned some gasoline from his old pick-up truck, doused the sundried logs of the rickety structure with the potent fuel, and poof; lit it on fire.

Not everyone has a propensity for getting rid of stuff with such enthusiasm. Most hang on to things they no longer need, and for some people, getting rid of stuff is a daunting and dreaded undertaking.

Pathological collecting, commonly referred to as hoarding, is a condition that involves the excessive acquisition of, or the inability to let go of needless and useless objects. While many of us tend to collect and purge stuff over the years, hoarders are addicted to gathering and keeping everything they can.

This condition can be mild or extreme, and sometimes results in a compromise of health and safety. While mild to moderate hoarding is not that uncommon and can be remedied with a little care and attention, people who exhibit extreme cases of hoarding, such as keeping dead pets in the basement, likely have serious underlying psychological issues and need to seek professional help.

Although many of us can survive with a fraction of the stuff we have collected in various corners of our lives, we have all experienced some level of difficulty in letting things go. Aside from the obvious warning signs, how do you know if your behavior warrants attention?

If you have layers of items that span the decades blocking your path to the back door, or feel confused, ashamed, or overwhelmed by the condition of your living space, it might be time to go get professional advice.

If you feel it is relatively easy to chuck or give away those items that no longer serve a purpose even though it might take a little prodding, stop reading now, you probably don't need any help.

If you feel that cleaning out the garage of last fall's cracked tomato pots and duplicate kitchen appliances terrifies you, but you are finally willing to roll up your sleeves and head for the dumpster, the following advice might help you to attain clearer horizons for a happier life.

Although it is much easier said than done, with a little practice and due diligence, creating a spacious living environment can be accomplished.

Get help

Going at it alone will be nearly impossible because more than likely you will find something to distract you, especially if you have been procrastinating for a long time. Call someone you trust and let them help keep you focused on the task at hand.

Don't think about it, just do it

I'm sure my dad did not make a fuss about what was in the shed before he burned it to the ground. He just decided he no longer wanted the stuff inside of it and didn't give it a second thought.

When you dwell over getting rid of something, it makes it that much harder to part with. Just get rid of it and stop second-guessing yourself. Take a leap of faith and leave the past behind.

After it's gone, don't look back

Some things cannot be replaced, but most things can. Either way it does not matter. Once something is gone, let it stay gone. Take a deep breath and enjoy the thrilling sensation of finally ridding of something that has been a burden in your life.

As time goes on you will most likely forget about those items you tossed or gave away. Remember, things don't define your life, your thoughts about yourself do. So start collecting positive thoughts and let those thoughts fuel your behavior from now on.

Change your habits

You might feel awkward for a few hours, days or months of living in a clean space if you had been used to finding comfort in the clutter. In order to keep you from acquiring more things to fill the now empty spaces, you will have to change your habits.

To fully embrace the free space you've created, proceed as if you've just been given a fresh start. Make it your intention to fill the space with fun and creative endeavors. Join a support group, a book club, or learn how to knit. Take a new way home or use the back door instead of the front door to enter your house.

Now, sit back and enjoy your accomplishment. Notice how much your life has begun to take on a lighter, simpler, and more joyous air. Keep telling yourself that the more you let go of those needless items that only serve to add clutter, the richer and happier your life will be.