The Difference Between a Miser and Just Dirty (and What to Do Anyway)

First, there was the Watchmen reality show, about so-called “watchmen” whose homes were so cluttered that they required professional intervention. Then, years after this program introduced the public consciousness to hoarding, TikTok emerged from cleaners who specialized in cleaning up such messes. Both of these forms of media allowed viewers to ogle and theorize about people whose living quarters were filled to the brim with rubbish, clothing, and knick-knacks, and allowed some to wonder if they, too, were misers.

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If you’re the kind of person who’s wondering if your (or someone you love’s) clutter is hoarding, let’s take a look at what hoarding actually is and what you can do with your clutter—regardless of whether you are a true hoarder or not.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic , is “a persistent difficulty in throwing away or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to preserve them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences stress at the thought of getting rid of objects. There is an over-accumulation of items, regardless of the actual cost.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic , symptoms of hoarding disorder include a strong need to “keep” possessions, an inability to dispose of possessions, “extreme stress” about throwing things away, worry about the possibility of things being needed in the future, uncertainty about where to put things , distrust of other people touching things, living in unusable places due to clutter, and moving away from friends and family.

There are several risk factors that you can also look at, such as whether you are related to someone with a hoarding disorder, whether you have had a traumatic brain injury that causes you to need to save things, a traumatic life event, a mental disorder, or experience. uncontrollable shopping habits or an inability to turn down free items, even if it’s as simple as a coupon.

If you meet the above criteria and your life situation is unhealthy or unsafe, you may consider calling your doctor. Treatment usually includes cognitive behavioral therapy or antidepressants, or a combination of the two.

There’s help: Hoarding disorder has been recognized as a separate mental illness since 2013, and although only two to 5% of people are diagnosed, there have been studies of possible causes. Some believe it may be its own form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, while others have concluded that it may be related to ADHD or dementia. Talking to a healthcare professional about accumulation and any other concerns can be helpful.

What is the difference between hoarding and disorder?

Everyone can be disorganized from time to time. The key to knowing if you’re acting a little sloppy or if you’re really upset is in the details. Regina Lark of the National Association of Professional Organizers told WebMD in 2014 that hoarding occurs when someone has a huge amount of items: “They don’t have one can opener, they have 40.”

Again, safety is important here. If your home is messy but not dangerous , you might just be messy. If the showers are unusable due to clutter, the stairs are full of barriers, you trip over things, and the fire exits are blocked, that’s a problem and you should consider if you’re a curmudgeon. Also remember that accumulation of flammable objects can be a fire hazard.

What can you do?

Even if your clutter issues don’t elevate to hoarder status, they’re still issues . If you’re embarrassed to invite friends over or keep buying duplicate items because you can’t find a match with what you already own, it can be frustrating. There are cleaning services that specialize in both hoarding and large messes, although they can be expensive.

If you’re just hesitant, ask a friend or family member for help. Someone who cares about you and doesn’t judge you is perfect, even if their only function here is to hang out with you while you clean up and make you do a task. Grab a trash bag and start throwing away, starting with any food scraps and a bunch of junk receipts, junk mail, and other papers. Clothes you don’t wear and things you bought a long time ago but haven’t used are things you can probably donate.

According to WebMD, it’s also important for you to write down your habits. When you get home, where do you put your keys? When you take off your clothes at the end of the day, where do you put them? It can be helpful to take stock of what you are doing subconsciously and actively work on correcting it once you have a solid understanding. Once you find yourself throwing your keys on the kitchen table, counter, couch, or whatever, start putting them in the same place every time. Set aside a laundry bag or basket for your bedroom and consciously work on putting your dirty clothes in there every night. It takes time to form a new habit , but once you’ve made your space cleaner, you’ll need these habits to maintain the space.

Even if you are not one of the symptoms of hoarding disorder described above, you may want to talk to a therapist. Here’s how you can find it , even on a budget. Remember, many people struggle with clutter and disorganization. You’re not alone; you just need to figure out why you’re doing it, what’s stopping you from getting out, and if you need outside help.

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