Why We Hang on to Too Much Stuff – and How to Stop

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

cluttered desk Some people have a difficult time throwing things away, even when clutter gets in the way. (Kris Krug/flickr)

Hoarding is a disorder marked by the persistent need to hold onto things and extreme anxiety at the thought of having to part with objects, even things with no value or use. But even people who don’t have hoarding tendencies can find it difficult to get rid of things and to clear away clutter. Dr. Simon Rego, Director of Psychology Training and Director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center, and Collette Shine, who runs a professional organizing company called Organize and Shine and is the New York Chapter President of the National Association of Professional Organizers, discuss the psychology behind clutter and hoarding, why we find it so hard to let go of certain items, and what that reveals about our personality.



Dr. Simon Rego and Collette Shine

Comments [27]

I used in 2008. Got rid of things over the course of the year. A little each day. In 2012 I had to get rid of things quickly to make space and it was difficult and stressful to do it all over the course of 3 days.

Jul. 23 2014 09:58 PM
Sigrid from NYC

My community in West Harlem is hosting a share/reuse event this month, whereby people can bring clean used items (except for furniture) for exchange and swap. I think this could be a useful option for people who don't want to just throw things out but transfer them to others who might have a use for them.

Jul. 22 2014 05:53 PM
Sher from lower Manhattan

The best, most useful and cogent tip/advice was from the caller you put down: Think of Bratton's Broken Window Theory; spend 5 minutes cleaning each room each day. Little by little he got his whole place tidy and has Super Energy. This was helpful!

Jul. 22 2014 04:16 PM
Lonnie from the Bronx

HIGHLY RECOMMEND the book "Dirty Secret" by Jessie Sholl

Jul. 22 2014 03:56 PM
Collette Shine from UWS/NYC

Alain from digitizing slides. I've had clients do it themselves or hire services or college kids. You can get it done and it keeps getting less and less expensive.

Jul. 22 2014 03:17 PM

And then what does happen to all the stuff that we finally get rid of in our declutterizations? Seems that just getting it out of our living spaces still leaves STUFF - mountains of it! Besides feeling good about cleaning up our personal spaces, we need to think about, that as a society, we make way too much stuff to begin with. Our economy DEPENDS on this type of "sick" behavior! While we congratulate ourselves for getting the clutter away from us personally, we're in societal denial about overconsumption in general.

Jul. 22 2014 12:48 PM
Shari Garretson from Central NJ

I have a clutter problem that I think stems from wanting to put off making decisions, and the loneliness of the process. Recently I hired a young colleague to help me get organized (sort and box things, but not make decisions). I offered her $10 an hour. It was money well-spent: She needed the money, I needed the help.

She was great because she was totally non-judgmental (no eye-widening, or comments about how she couldn't live that way, even though she is totally the opposite in her living style.

The other thing that helped is thinking of it as a treasure hunt. Every time I go through piles, I find something valuable and wonderful, along with lots of things I can discard.

Jul. 22 2014 12:42 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Alain from Nantucket - It's not cheap to digitize slides; Ms. Shine made that fairly clear. It's like scanning photos: if you're simply doing vacation snaps from yore, and aren't attached to each one being perfect, a service can do them all in one go. If they need individual consideration, it takes longer/costs more. Your best bet is to find a service online who does volume work.

Jul. 22 2014 12:42 PM
Vinny_G from UWS - NYC

I can organize anyone else's clutter, but I can't deal with my own. What's up with that?

Jul. 22 2014 12:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Don't be ashamed to have a professional see your mess. They're the ones who have always seen something worse.

Jul. 22 2014 12:39 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Amy from Manhattan - Aside from sorting for the paper, metal and plastic that can be recycled, giving items to an organization, such as Housing Works here, to re-sell and support their worthy services, is very eco-friendly. They are starting to do pickup service for some things again!

Jul. 22 2014 12:37 PM
katie from westchester

I think there's another important skill to learn and that's editing. You may not need to get rid of everything, just be better about keeping the things that you really love and bring joy and beauty into your life.

Jul. 22 2014 12:37 PM
Alain from Nantucket

RE: woman mentioned just now downsized and had 8,000 slides:

WHO (i.e., service) digitizes those tons of slides without breaking the bank?? Does one hire a college kid?

Jul. 22 2014 12:35 PM
Mike from Brooklyn

Hasn't Antiques Roadshow discouraged people from discarding stuff?

Jul. 22 2014 12:34 PM
thatgirl from manhattan

Do either of your guests find that once a client/patient gets treatment/gets to the bottom of the "why" they hoard, can they/do they handle de-cluttering on their own, or is a professional to guide them always recommended.

Jul. 22 2014 12:32 PM

But we are encouraged to be good consumers. There's so much NEW stuff to replace the "almost new." So much upgrading, so many new styles and trends. So much Good Stuff getting in the way. How do we stop the "front end" loading on of new stuff when we don't really need it?

Jul. 22 2014 12:30 PM
Ruth from Queens

My clutter problem, which is overwhelming, began after a Traumatic Brain Injury 15 years ago: I simply do not have enough brain cells to go through stuff (quickly exhausted), nor do I have the money to hire assistance or therapy. I KNOW space in my home would help create clarity in my mind.

Jul. 22 2014 12:29 PM
Julia from BK

I've started putting knick-knacks that I no longer want in a box labeled "free" at my gateway. It disappears in no time. One woman's trash...

Jul. 22 2014 12:29 PM
Amy from Manhattan

1. Can the guests give advice on decluttering in the most eco-friendly way?

2. Toaster or toaster oven? Heh. When my mother's old toaster oven finally gave out several months ago, I was glad I hadn't thrown out my toaster! Still using it.

Jul. 22 2014 12:28 PM
Annabelle Moore from New York, NY

I've noticed that many hoarders begin this behavior after an interpersonal loss. Would grief counseling resolve the hoarding or should it be treated as a discreet, behavioral issue?

Jul. 22 2014 12:27 PM
S Telcher from NYC

Is clutter and p/hoarding a different issue for those with ADD/ADHD? I find my mind very organized when I write edit, etc professionally, while physically it's been ab issue as long as I can remember -( FYI - Clutterers anonymous helps.)

Jul. 22 2014 12:26 PM
Julie from White Plains

As I am listening, I am clearing out (recycling) cooking magazines dating back to 1990 when I first fell in love with the idea creating meals and food. They were organized by title and month in holders. My dream was to one day have a kitchen with a wall of Bon Appetit and Gourmet and Veggie Times and Food & Wine. A wall to tell the story of a short history of food. But life got in the way and I will never have that kitchen - I can barely afford the basics now. Holding onto them was like looking defeat in the face, daily. So I bid them adieu!

Jul. 22 2014 12:21 PM
Kimberly from Brooklyn

Thank you to the caller with the brother who hoards. I have a relative who is very challenged by her organizational issues. She refuses to have repairs done in her home because she has shame associated with her clutter. She has missed family gatherings -- promising to clean-up, but never following through.

I will review this Institute for Chronic Disorganization. My hope it is not limited to support those in NYC.

Jul. 22 2014 12:20 PM
jennifer from NJ

Can you comment on the role of dementia and hoarding behavior?

Jul. 22 2014 12:16 PM
Uncle Leo from Brooklyn

Is there a major distinction between hoarding and collecting? Hoarding seems to refer to old newspapers, filth and junk cluttering the home while collecting often involves a highly organized system maintaining records, comic books, figurines, etc.

Jul. 22 2014 12:12 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

Stuff is hope and optimism. Someday I'll redecorate and use that chair. Someday I'll finish knitting that sweater. Getting rid of stuff is admitting that there are things I won't ever do.

Jul. 22 2014 12:09 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

Stuff is hope and optimism. Someday I'll redecorate and use that chair. Someday I'll finish knitting that sweater. Getting rid of stuff is admitting that there are things I won't ever do.

Jul. 22 2014 12:09 PM

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