How clutter relates to ‘control’ and ‘loss’…

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, June 29, 2017

Some people, however much they despair over the untidiness of their houses, don’t actually want to get rid of their clutter. On the surface, they think they do, and may buy books on clutter, or talk about it a lot, but somehow they never actually do it.


Bad cases of clutter resistance

Now I’m not talking about people who really don’t know how to become well organised, nor am I talking about those who’ve recently inherited a lot of clutter and haven’t been able to get round to sorting through it yet. I’m not even talking about the people who live proudly in their chaos. They’re happy, and I have no quarrel with them.I’m talking about people who will sigh over their clutter problem and say that they need help, and then resist getting rid of anything, even though they are obviously surrounded with things that are old, broken, useless to them, unlikely to be used again and obsolete.


‘Yes but…’ clutter

Sometimes such people will claim that it’s ‘impossible’ to live clutter free because they have children, or a messy partner etc. But delve a little deeper and their reluctance to change becomes apparent. Every time you make a suggestion you get a ‘Yes, but…’ response.

I’ve written before about how clutter builds up as a visual representation of a person’s ‘decision debt’ i.e. the failure to make a decision about whether an item is needed and where it should be put so that it can be used easily. But I haven’t talked about why some people find it so daunting to make such relatively small decisions.


The fear of getting clutter decisions wrong

People who hoard often fear getting the decision about what to throw away wrong. But for a certain proportion of them, instead of it being a proportionate fear (because let’s face it, throwing out a bath plug or screwdriver you later find you need, isn’t going to derail your life) it feels to them as though getting it wrong, will really endanger them.


How clutter makes some people feel ‘safe’ in a ‘dangerous’ world

Often they’re people who’ve suffered a loss, and so they’re overly sensitive to how vulnerable we all are to dangers and unhappiness all the time. But they’re not aware of this on a conscious level, because that would make crossing a road, sending their children to school or out to play, or getting in a car very difficult. What they do instead is displace their need for safety, by creating a ‘buffer zone’ with their possessions, which makes them feel safer.

Their possession are something they can control, and by doing so, and hanging onto their pasts in this way, they can feel that distressing change is less possible or likely. Hanging onto them also makes the possibility of them changing anything in their lives themselves, much harder, and therefore much more remote. In short, with their things around them, however useless those things are, they feel safer, and less vulnerable.


Clutter will not bring you control

In a way, they’re right. We all behave as if nothing bad will befall us. The truth is that things can happen that we have no control over at any time. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re bad. We all like to think that we have control over our lives, when that’s, at best, only partially true. In some ways, the hoarders are being more honest about reality than most people are. They only err in their response to that reality. Possessions don’t ever really insulate you, and getting past this fear and the belief that they can protect you, is essential if you want to be able to throw out what you don’t need.

Well done to those brave souls who do.


Liz Hodgson commented on 30-Jun-2017 05:46 PM
This does help explain something I've noticed. I think the future becomes so unreliable, impossible to predict or even contemplate, it can feel good to hang to any old thing, just 'in case'. Buffering, as you say. Thank you for your insights.

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