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15 Common Situational or Psychological Reasons For Clutter

Common Situational and Psychological Reasons For Clutter

Psychological reasons for clutter: Which ones best describe your clutter problem?

I have worked with a multitude of clients over the years. What I have discovered is that most of us share the same common situational or psychological reasons for clutter. 

I am sure you have your own circumstances, tendencies, belief systems, and root causes, contributing to the clutter that has found its way into your home. But if you are struggling with clutter, you need to know that you are not as alone in your predicament as you think.

The following is a list of the common situational or psychological reasons for clutter that I see repeatedly as a professional organizer.

I will also offer insights into how to get past each one. Keep in mind, that more than one of these causes may apply to you. If so, do not fret because this is common too. 

But do be aware that your clutter problem compounds with every additional item on this list that describes you. So the more items you check “yes” to, the more clutter you are likely dealing with. 

Situational reasons for clutter:

1.”There are a lot of things in my house that do not have a home because our storage spaces are overflowing.”

Insufficient storage space can contribute to clutter by making it difficult to maintain organization and find designated places for belongings. I call this vacuum Clutter. This is when too much has come into your home over time and not enough has gone out over time. 

If your storage spaces; are all filled to the max and every time you open a closet, drawer, or cabinet door, things spill out, your home may have exceeded its clutter threshold. If it’s a hassle to try and find things inside these storage spaces because too much stuff is crammed in there, the solution lies in decluttering those spaces. 

Solution: Commit to doing the hard work of going through your storage spaces and letting go of what you no longer use. This will make your storage spaces more functional and you’ll have room to put things away so that you can put things away, and clear off flat surfaces so that your home doesn’t look cluttered all of the time.

2.”I am usually pretty organized but got buried and can’t seem to get back on top of the mess.”

Have you been organized most of your life at least to some degree, but have lost control and just can’t get back on top of it all? If so, you could be dealing with transitional or situational clutter. 

Major life events such as moving, job changes, illness, or loss can disrupt established routines and lead to a buildup of clutter as other priorities take precedence. Luckily, transitional clutter is usually a temporary dilemma. But since it is easier to keep up than to catch up, it can feel like an insurmountable task.

Solution: With transitional clutter, the best way to get past it is to get help from a friend, or family member to help you get back on top of things. Or make time in your schedule to get caught up, take some time off work, or get someone to watch the kids for the day. Making it a priority to catch up is important for your mental health. You deserve the peace of mind of feeling in control. 

3.”My home is a cluttered mess because I am just too busy.” 

Busy schedules and competing priorities can make it difficult to stay organized. Today, we live in a society that always seems to be chasing more. More stuff, more activities, more obligations, etc. but we only have so much time in a day and when it comes to our schedules, doing less can really be more.

You deserve to prioritize your self-care by creating enough space in your schedule to feel in control and organized rather than overwhelmed and stressed out much of the time.  

Solution: If you have too much on your plate, and procrastination is not the issue, it may be time to evaluate your schedule and see what you can eliminate so you can keep up. Can you get extra help either from a friend or family member or a paid service like a housekeeper or another service provider? 

Schedule a reset day preferably each week, but at least twice a month to catch up on things that need to get done at home. Don’t be tempted to schedule anything else that day. Use this time to plan your week, and catch up on things like paying bills, laundry, tidying, meal prep, etc.

Psychological reasons for clutter:

4.”I have struggled with clutter for years.”

If you have struggled for years with a more chronic form of clutter you may be dealing with what is called habitual clutter. There can be many different contributing factors that keep habitual clutterers stuck. 

Solution: You need to take a closer look to find the root cause of the problem. Uncovering and discovering the psychological reasons behind your clutter can make all the difference. Only then can you work on accepting how and why you get snagged and then commit to changing your behavior patterns and or belief systems to make lasting changes.

Child doing crafts on a table.

5.”I grew up in a very cluttered home.”

Childhood environments can strongly influence adult behaviors and attitudes towards clutter, often leading to patterns of either replicating or rebelling against the cluttered environment they grew up in. 

For some, the psychological reason for the clutter can be historical. It can be a result of never having developed helpful habits and routines needed to stay organized in the first place.

Solution: If you were never taught or modeled the habits needed to keep your things organized and uncluttered then you may need to train yourself to develop new routines and habits. The key is to intentionally push against your natural inclination to repeat your parents’ behaviors.

Go through your home and assign a permanent location to everything you own. Then practice returning things to their assigned homes each time you finish using them. These habits might be hard to implement at first because they don’t come naturally for you, but stick with them and soon they will become automatic. 

6.”I have been diagnosed with or think I might have ADHD.”

Individuals with ADHD may struggle with executive functioning skills such as organization and decision-making, making it challenging to maintain an organized living space without specialized strategies and support.

Solution: For you, staying organized with ADHD may involve simplifying your home and creating simple systems and routines that help you stay on top of things. For those with ADHD, less is usually more. The less stuff you have at home to deal with the better. Because you likely get overwhelmed by clutter faster than those who don’t. 

Understanding how your unique brain works and how your ADHD manifests itself is key. Education is the best way to arm yourself against the challenges of having ADHD. There are also lots of ADHD hacks and tips that you can learn to help you compensate.

7.”I am sentimental and have a hard time letting go of things.” 

Some individuals are more sentimental about their things than others. While being sentimental is an honorable trait, it can stand in the way of your goals for a clutter-free home. Sentimental attachment to objects can make decluttering emotionally challenging.

Solution: If this sounds like you, keep in mind that material objects will never measure up to the memories you have in your heart. Push yourself to be selective.

Limit yourself by setting parameters for what you keep. For example, decide in advance that you are going to keep two keepsake totes from your childhood and let that be enough. Fill up the totes with your favorite items. Take photos of what doesn’t fit and let it go.

You may also have many gifts and inherited items from loved ones. You may feel that you need to keep them because you feel guilty about getting rid of them. 

Don’t be guilted into keeping these things if they don’t personally hold meaning for you. Your friend or loved one would not want you to hold on to these things if you do not value them and they cause you emotional stress because your home is cluttered.

Happy girl shopping.

8.”I like to shop for entertainment or to fight the blues.”

Retail therapy or using shopping as a coping mechanism for stress or boredom can lead to the accumulation of unnecessary items and clutter. This habit is more common today than ever. 

Many unconsciously and unsuccessfully attempt to fill a void or simply fight boredom by shopping either online or in-store to get immediate but short-lived satisfaction.  

Solution: If this sounds like you, simply gaining the awareness that you possess this habit can help you resist the urge. It’s also helpful to recognize the vicious cycle between the short-lived thrill of the purchase and the accumulative clutter that finds its way into your home as a result of it. 

If you typically shop at the same times, find another less clutter oriented activity that you enjoy to fill that space.  This will help you resist the urge to shop.

Of course there will always be some shopping you have to do.  But if you know you possess this tendency, try to be intentional and selective about what you put in your shopping cart. Reading my other post: “10 Questions to ask yourself before buying something” can also be helpful.

9.”I have a hard time resisting a bargain, and when I shop, I like to stock up on things.”

The allure of discounts or sales may prompt impulsive purchases, leading to clutter as items accumulate faster than they can be used or properly stored. 

Bulk purchasing habits can also lead to excess inventory and clutter. Especially if items are bought without a specific plan for consumption or storage. The bigger your inventory gets, the greater the risk of losing control of it.  

Being a serious “couponer” can also be hazardous to your home. It can lead to stocking up on multiple categories of foods and nonperishables. The more stuff you have the harder it is to keep it all organized. 

What’s more, is there is a paradoxical effect with this, often, those who stock up to be frugal, end up wasting money in the long run. This happens due to ending up with expired food, lost items, and at worst… having to hire a professional organizer to get organized again. For these reasons, stocking up can actually end up costing you money.

Solution: Resist the temptation to stock up excessively, especially if you don’t have sufficient room for it all. Instead, let the stores store it for you until you really need it. Shop mindfully and be on guard for marketing ploys, attempting to brainwash you into making purchases that you don’t really need.

10.”I want to figure out the very best way to organize my things. So much so that I never actually manage to get started.”

While being a perfectionist has some good qualities, it also can be a hindrance to getting organized. Perfectionism can create unrealistic expectations and barriers, to the point of being paralyzed by the desire for an unattainable level of organization.

Solution: If this sounds like you, let me encourage you to push past the planning phase and just get started. Force yourself to get uncomfortable and move into the action phase. It’s better to have an imperfectly organized space than a space that’s not organized at all.

11.”I usually try to keep anything that might be useful down the road because I don’t like to waste things.” 

Did you grow up in a frugal family or experience some sort of scarcity of material things? If so, you might struggle with letting go of anything that might be considered useful in any way. 

In this case, it’s guilt and the fear of letting go of something you might regret, preventing you from getting rid of things. The common excuse, “I might use this someday” stands between you and a clutter-free home.

There exists a tendency to hold onto our possessions even if we don’t use them and wouldn’t buy them again if given the chance. This is due to a psychological phenomenon known as the endowment effect, which states that people are more likely to keep an object they already own than to acquire that same object if they don’t own it. Basically, we tend to cling to our belongings once we’ve got them in our possession.

Solution: It can be helpful to be mindful of this inclination and not to hold too tightly on to things out of the habit of being frugal. If you don’t use these items, but they are in good shape, donating them is the best option.  

Self awareness in this situation is key, just knowing your own tendencies and belief systems that might be holding you back from having a clutter free home can be a catalyst for change. 

12.”I am a creative person, so I have lots of craft supplies and many projects going on at one time.”

Creative individuals often have inspiring ideas, but these ideas require a certain amount of time, energy, and supplies to become a finished product. The sheer volume of supplies required for crafting, coupled with the fact that many creative individuals do not enjoy organizing, can in itself lead to disorganization and excess clutter. 

Solution: Resist buying supplies before you are ready to begin working on a project. It’s all too easy to over-purchase products that you never end up using and ultimately end up adding to your clutter. 

Try not to have too many creative projects going on at one time, this can also add to your clutter problem. Limiting yourself to working on one project at a time will minimize both your physical and mental clutter.

13.”Every time I attempt to declutter, I get overwhelmed and give up, so the job never gets done.”

Attempting to declutter all at once if you have a large amount of work to do can feel like an overwhelming task. Especially if you decide to jump from one room to another, doing only a small amount of work in each space. 

This can leave you exhausted at the end of the day with nothing to show for it. Just having to look at all the work you have to do in each room can overwhelm you.

Solution: Don’t take everything out of a large space all at once. Instead, break projects into small chunks. Declutter one drawer, shelf or cabinet at a time. This will help you side-step getting overwhelmed.  

It will also allow you to see some tangible results. At the end of the day, if you can open your pantry or closet and see the progress you’ve made, it will give you the encouragement you need to keep going.

Boxes of records

14.”One of my hobbies is collecting things and I have several valuable collections.”

If you are a collector, know that you may be inherently at risk for wanting to collect too much stuff. Use caution not to fall into the trap of becoming an over-collector. An overcollector is someone so enthusiastic about their hobby, that they acquire several collections in multiple categories.

Solution: Limit yourself to one or two reasonably sized collections. Don’t allow yourself to collect multiple categories of items. Otherwise, your home may end up looking more like a store than a home. When too many pretty things are fighting for our visual attention it all loses its value and just starts to look like clutter.

15.”I like to hold onto most of my empty containers, boxes, and bags because they might be useful.” 

Holding onto items for their potential utility can rapidly contribute to making your home look cluttered. This is something I see all the time. Once you get in the habit of collecting things like boxes, canvas totes, grocery bags, and empty plastic containers, they can quickly get out of hand to the point where you end up with much more than you’ll ever use, or have space for. 

I’m not saying that it’s not helpful to have a few of these things on hand, but the key word here is “few.” You are likely a conscientious consumer with a more frugal mindset and I respect your intentions. But be careful to keep yourself in check because these things can rapidly accumulate and make your home look cluttered. 

Solution: Get into the habit of breaking down boxes and recycling them along with paper bags. Stuff grocery bags into a small container like an empty Clorox wipe tube and start tossing out any bags that do not fit in there. Intentionally decide to limit how many shopping bags and food storage containers you keep and push yourself to toss the rest.

Understanding these common scenarios and the underlying situational and psychological reasons for clutter can guide your approach to getting past them. 

Nobody wants to be controlled by unconscious inclinations. By gaining more self-awareness you can start to see why you are stuck and what you need to do to change. Then, self-trust, and action-oriented habit change will lead you to a more clutter-free and organized home. 

Laura Coufal

About Laura

Who I am is a Southern California turned small-town, Midwest Mom. I am wife to Bruce and mom to my three girls. I am also dog mom to Ollie and Gracie, our quirky pups.

With a B.A. degree in Psychology, I have several years experience working with families and seniors. I believe in a holistic view to organizing. Clearing our minds of the clutter and chaos in our lives is just as important as clearing our physical clutter. By taking a holistic approach to organizing, we can make lasting change.

Back when I first started my professional organizing journey in 2013, I had what I thought of as a dirty little secret. I have ADHD and although I am organized, and enjoy the process of sorting, and tidying. I knew that there were many others with ADHD who really struggled with staying organized. I had a case of imposter syndrome and mostly kept the fact that I had ADHD to myself. That is until I learned that there are other successful professional organizers who have also learned to compensate for their ADHD the same way that I have.

I eventually realized that my need for order and simplicity actually stems from having ADHD as a way to compensate for my short attention span. So my gifts and my challenges are all ironically tied together to create who I am,  and I am able to relate to and help others as a result of this coping method that I have developed for myself.

I also help those without ADHD, who struggle with too much clutter.  Because simplicity and less clutter are always at the heart of staying organized, there is much overlap when it comes to finding solutions to clutter and disorganization.

I am dedicated to keeping my life as simple as possible and to helping others do the same by teaching them how to declutter their homes, simplify their lives, and manage their busy families better.

I have been helping others stay organized since 2013.

It is my deepest hope that you will find resources here that will bring you closer to living a simpler, more intentional, and more peaceful life. 

always have

something

beautiful 

in your space…

…but let it be

as simple

as a daisy

in a vase.

 

Feeling Stuck?
Schedule a coaching call, virtual organizing session, or a home assessment with me, and get the support and encouragement you need to move forward.
Girl on chair in front of computer.

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