Decluttering | Family Organizing | Living Simply

What Kind of Clutter Has You Stuck? Transitional Vs. Habitual Clutter

Jun 09

About Laura

I am a West Coast girl turned small town, Midwest Mom. I love the outdoors, cooking, writing, and spending time with my family. I am dedicated to keeping my life as simple as possible.

I have a B.A. degree in Psychology and 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.

I am a high energy person, and I love to see a messy room transform into an organized space. My need for order and simplicity stems from my ADHD disability 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 miraculously able to help others as a result of this coping method that I have developed for myself.

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. 


Transitional Vs. Habitual Clutter

Before you dive into trying to resolve a clutter issue you are dealing with, it is helpful to identify why the clutter is there in the first place. This is important, whether the problem be a small one like a storage space that has gotten out of hand or a larger scale clutter problem that has taken over your whole house. The reason for this is because the steps that you take to get back to feeling in control are different depending on what kind of clutter you are up against.

Transitional Clutter

Transitional Clutter is usually a temporary, albeit overwhelming dilemma that occurs as a result of a major life change. Examples are a move, a divorce, an illness, a job change, or a death of a family member. If you have been organized most of your life to at least some degree, but have found things to be suddenly out of control and you just can’t manage to get back on top of it all, you likely are dealing with transitional clutter. 

Reaching The Tipping Point

if this sounds like you, you can find comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your struggle. Transitional clutter is common and happens even to the most organized among us at some point in our lives. We can only handle so much on our plates, and once we reach a tipping point; we start to break down. For some, transitional clutter may simply be a result of not having enough time or energy to stay on top of things and feel in control.

Minding Our Health and Energy Levels

Our overall health, energy level, and emotional stability all play an integral part in how much we can manage on a daily basis. If any of these three are compromised, our ability to be productive and efficient is significantly reduced. Additionally, if we are dealing with a major life event that is viewed as negative, our ability to juggle the everyday tasks that come our way can be drastically reduced. In other words, what was easy yesterday when we were feeling more emotionally balanced, feels insurmountable today. 

Traumatic, health-related, or/and unplanned, events can be especially immobilizing because, on top of everything else, we are likely struggling with some heavy emotions like depression, anxiety, and fatigue. When we get low, we all tend to let things go. However, transitional clutter can show up with  positive events or changes as well.  A new baby or a marriage can throw us off balance for a while. This happens because it takes time to adjust to our new life and the added responsibilities that come with it.

Some transitional life events have incredible power to leave us feeling emotionally and physically depleted. They can also make us feel like we have lost control of our lives. If you are experiencing transitional clutter, give yourself some slack and be patient with yourself.

How To overcome Transitional Clutter

When you are ready, get help from a friend, family member, or professional organizer to help you get back on top of things. If you decide to tackle the job yourself, take the time you need to get work done without depleting your energy. Take some time off work, get someone to watch the kids for the day, whatever it takes to help you get back to feeling in control. Remind yourself that you were there once; you can get back there again.  It is important not to feel guilty about asking for help or setting aside the extra time to catch up.

When it is Best To Ask For Help

For those facing either a physical limitation due to an illness or the loss of a loved one,  it is important to get some support. Sorting through a loved one’s belongings alone can be especially difficult, as this can ignite strong emotions. Having someone else there to be your rock to lean on, can help you make progress and keep you grounded. Relying on a trusted friend, family member, or another helper can enable you to move forward. Also, keep in mind that two people can accomplish twice as much as one person can.

Transitional Clutter is Usually a Temporary Dilemma

The good news is that transitional clutter is almost always a temporary tight spot that we find ourselves in. In most cases, once we get back on our feet and/or get some extra help, we can usually regain some sense of control.  Are you are dealing with a more permanent situation, like a long-term physical disability? In this case, the solution may lie in making some changes to your lifestyle, to your home, or moving to a smaller home to make things simpler for yourself.

How Can You Lighten the Load?

In today’s world, many of us tend to max ourselves out in regards to busyness, belongings, and responsibilities. We have demanding jobs, big houses, multiple cars, and other things that complicate our lives. Figuring out how to create a simpler life for yourself might be the key to staying on top of things and having less stress. Can you move to a smaller home that requires less maintenance? Consider moving in with a family member or friend, or hire someone to clean your house or do your yard work. Get rid of belongings that you don’t really need or use. Let go of unnecessary responsibilities in your schedule that require your time and attention.  

decluttering your life

Habitual Clutter

Those who have struggled for years with a more chronic form of disorganization may be dealing with habitual clutter. In these cases, getting someone to help you organize a space will help temporarily, but this is like putting a band-aid on the problem. To prevent this kind of clutter from coming back, you need to take a closer look to find the root cause of the problem. Habitual clutter is like a weed in the garden, it will only grow back right away if you don’t pull it out by its roots.

Why Reading Books About Organizing Doesn’t Always Work

It is common for those who struggle with habitual clutter to have read multiple organizing books in effort to overcome their problem. Unfortunately, simply reading a book about getting organized, although helpful, is often is not enough to kick their clutter to the curb. This is because it is the reader’s habits and the relationship that they have with their belongings that needs to change for real progress to take place.

It is Best to Take Holistic Approach to End Habitual Clutter

Uncovering the internal reasons why clutter has been an ongoing issue is key. The solution rarely lies in figuring out how to organize everything in just the right way. That is because it’s usually not just about the stuff. By taking a holistic approach, asking lots of questions, and bringing all the possible contributing factors out into the light, we can then be much more effective in getting rid of the clutter for good.

Discovering The Hidden Truths

There can be many different contributing factors that keep habitual clutterer’s stuck. In addition to examining habits and tendencies, we may want to examine things like coping behaviors and any possible distorted beliefs that may exist. Other factors like health issues, depression, or the demands of our busy schedules can also compound the problem. Self-blame can be another major roadblock that prevents habitual clutterer’s from moving forward. Sometimes, unmet needs can foster our need to hold onto stuff or to acquire things. We may unconsciously and unsuccessfully attempt to fill the void with shopping or other addictive behaviors that offer immediate but short-lived satisfaction.

Gaining Self Awareness is Key

All of these thoughts and behaviors can be going on without having any conscious awareness of them, so gaining self awareness is the first and most important step. Once these distorted thinking patterns and/or habitual cycles are brought out into the light and examined, we can then pinpoint what needs to change to finally break through and change.

Habitual Clutter Can Be Tied To Family History 

For some, the root of the clutter can also be historical. It can be a result of never having developed helpful habits and routines needed to stay organized in the first place. Perhaps we were raised in a disorganized family, or we grew up in a home where someone else did everything for us. Because of this, we were never required to develop or practice the habits needed to keep our things organized. This is the reason it is so important to teach children valuable organizing skills when they are young.

The Frugal Family

Another common family scenario is having grown up in a family that was extremely frugal. If we lived during the depression era or had parents who did, we might struggle with letting go of anything that might be considered useful in any way. In this case, it is guilt that prevents us from getting rid of things. The common excuse, “I might use this someday” stands between us and a clutter-free home.

Just because a person was raised in one of these aforementioned environments, does not mean they are stuck being disorganized forever. Self-awareness, education, and learning to do things more mindfully can make a big difference in moving a person towards getting and staying organized for good.

Our Habits and Routines Play an Important Part in Staying Organized

Our organizing habits can both help or hurt us depending on whether or not we control our habits or they control us. Habitual clutter can even be a result of repeatedly putting off until tomorrow what we don’t feel like doing today. We are all guilty of this at times, depending on how busy or motivated we are feeling at the moment. But how often we decide to put organizing off is the key here.

Breaking Unhelpful Habits and Tendencies

Nobody wants to be controlled by unconscious inclinations. By gaining more self-awareness and getting rid of “The smoke in our own mirrors”, we can start to clearly see why we are stuck and can then take steps to change. We can mindfully resist the tendencies, habits, and distorted thinking that contributes to our clutter. Self-awareness, self-trust, and action-oriented habit change are the key elements leading to lasting success. Taking small steps forward, staying positive, and focusing  on our successes are also highly effective tools in overcoming habitual clutter. It is equally important to avoid sabotaging our organizing efforts with any self-blame.

Why Building on One Success at a Time Works

Each small success helps us flex a control muscle that grows stronger with each completed project. We start to gain more confidence in our ability to change and overcome, and we learn to trust ourselves one victory at a time.  once we experience the thrill of successful and positive change, we develop momentum and energy and can be inspired to keep on making progress.

Whether we are facing transitional or habitual clutter, it is important to keep on taking small steps in the right direction.  It is also encouraging to know that as we get closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, we start taking larger steps.  We may even find ourselves sprinting to the finish line. 

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