“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” “It’s All Too Much,” and “Outer Order, Inner Calm” have been a frequent topic in many circles as of late, especially with the demands for a season two of the Netflix version of Marie Kondo’s empire. All of these books have value, but each takes a slightly different approach to de-cluttering and organization. And all miss some things that may run deeper than just “stuff.”
We all live with a little clutter—it seems to accumulate around us without us even knowing, despite Peter Walsh’s assertion that people don’t “accidentally” accumulate things. As anyone who has moved after living someplace for a significant period of time knows, stuff has a way of accumulating.
In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo takes the approach of thanking our items for their service before relinquishing them, whether they are sent to a resale shop where they can have a new life with a new owner, or sent to recycling, where they can become a new thing, or (least preferably) to the trash, where they can complete their life cycle and return to the earth. However, Peter Walsh writes, “Start with the stuff (as most people are inclined to do when they try to conquer their clutter) and you are pretty much guaranteed failure. Start with the vision you have for the life you want and you have taken the first real step to long-term and remarkable change.”
But what happens when you find yourself completely overwhelmed by the task before you? Hoarding disorder, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, is closely related to anxiety disorders. People who engage in hoarding feel tremendous distress at the idea of getting rid of their things, and may react with anger, sadness, or shutting down when a family member (even a well-meaning one!) attempts to “help” by ridding them of their possessions. (One of my favorite television shows, “Call the Midwife,” had a recent episode in which an elderly woman refused to leave her stuff, even though she was in need of medical care. Her backstory was that she had endured tremendous deprivation during the first World War, then subsequently as a Suffragist in Holloway prison.)
Often, hoarding begins as a symptom of trauma. It is not unusual for therapists who specialize in hoarding disorder to see clients with tremendous trauma who begin accumulating “stuff” as a way to, quite literally, wall themselves off from the scary, outside world. Unfortunately, this accumulated trauma and accumulated stuff have a way of getting between people and disrupting relationships. “Stuff” can cause people to not invite friends or family into their home, can be a contributing factor to separation and divorce, to say nothing of the stress it causes for individuals engaging in it.
If you have a loved one struggling with mental illness, your first thought may not be to seek out therapy for yourself. But a qualified mental health professional may be able to help you deal with the challenges of a loved one’s illness—reach out!