The Different Types of Hoarders

Decluttering doesn’t mean you only need to keep one item of clothing or furniture, or that you have to commit to a minimalist lifestyle.

Some of us can easily declutter and get rid of everything we don’t need immediately without giving it a second thought. But for most of us, decluttering is not that easy and goes much deeper into our emotional need for stuff due to our consumerist society. According to the Huffington Post, there are more storage facilities than McDonald’s restaurants in America. At the end of 2014, there were 48,500 self-storage facilities in America compared to 14,350 McDonald’s (at the end of 2020, those numbers were about 48,000 self-storage facilities and 13,800 McDonald’s). This further proves that getting rid of items is so difficult for us that we’d rather pay to store them!

People who have excessive clutter stashes can also become hoarders, and approximately 19 million Americans fall into this category. The American Psychiatric Association defines hoarders as people who “excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces.”

I’m not saying that hoarding, which is considered a disease similar to OCD, is anything remotely close to being a clutterbug. I am using the term clutterbug to describe someone who lets clutter build up over time and hangs onto items for reasons that are more emotional than practical. However, holding onto clutter could eventually lead to hoarding, which is why you should take decluttering seriously and commit to it regularly. Whether you are detail-oriented or a big-picture thinker, you should know your clutter style like you know your blood type to gain a better understanding of yourself and how you can maximize your life.

Don’t get discouraged or angry with yourself for your clutter habits — life can be busy and hectic. Setting up a decluttering mindset takes work and dedication. You’re not alone.

The next step is to tackle the mental and emotional aspects of being a clutterbug so you can begin to create and maintain new habits that will help you experience clutter-free joy.

There are several different types of so-called clutterbugs. You may fall into one category, all categories, or none of them, and that’s okay. I added the clutterbug types in hopes that you may see yourself in the different categories and begin to envision a plan of how you can overcome your own barriers to decluttering. These visions will help move you forward on your quest to declutter.

Whatever your clutter personality, many people say, “I will deal with this tomorrow, next week, next month, next year,” and we see how this pattern can escalate. No matter what type of clutterbug your personality reveals, you cannot put off decluttering any longer. If you defer this task, it only gets bigger, making you even less likely to deal with it. From paper to tech gadgets to piles of clothing, the task will only get bigger daily. I often also say that people who defer this task are also the ones who end up being the most stressed about clutter.

The emotional clutterbug is the most common type and is characterized by emotional attachment to items that have sentimental value. The emotional clutterbug prioritizes feelings over practicality. It’s difficult for this clutterbug to get rid of things, and she often purchases items to fill a void or out of pure boredom.

Just-in-case clutterbugs keep things they may need “someday” or to ensure they have them “just in case.” This clutterbug is the type of person who keeps the box a microwave came in just in case he has to return it in ten years. Whether the item is a blouse, a kitchen utensil, or an extra lawn mower, this clutterbug operates from a scarcity mindset and a lack of trust or awareness around items he already has.

Along the same lines as denial, the “I’ll do it later” clutterbug procrastinates decluttering. It’s easy to do because often we don’t equate decluttering to being fun. I find this clutterbug to be one of the most common types.

We are actually wired to acquire clutter, which makes it even harder to decide what is clutter and what isn’t! Our instincts say we should store resources for times of scarcity. Have you ever watched a squirrel gather food for winter? This is exactly that mindset, and they’re so focused on it that they don’t even think about deciding what to keep. Couple this instinct with our insatiable need to consume and buy new things — because shopping splurges produce dopamine, giving us a happy rush — and it’s even more difficult to decide what to declutter.