Although the definition of clutter differs from person to person, it's safe to say that there's a problem when storage areas are overflowing and important items are missing. At first, piles of possessions may seem harmless. But left uncontrolled, clutter can impact your health and safety in a variety of ways. Here's how:
- Books and papers piled, stacked or strewn are a fire hazard.
- Piles of clutter on the floor and stairs increase the risk of falls.
- Extreme clutter can be a barrier for emergency rescue personnel.
- Clutter attracts dust and dirt, which can lead to health problems.
- Rodents and bugs, mold and mildew create a mess and can cause disease.
Mentally, living in clutter is stressful, overwhelming, depressing and debilitating. Many clutterers hold onto things because they suffer from feelings of low self-esteem, fear loss and failure, or they have attention deficit disorder (ADD). Without help, it's an endless cycle. The clutterer's behavior also affects the health and well-being of family members, and in severe cases, can lead to eviction, hospitalization or homelessness [source: Compulsive Cluttering Resource Guide].
Changing behavior is not easy for a clutterer, and for a hoarder it's even more difficult because his or her emotional issues run deeper. Here are some differences between a clutterer and a hoarder:
- A hoarder is incapable of deciding what to keep or throw away and, as a result, will even save garbage; a clutterer does not.
- A hoarder is obsessed with amassing things and has a compulsion to collect more; a clutterer just lets the things pile up.
- A hoarder doesn't see anything wrong with his/her behavior; a clutterer is aware there's a problem.
- A hoarder sees value in what he or she collects and, without psychiatric treatment and/or medication, is unable to part with possessions.
[source: Clutterless Recovery Groups]
An inventory of the items found in the Collyer Brother's home revealed that the two were indeed hoarders, not clutterers. To some extent, they were also the victims of circumstance. Apparently, the brothers inherited their parent's fully-furnished house, which was already filled with possessions. The brothers, who had many interests, added their own collections.
Unfortunately, the home, which was located in Harlem, fell victim to vandalism and crime, and the brothers reacted by boarding the windows and doors and retreating inside. As the brothers became more fearful, their behavior became more eccentric. In the early 1930s, Homer lost his sight, but Langley thought he would recover, so he saved all the newspapers for Homer to read when his sight returned. Langley used the tons of debris amassed in the house to make booby traps to capture intruders. Sadly, he was caught by his own devices [source: Psychologists World].
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Absolutely Organized. "Top 10 Best Organizing Tips." (Feb. 28, 2010). http://www.absolutely-organized.com/AO-articles_files/The%20Top%20Ten%20Best%20Organizing%20Tips%20-%20AO.pdf
- Bryk, William. "The Collyer Brothers of Harlem." New York Press. Oct. 15, 1999. (March 1, 2010).http://www.nypress.com/article-293-the-collyer-brothers-of-harlem.html.
- Cianfichi, Joanne. Professional Organizer. Absolutely Organized. Personal interview. (Feb. 26, 2010)
- Dudley, David. "Conquering Clutter." AARP Magazine. January/February 2007. (Feb. 28, 2010)http://www.aarpmagazine.org/lifestyle/conquer_clutter.html
- Massachusetts Hoarding Task Force. Compulsive Cluttering Resource Guide. March 2007. (March 1, 2010)http://www.mhoa.com/hoarding-guide_3-07.doc
- The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. (Feb. 28, 2010)http://www.nsgcd.org.
- National Association of Professional Organizers. (Feb. 25, 2010)http://www.napo.net
- Nelson, Mike. Clutterless Recovery Groups. (March 1, 2010)http://www.clutterless.org.
- Psychologists World. "Extreme Phobias: The Collyer Brothers, A true story of fear meeting fate." (March 2, 2010)http://www.psychologistworld.com/issue/collyerbrothers.php