Ask Unclutterer: Clutter-Hoarding Scale

Reader Julia submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I saw your presentation at Ignite DC. At one point during your presentation you talked about a Hoarding Scale. What is it? How do I know where I’m on it?

During my presentation, I referenced the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization’s Clutter-Hoarding Scale. The Scale has five levels, with a level one being a light amount of clutter and a level five being an unlivable and unsafe environment.

You can download a copy of the Clutter-Hoarding Scale off the NSGCD website (it’s a PDF).

Professional organizers use the scale to determine the levels of health and safety in a home. Some organizers’ skills work well with only level one and level two clients and other professional organizers have gone through training to prepare themselves to work with all five of the levels.

Most people who are level two or higher on the scale are referred to as chronically disorganized (a non-medical diagnosis), but that doesn’t mean they are a hoarder (a medical diagnosis). A licensed medical practitioner is the only one who can diagnose a person as a hoarder, which makes the name of this scale a bit confusing. I wish it were called the Chronic Disorganization Scale.

At Unclutterer, we target our content to readers who are level three and below. Anyone who would qualify as a level four or level five on the scale we believe should be receiving treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. Our information is obviously available to them on the internet, but it should never replace medical advice and treatment.

Thank you, Julia, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I helped to clear up any confusion.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

24 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Clutter-Hoarding Scale”

  1. posted by Marsha on

    I found the CH Scale by googling – didn’t have to fill out a form.

    As for recommending people with severe problems see a licensed practitioner, I agree – that’s good advice – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a medical practitioner. It could be a licensed psychologist, social worker, or family therapist (possibly others). Many of the non-medical professionals may be a lot cheaper, too.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marsha — Great workaround on the PDF. I changed the link and the text in the article.

  3. posted by Sandy on

    @Erin – Don’t you mean that Unclutter targets readers level three and ABOVE? BELOW would imply levels four and five – at least to me.

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sandy — Four is greater than three, so it is above. Two is less than three, so it is below. I meant what I said. The levels below three are zero, one, and two.

    Think of it like temperatures. If you say that “temperatures are below freezing,” you mean that they’re less than freezing. If you say that “temperatures are above freezing,” you mean that they’re higher than freezing.

  5. posted by Sandy on

    Ah yes, but one is less than two so one is above two as in
    And three is less than four so four is below three.
    It’s all in the interpretation, I guess.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Sandy — Interesting. I see integers as linear, starting at zero … so it’s more like this:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 –>

    Moving to the left is less/below, moving to the right is more/above.

  7. posted by _lethe_ on

    @Sandy: Think of it as actual levels, as in a parking garage or storeys in a building. Level 2 is higher than level 1, and so on.

    @Erin: I found your site recently and so far it has inspired me to clean out my email inbox and make-up bag, and to declutter and reorganize my clothes closet. Thanks for your help! 🙂

  8. posted by Friday links and random thoughts « Treading Softly on

    […] There’s a scale for measuring your degree of cluttering/hoarding.  A link to it is in this post on Unclutterer.  […]

  9. posted by blue on

    interesting… though some of these surprise me a bit. and a few even get me defensive.

    example: we have 3 cats, so unless we scoop the box 2 or 3 times a day, we’re always going to be at least 2 for having 3 uses of the box, which gets done daily most of the time…. which gets put at the same level as having 2 rooms with impaired function?

    and having plastic cups and silverware in the fridge door to be right where needed for children getting snacks (no cabinets or drawers are nearby) could rank as a 4 for being non-food. as could the sheet not staying on the bunkbed of an active child.

    fruit gnats we’ve gotten in the kitchen some summers could get called insect infestation and get a 5.

    remind me not to call someone overnitpicky using this scale over a minor or moderate issue.

  10. posted by spartan on

    What do you call people like me who are forever hinting down stuff to throw away?
    Is there a scale for that, haha?

  11. posted by mstreemn on

    one or two items probably do not bump you up to the next level. You have a reason for plates-utensils next to the fridge. It is not inappropriate. If you were storing them in the bathroom or a spot in the living room because there are other in items like insect killer, books and trash taking that space you would in my opinion move from level one or two to three and so on. I would say that this is a more of a sliding scale. A few days or weeks don’t tip you from one level to the other; Months and years of in-action and accumulation are another story.

  12. posted by Vicki K. on

    My question is whether a person can objectively answer the questionnaire about themselves? Does it need to be done by a trained organizer to be able to interpret whether something is appropriate or not? (Like placement of items by the fridge above.) Just curious.

    I had never heard of that scale before – which partially answers the question I have about what exactly organizers learn in their training. Thanks!

  13. posted by hragape on

    As a professional organizer, do you have set recommendations that you would offer a client based on their clutter scale? Thanks

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @hragape — Each client is different and has individual needs. When it comes to working with chronically disorganized clients, one system does not work for everyone. There isn’t an out-of-box solution that works like a magic wand.

  15. posted by momofthree on

    My friend scares me to death with the state of her house. I have called the officials in her town, but she won’t let them in, so their hands are tied. Her house, sans pets, (thank goodness) ranks at level 4. She is also diabetic, and when she was found by a co worker 8 years ago in a diabetic coma, the cops and ambulance driver argued, in front of the co-worker, who would call and report the hoarding to the town. It took the two first responders to carry her out of the house since there was no way they were able to get the gurney into the house, even sideways. Since there were no pets or children (again, thank goodness)in the house the whole thing was dropped!! ARGH!!
    Guess I just have to wait for another coma for anything to get done! SAD

  16. posted by Kristin on

    I was looking around my house today and I realized that nearly every horizontal service is cluttered. Seriously cluttered. I have cat hair on most pieces of furniture. I was sighing and thinking about where I should start. I was getting pretty sad about my state of affairs, until I read the PDF on hoarding. Oh goodness! I’m not nearly as bad as I was initially seeing.

    I love to do dishes, so my dishes are always clean or I have a sink full of soapy water with everything soaking for an hour or so. I have a tomato on the counter that is becoming questionable, but the BLTs will be tomorrow, so I’m good. The bathrooms get cleaned once a week or more – no mildew.

    I have only one exit in the house and it is fully functional. I have a self cleaning cat box, so I only have to deal with that every two days. I don’t have any broken appliances or inappropriately placed appliances.

    Seeing the list made me realize that I am just chronically disorganized. I knew I wasn’t filthy, but when clutter is all around, self esteem can erode and I was beginning to wonder about myself. Now I see that I am just in need of assistance. Less stuff and a place to put what’s left. Our house is dusty – but the kitchens and bathrooms are nearly spotless and the bedroom is very tidy. Kitchen table, family room, spare room, computer room – those places need some TLC 🙂 Whew. I can tackle that! Thanks!!

  17. posted by deb on

    Our neighbors are hoarders. They are so bad that they filled their house up completely and have moved in with the in-laws down the street. So now we have an abandoned house behind us that is not only in disrepair, but chocked full of papers and stuff – I’m afraid it will catch fire somehow. The city will do nothing as the man still cuts the grass. Oh, and just to show that hoarding happens amongst all educational and economic levels, this man is a doctor and his wife a nurse. So sad.

  18. posted by Natalie on

    Oh wow, thanks for that scale. I am nowhere near as bad as I would have rated myself before I read it! My worst problem is an overflow of craft stuff. I buy it and then take ages to use it and so its all stored up (in drawers)against my bedroom wall which makes my room looked cramped but its not exactly mess… just clutter : )Oh, that and the clothes I really must put away, but I’m trying to get rid of half of them. Other than that, we’re pretty good!

    Having said that, I have a friend whose house meets at least a level 3 (where I stopped reading out of shock). Its appalling so I really dont want to visualise anything worse than that. what I dont understand is they have 5 kids (youngest aged 14) so why they all accept the mess is beyond me.

  19. posted by Beverly Wade on

    You might be interested in another scale that has just been launched on-line. It’s the Wade-Bennett life-clutter test and measures the recent life experiences and events that may lead you to clutter.

    As declutter consultants in the UK, Beverly Wade and Chrystine Bennett noticed that people having difficulty with their belongings were telling similar stories about recent life experiences. Cancer, bereavements, long work hours were all very common. The ‘stuff’ going on in life meant that something had to give, and that something could be often be clutter. Realising that clutter is ‘not your fault’ is a valuable part of the clutter clearing process.

    See how you measure up – you can take the test right now at

    We welcome your feedback!

  20. posted by Beverly D on

    @Beverly Wade, I went through your survey and the questions are very good. I’d like to know something about your internal and external validity testing and if you plan to use it for research.

  21. posted by Beverly Wade on

    @Beverly D, very happy to discuss this with you via email. You can reach me via the contact page of the website (no email address posted to to avoid spam!).

    Look forward to hearing from you.

  22. posted by It’s All Right 2.0 » clutter-hoarding scale on

    […] blog has an interesting item about assessing a households level of isorganization.  They reference […]

  23. posted by savvy on

    that is a really interesting document. I think we are level II at our house (and I am constantly battling clutter, so I agree we aren’t a I).

    What got us was “Slight narrowing of household pathways” – our upstairs hall has two boxes in it of stuff waiting for our next Goodwill donation

    and just the lack of frequent cleaning (overflowing recycling bin, mildew in our shower).

    but now I know and can address these issues. There’s no reason I can’t be a level I.

  24. posted by Hoarding Posts « Organised Thoughts on

    […] Ask Unclutterer: Clutter-Hoarding Scale by Erin Doland. […]

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