Reader Juliette submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I know why I fight clutter: After a long day at work the last thing I want to do is housework. But is this the same reason as everyone else? Are we all working too hard and too many hours to take care of our stuff?
After years of doing what I do, I’ve found that most people who struggle with clutter fall into one of the eight following categories:
- Overwhelmed by the task, don’t know where to begin. Feeling overwhelmed can be paralyzing. When you are plagued with anxiety, it can be tempting to ignore the problem and just hope it goes away.
- Fear of being forgotten, their stuff is the only proof they have lived. As humans, we know we’re mortal but wish we weren’t. Since the beginning of human history we have been looking for ways to be remembered. People who fear their mortality often have issues with this, especially sentimental clutter.
- Fear of change or of the future. The past may have been a glorious time, and since the future is uncertain, it can be tempting to hold onto everything from the past. Even if the past wasn’t so glorious, it’s at least a known quantity. This also ties in with people who look at objects and think, “I might be able to use this some day.” It stems from a fear that one might not be able to acquire needed items in the future.
- Experienced a major life change, such as death of a family member, a marriage, or a new baby. Major life changes can be difficult because they often come with a lot of stuff — a death means you might have to process someone else’s stuff, a marriage could mean you have to merge two households, and a new baby is a combination of exhaustion and new stuff. Usually these influxes of clutter are short term, but they’re still stressful (even if a good stress).
- Poor decision-making and/or time-management skills, simply don’t know how. Decision-making and time-management skills are learned, not engrained. They need to be practiced just like a toddler practices walking and a guitarist practices his craft. Michael Phelps didn’t wake up one morning with a new ability to be an Olympic gold medal winner — he spent years practicing. If a person hasn’t practiced and trained to have strong decision-making and time-management skills, she isn’t going to know how to handle everything that comes her way. She’ll often keep something out of guilt or habit.
- Lack of energy. Many people call this “being lazy,” but I think it’s really a lack of energy. If you don’t get the right amount of sleep your body needs, eat foods that best fuel the mind and body, and move around a lot during the day, you’re going to have less energy than you need to get things accomplished. And this isn’t a weight issue, either. There are people of all shapes and sizes who don’t eat or sleep well who struggle with insufficient energy.
- Side effect of a physical disability or mental disorder. If you’re not of sound body and/or mind, it’s understandably a challenge to get through the day. These people benefit greatly from the help of professionals to assist them.
- Don’t want to, don’t see any reason to change. I wouldn’t say that these people actually “struggle” with clutter, though people who come into contact with them probably do. The truth is that being an unclutterer is not the only way to a remarkable life. For some people, clutter isn’t an obstacle. And, as long as the person with the stuff isn’t a danger to himself or others (just messy, not a hoarder), I don’t see this as a problem. People need to do what is the best path for them to achieve the life they desire.
Based on the information in your question, you might have issues with clutter because of insufficient time-management skills. This is just a guess, though, I’m basing on your use of the phrase, “working too hard and too many hours.” You might read through the list and see another category (or two) that suits you better. I was a clutterer because of many of the reasons listed, but mostly because I had awful sleeping and eating habits, poor time-management skills, and didn’t realize clutter was keeping me from living a remarkable life. Throw in my physical disability and a mild fear of being forgotten and I think that sums up all of my reasons for living so many years as a clutterbug.
We all have our reasons for struggling with clutter — and there are certainly a few reasons people fight clutter that don’t conveniently fit into one of these eight categories — so be sure to read the comments to learn about why different readers are here. Additionally, there are hundreds of posts in our archives that address how to handle each of these categories of clutter. Thank you, Juliette, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck in your pursuit of a remarkable life.
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.