Unfortunately, clutter is a fact of life. Really it's a luxury if you think about how little our ancestors had, and what an uphill battle it usually was for them to get the few things they had in the first place...kind of puts the whole idea of clutter into perspective.
Needless to say, we all have clutter, albeit on varying scales, it's still an everyday part of life that we all deal with.
As a professional organizer, I obviously see more than my share of clutter, however amongst all my clients I've noticed that some kinds of clutter and clutterers (we're going to pretend that's a word for the sake of this post) tend to have things in common.
Some people will pile things up and collect things for one reason, while someone else may have an entirely different explanation of what caused the pile up in the first place. No two stories are exactly the same, however, many of my clients and pretty much every single person I've ever met has what I like to call a "clutter style".
Keep in mind that some people are clutter purists, meaning they only have one clutter style and they take it ALL the way. Like a true sports fan, they do it big and they go all out with it. Others may have a little of this style and little of that one, which would create a unique clutter style combo.
Even I have a clutter style and I'm a professional organizer, so if I have one, so do you...
Please keep in mind these are not in order of least terrible to most terrible or anything like that...we don't judge clutter styles here! Anyone can take their clutter style to the extreme, or on the other hand could have just a touch of one or more of these styles. No clutter style is better than any other. Taken to the extreme, all of these styles can devolve in hoarding. That's an entirely different matter all together which we will save for another post if you don't mind.
Ready to find out what your clutter style is? Here are the clutter styles that I've observed.
1.) "Hide it" clutter
This kind of clutter is typically kept behind closed doors and cabinets. Everything is in a drawer, on a shelf, or inside of some kind of bin or basket. Everything looks pristine on the outside, but behind those doors and under those lids is a tornado of stuff that has been shoved down, pushed in, and mixed together just to "get it put away," which usually takes place right before company comes over. This is the "slide everything off the table and into a bag with one arm" method.
2.) "But I just love it!" clutter*
This kind of clutter includes collections of any kind, where similar items are purchased and build to a degree that they become unusable and neglected. Having a sentimental and personal collection that takes up an entire (or even multiple!) rooms due to a deep and enduring passion for something creates the problem of having so many that you will never even get to use or enjoy the ones you have! Whether it's books, candles, craft supplies, cat statues, pipes, or exotic hand-stitched rugs, it all connects back to the urge to create massive collections that you may never even get to enjoy due to the sheer volume of the beloved collection.
There are of course endless possibilities for the focus of the collection, here are just two examples that I see more often with men, however they could and have applied to women as well.
2a.) A subcategory of "love it!" clutter would be "Carpenter" clutter
This kind of clutter includes tools, large machinery and parts, or enough building supplies to run your own leg of Habitat for several years. Typically this kind of clutter builds up in a garage or shed with the intention to eventually create a "shop" or work area to retreat to, but truly it just usually ends up becoming a scene from American Pickers (believe me, I've seen it and have had the urge on more than one occasion to call Mike and Frank).
2b.) Another close relative is "Gadget" clutter, which is just a slight variation where the items that collect relate to electronic gadgets and their respective parts, cords, etc. As opposed to concentrating on building supplies, or large machinery like cars or motorcycles, gadget clutter would include computer towers, CB and/or ham radios, antennae, receivers, recorders, microphones and other miscellaneous electronic parts for tinkering.
3.) "Historian" clutter*
This kind of clutter includes mostly sentimental items, many of which never originally belonged to the keeper. The Historian clutterer has taken it upon themselves to catalogue either their own or a close friend or relative's entire family history, and feels it is their duty to turn their house into a mini Smithsonian. Historian clutter is commonly held onto or kept for the sake of memories and to soothe the guilt that someone feels will ultimately overcome them if they get rid of the item. Getting rid of grandma's bowl = I will lose a piece of grandma.
3a.) A subcategory of historian clutter is "Someone gave it to me" or "Gift" clutter
This kind of clutter is typically tied into guilt (much like historian clutter), however there is less pride in keeping the items and more of a sense of anxiety or guilt that a visiting friend or family member will notice that their Christmas gift from 1994 is no longer being displayed in the corner china cabinet. Upon noticing the gift giver will then become emotionally hurt or distraught, permanently damaging the relationship to the gift receiver. Realistically, most people with this kind of guilt clutter are just too nice to get rid of the things they don't want and most importantly the things they don't even like! Sparing someone else's feelings takes priority over their own sanity.
4.) "...But it was on sale!" clutter
This is the kind of clutter that routine bargain hunters, couponers, and deal-seekers end up building. They may not need it or use it NOW but they might use it later.....it's not uncommon for these sale clutterers to end up with a volume of things they don't even remember buying, things they may not even like, or things they've purchased for others that never end up in the other person's hands. Of course, in the end, most of these items end up expiring, going bad, or getting neglected all together as newer items continually come in to replace them. Sometimes this kind of clutter is just a symptom of boredom and on more unhealthy level can easily spiral into a shopping addiction or a hoarding problem.
5.) "Remorseful" clutter*
A natural progression into remorseful clutter evolves from purchasing items that were very expensive but have become useless for some reason, and the person hesitates to get rid of these items because it would be "such a waste of money" (as if it isn't already). Then expensive, useless items build up with nowhere to go, and typically the owners of these items like to keep the items around to remind themselves of how "nice" these things are/were even though they aren't being used. This kind of clutter may seem similar to the sentimental clutter of the historian, however these items are usually newer, never belonged to anyone else, and really are kept (subconsciously) as a reminder of a more happy/prosperous time in the owner's life.
5a.) A subcategory of the remorseful clutter is "Eco" clutter
This kind of clutter is a symptom of the "it can all be put to good use somehow, and it's a shame to get rid of it!" syndrome. Everything that isn't being used or hasn't been used either needs to be put in the arms of a new and loving owner or totally repurposed, otherwise the current owner cannot and will not part with it either out of guilt or a sense of duty to the environment, etc. (conscientious clutter).
6.) "Too busy" or "I'll do it later" clutter*
This is basically the laziest kind of clutter. This is the kind of clutter that usually comes in visible piles, is directly correlated to a full workload, a busy lifestyle, or a stressful life transition. Items connected to this kind of clutter are usually tossed, stacked, thrown, shoved, or otherwise ignored entirely because the idea of even looking at it is too overwhelming. 99% of the time, this kind of clutter is made of paper and looks like bills, contracts, filing, etc. Typically the owner of this kind of clutter is a hardcore procrastinator at home and puts things off until they become an even bigger and more overwhelming task later (the opposite of the temporary stress they were avoiding originally).
6a.) A subcategory of "do it later" clutter is "Perfectionistic" clutter
This kind of clutter also builds up from a "do it later" method, however the underlying reason has less to do with laziness and more to do with stress around how well the clutter is dealt with. Perfectionists also procrastinate, but it's not the stress of dealing with an issue or item that is troubling, but the concern is that everything won't be dealt with or put away properly. There is a certain ideal or vision that perfectionists would prefer to manifest, and if things can't be dealt with in just the right way (their way) then they'd rather not bother at all. This kind of clutter hasn't been addressed because it can't be addressed perfectly. Until it can look perfect (which clutter usually does right?) it will sit there.
Truthfully, at heart some of the messiest and most cluttered people I've ever met were perfectionists that would rather be messy than be judged for falling short of their attempts to keep organized. It sounds silly, but it's true!
Then again, our brains are all wired differently and some people just aren't raised to be neat and tidy, however it's a skill anyone can learn - like riding a bike! However, at the end of the day, some people are just messy and occasionally I run into someone who likes their clutter. I say, if you like it, rock on! If it drives you nuts, call me. ;)
Remember back at the top where I mentioned that everyone has a clutter style, even professional organizers? Ready to find out mine? I'm not afraid to share - I'm an eco-perfectionistic clutterer with a touch of the "someone gave it to me" syndrome.
Now it's your turn, what's your clutter style combo?