The unhealthy truth about hoarding

MY name is Miranda and I am a hoarder.

I have tried to deny this for many years; kept my obsession secret; swept it under the bed so to speak.

I'm not yet quite like those houses you see on TV hoarding specials where you can barely move between rooms for fear of being buried alive in clutter.

But I do still have every note my first boyfriend ever wrote - even the ones where he just doodled "Hi" on my maths notes.

I have a box of tickets of every movie I have ever seen and my email inbox is a nightmare.

But my biggest hoarding problem lies with my magazines.

This is going to sound a little nuts, but until recently I had every magazine edition I had ever bought since 1999. To give you some idea of this madness, I buy at least 12 glossies a month. There's 12 issues of each a year. Times that by 12 years and that's a hell of a lot of magazines.

Nothing highlights one's hoarding more than having to move house. I had been in denial but when the time came to move out of my apartment, my obsession was brought into harsh focus.

When collected, my magazines piled up to cover an entire wall.

My parents refused to help me move them, but the thought of chucking them filled me with a paralysing fear.

I was sick to the stomach and almost in the realm of a panic attack. I was forced to cull. It was physically painful.

You may think I'm mad. I don't blame you. But I'm not alone. Compulsive hoarding is a recognised disorder, a branch of obsessive compulsive disorder.

There's even a specific strain for hoarders of books - bibliomania.

A recent survey by classified website found that Queenslanders on average have at least $1800 worth of unused items sitting on shelves, collecting dust and cluttering up their houses.

The reasons people accumulate clutter can be quite complex. It can be a manifestation of a mental health issue like anxiety or depression or OCD. Sometimes it is simply "decisions delayed" or too great an attachment to the past.

Generally, there are two types of clutter: the clutter that has sentimental value, and the "I might need it some day" clutter.

Sunshine Coast organisational expert Karen Menheere of Neat 'n Sweet said neither was a bad thing as long as it did not interfere with how you live.

"The guideline is if something doesn't have a function or a sentimental value and you haven't used it in two years, it's time to go," she said.

For example, the strangest thing she has seen people holding on to is old yoghurt and butter containers they keep as empty containers in their cupboards and plastic bags.

"I'll go into a house and they'll keep the general shopping bags in the kitchen and then I'll go into their bedroom and they'll have a cupboard full of clothes shop bags, and often not just one cupboard. They don't serve a purpose other than taking up space."

She said it was fine to hold on to sentimental things or have a collection you were proud of, as long as it was on display. If it was hidden away in a cupboard where you couldn't see it, then it was time for it to go.

Karen said people often had an emotional attachment to items and refused to throw them out.

"It's a fear of letting go," she said.

"I've seen people hold on to kids' clothes years after they've decided to not have any more kids.

"That's when it's time to ask yourself 'do you really need this? Why are you still holding on to it?'"

The key to being free of clutter was to first admit you have a problem, she said.

"You are half way there if you can admit to yourself that you have a problem.

"Then it's a case of picking up the phone and calling someone, maybe a friend, to help you sort through it all."

Most Common Things Hoarded

  • Paper, especially newspaper
  • The things used in everyday life which don't get put away
  • Excessive recycling materials that don't get recycled
  • Clothing
  • Plastic bags
  • Sentimental things that tell a story of happier times
  • Mechanical things, car parts, electronic equipment and parts, tools, nuts, bolts, screws, building materials
  • Wool, fabric, craft supplies
  • Furniture
  • Animals

Tips to declutter

  • Find it, label it and give it a home. We all waste too much time looking for lost things around the house. Make "homes" for household items to ensure items are always returned to their right place.
  • Keep all horizontal surfaces clear. Flat surfaces attract clutter and paperwork. Keep it to a minimum and make sure everything has a labelled place. In the kitchen, label staple pantry items to save time and avoid cooking disasters.

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