Your Clutter Isn't Always Because You're "Messy" — Here Are 9 Causes Of The Chaos

My husband’s favorite show is Hoarders on A&E. I refuse to watch it because it’s so sad and extreme — and I definitely can't handle the animal carcasses. Almost 100 percent of the time, it’s not just because they “didn’t clean,” but these people have usually had some sort of trauma and/or have a mental disorder that causes extreme hoarding circumstances, and their homes are well beyond “cluttered.” Your home may not be Hoarders-level cluttered, but if you notice there is constantly “stuff” accumulating everywhere it could be one of these nine surprising causes of clutter.

Paloma Baillie, a certified coach and organizing expert from 5Miles, tells Romper that many of us live in what can be called "toxic accumulation" in our homes. "As tribal beings, we tend to be creatures of habit, with learned behaviors that we inherit from — and impart to — our family and friends," she says. "While this can be habitual, it also may be psychological. Change can be scary, and getting rid of clutter is a form of it — a daunting task."

I personally kind of enjoy some clutter. It makes our house feel homier to me and much less sterile, in my opinion. I like the "lived in look," I guess. Also it's not hard to clutter our house since it's about 1,200 square feet and we have a 9-month-old baby, two beagles, two cats, and my husband and I all living under one roof. We like to live dangerously. My husband and I are also a sentimental couple and like to keep things for memories and sentiments sake. So I guess we've hit two out of the nine reasons so far on this list.


Sentimental Reasons

Debra Johnson, Merry Maids cleaning expert, tells Romper, "Clutter can often build up for people who attach an emotional value to objects. It’s hard to let go of items that a person attaches a memory to, but there are some secrets to clearing up this clutter." Johnson suggests packing the sentimental items into storage containers, setting a time limit for how long you'll keep an item, or even taking pictures of the sentimental items you don't need that are cluttering your space.



Rhea Becker, a "Declutter Expert" in Boston, tells Romper that in her 17 years of being in the business of "decluttering" and organizing, she's seen a lot of instances where a parent's death has triggered a decrease in self-care, which leads to clutter — especially for middle-aged people.

Cleaning expert Stephanie Cooper from Energy Cleaning, who works with extreme decluttering situations, tells Romper that one of her clients was suffering from depression and refused to leave his home. So they stayed indoors and just ate takeout for every meal and the house was filled with boxes.

Keeping a clean and organized house definitely falls into the category of self-care, and if you're depressed and it takes everything in you to even just take a shower, how could you possibly feel up for taking the time to pick up around your house?


Past Trauma

Becker had a client many years ago who told her that when she was a child, her mother would go into her room and snoop around. As a response, her client became a hoarder as an adult. "We believed this was a way for her to have things and maintain control over her own things," Becker says.

Psychology Today reported that this happens because "Accumulating 'stuff' fills the emotional hole left by the trauma and allows individuals to avoid dealing with the pain. Later removal of these items can trigger high levels of anxiety, especially if someone else gets rid of these items without the hoarder’s permission." Additionally, the article noted, "Recently, studies have also shown that individuals who have both OCD and exhibit hoarding symptoms were more likely to have experienced at least one traumatic life event in comparison to those with OCD alone, suggesting that the act of compulsive shopping and the obsessive need to collect and keep material objects may serve as a coping mechanism for grief, loss or post-traumatic stress."


Bad Habits

According to Merry Maids expert Johnson, many of us have some bad habits that contribute to clutter. And it starts with what you do when you walk in the door. Many folks just take their shoes off and leave them there, throw car keys on a "catch-all" table, toss jackets and book bags down wherever they can find a spot, and just toss mail on the table. Johnson suggests having hooks for keys, jackets, and book bags, having a shoe storage solution somewhere, and immediately going through the mail when you get it — toss out the junk mail and have a spot for regular mail.


Home Structure

"Clutter sometimes compiles simply based on the set-up of the home. Clutter doesn’t necessarily mean throwing everything away, it could just be a sign to incorporate some new space-saving storage ideas into your home," says Johnson from Merry Maids. She suggests not having a table or shelf by the door to become a "catch-all," buying a mirror that opens to store jewelry and hair products, using furniture with secret storage compartments, redesigning your closet space, and using spaces for storage that most people ignore. "For example, the tops of kitchen cabinets are a great place to be home to large platters."



Professional organizer Cheryl Smith says clutter can provide some comfort to people, and is sort of in the same vein as sentiment. "There is a sense of being surrounding by those things that made/make you feel good," she tells Romper. "It can be the feelings that the memory of that item provides to you. If a person is not happy with their current situation, for whatever reason, they default to their 'clutter,' a feeling of security."


No System

Dr. Dewan Farhana, CEO of Betternest, says that clutter happens when you don't have an effective system to help you "naturally" stay organized. "It's less about 'not wanting to clean,' but rather not setting yourself up for success before it gets messy," she tells Romper. "For example, there are many storage items that can be placed strategically throughout a space to help prevent clutter. When everything has a place to go, it's much easier to stay organized."


Preparing For The Apocalypse

Extreme decluttering expert Cooper says she once had a client where the people living in the estate were preparing for the apocalypse (or so they informed them). "They had everything, and I mean everything, stashed in the rooms. The house was completely unusable. They were fine with it and were even proud of how many things they have. Mind you, this couple started their preparations 20 years ago…"


Lack Of Time

Probably the most common reason, in my opinion, and perhaps not that surprising. Since most of us have limited time in our lives to do everything we want or even need to do, Farhana says this contributes to the seemingly never-ending cycle. She suggests the popular KonMari method. "The KonMari method, for example, is specifically a method that has the user do all of the decluttering and organizing in one go. When your entire house or apartment is completely decluttered, it is much easier to stay organized than doing it in sections."

Johnson from Merry Maids adds, "According to a recent Merry Maids’ survey, 48 percent of Americans agree that if they had an extra two hours in the day, they would spend it cleaning. Organization and cleaning are not always a priority in the busy schedules we all face."

But don't despair. Baillie says, "Like meditation, organization requires self-discipline, not to mention prioritization. We prioritize what is truly important to us, so committing to a clutter-free life doesn’t come easily. There has been, however, a welcome cultural shift. It’s now cool to have less clutter." (KonMari anyone?)

"So, while it takes effort to get to — and fix — the root cause, there’s joy to be had in a less cluttered, more efficient life and home. (This, incidentally, also applies to our living and working circumstances, relationships, etc.)" If you want it to happen, just take a deep breath and get started.