People don’t become hoarders at random. Stressful life events and mental health issues spark the development of unhealthy attachments and cause them to hold onto unnecessary items. They come up with the irrational idea that each item might be useful later. Their compulsive hoarding tendencies worsen until every room in the house has piles of junk. Here are 14 top decluttering tips for hoarders to help you overcome your disorder, reclaim your storage space and reorganize your home.
Table of Contents
The Cleanup Stage
Initial cleanup is always the hardest part of ditching a compulsive mental disorder like hoarding. So your decluttering efforts should start with clearing out all of the obvious trash.
You can expect to feel stressed out as you go through these decluttering tips for hoarders, but this feeling is natural and necessary. Discomfort is essential to breaking any bad habit, whether it’s drinking, smoking or hoarding.
First and foremost, you need to gather these resources for junk removal and deep cleaning:
- Heavy-duty trash bags: Don’t settle for cheap and flimsy trash bags. You need durable leak-proof bags to get through this project.
- Boxes: Large boxes will allow you to separate items into different categories and safely get them out of the house.
- Mask: A disposable N95 mask or half-face mask will prevent you from inhaling toxic substances as you clean.
- Rubber gloves: Disposable and non-disposable rubber gloves will be crucial for your health and safety.
- Towels: Paper towels will be crucial during the first few steps, while microfiber versions will take over later.
- Cleaning supplies: Get your hands on mops, brooms, vacuum cleaners, and other required supplies.
- Disinfecting devices: Having sprays, wipes, and other disinfecting devices at your disposal will help you sanitize every nook and cranny.
- Pest control products: Hoarding almost always leads to pest infestations. Have some pest control products on hand in case you encounter any nests.
- Stepladder: You might need a small stepladder to clean hard-to-reach places, depending on the severity of your clutter problem.
- Spacious vehicle: You need plenty of storage space to transport your junk. A moving van would be ideal, but a pickup truck or minivan are also serviceable.
- Storage location: You must establish a storage location before starting the cleanup so it’s easier to detach from the junk.
- Dumping location: Similarly, you need to find a reliable dumping location. You’ll only finish the project if you make a total commitment. You could also rent a dumpster so cleanup goes faster.
- Donation center: Reach out to a local Goodwill or nonprofit organization and tell them to expect some big donations. Making your goals public will give you more incentive to reach them.
Once you gather your supplies and establish your locations, you need to get as many hands as possible. Humble yourself and ask your family and friends for help. You might feel embarrassed, but that’s another uncomfortable feeling you must overcome. Acknowledging the problem is the first step in solving it. Your loved ones might have their own decluttering tips to help you.
A close family member or friend will be happy to help you beat your hoarding disorder. You should never feel alone when addressing your mental health problems. Achieving peace and happiness requires a team effort and a stable support system.
You have your cleaning supplies. You booked a storage space and know where to dump your trash. Your family and friends are here to support you. Everything is ready.
Before you begin, make a to do list with everything you need to accomplish in your entire home. Then, follow these decluttering tips to break your hoarding tendencies and rediscover your clutter-free home.
Clear the Walkways First
The walkways are the most practical places to start the decluttering process. Clearing out these areas will make the rest of the project go much faster.
Hoarders also tend to store unnecessary items from the inside out, so you’ll deal with the freshest things first. After that, you can get used to the house’s odor and clear a few pathways before moving to the messiest stuff.
Make sure you wear shoes or boots with thick soles. You’re almost guaranteed to step on glass and other sharp objects as you navigate the house. Be careful around staircases, as well. A step or guardrail could be weak due to the junk’s weight and break when you put more pressure on it.
Go One Room at a Time
After clearing out the house’s pathways, start with the most problematic room. This “eat the frog” philosophy is a great way to build confidence and momentum for the rest of the project.
The worst room is also most likely to contain the oldest garbage. You must remove this stuff ASAP to avoid further damage from pests, mold, and other structural threats. Start decluttering, and don’t stop until you’ve cleared out the entire room.
Your separation anxiety might start to increase once you begin cleaning the rooms. But, again, this feeling of discomfort is normal, especially when facing so much stuff. Embrace it and dive into the decluttering process without a second thought. Stay focused and power through. Only move to the next room once you remove all junk from the first.
Prioritize Food Waste
Food waste is the first category of trash you should prioritize. Rotting food is the main cause of the house’s odor, pest infestation, and mold buildup (1). Of course, other types of garbage also contribute to these issues, but food is the most problematic junk.
Take a trash bag and immediately throw away anything associated with food:
- Half-eaten snacks and meals
- Food wrappers
- Cups, bottles and cans
- Paper or plastic silverware
- Obvious garbage, like fast food containers
Don’t be surprised if you come across the first signs of animal infestation when sorting food waste. Droppings, food collections, and nests could be behind every item. That’s why your mask and gloves are so important.
Separate Items Into Piles
As you sift through the trash, start separating items into designated piles. Paper, clothes and home appliances should be the three main piles. This strategy allows you to determine which items are salvageable.
You can also make a pile of unwanted items you know you don’t need. For example, you might go through a junk drawer and dispose of duplicate items or broken tools. Old clothes that no longer fit or have holes can also be tossed immediately.
Your nostalgic feelings will flare up during this stage, so lean on your friends to bolster your mental health. You may even consider seeking professional help to overcome depression or anxiety stemming from letting go.
Keep, Donate or Discard
This step is perhaps the most important of all decluttering tips for hoarders. You must decide whether to keep, donate or discard each item. It will be the hardest test thus far, but you must permanently climb this mountain to solve your clutter problem. Take input from your friends. They can serve as the collective voice of reason and keep your hoarding tendencies in check.
It can be easiest to start with your unwanted stuff, or anything you know you don’t want to keep. First, start with a donation bag. Anything still in good condition can be taken to a donation center. From there, sort through the items that are damaged and unusable. Finally, decide what you need, and what you can throw out.
Take as much time as necessary to process this stage. An all-or-nothing approach works for some people, but you should start by taking baby steps. For example, decide the fate of small objects before moving to the biggest and most sentimental items.
See how your subconscious reacts before making any drastic decisions. Don’t feel pressured to let go of everything if you’re not ready.
Check the Utilities
Once you’ve cleared enough space, you should check on the house’s utilities. Has the plumbing or electricity been damaged? Is the HVAC system functioning properly? Residences often require thousands of dollars in repairs in extreme cases of hoarding disorders. Your home probably isn’t that damaged, but you need to double-check.
Bring Life Back Into the House
Now it’s time to bring life back into the house. You no longer recognize the home you once loved when you have so much clutter.
Open the windows to let the cross-breeze freshen the home’s air quality and remove the foul stenches.
Bring in some houseplants and air fresheners, too. It will take days to neutralize the bad smells completely. Finally, deep-clean the walls, floors, and countertops to make them look good as new.
You should also consider buying new furniture and repainting the walls and ceilings. Giving the interior a fresh and stylish appearance will solidify your transition to a clutter-free life.
Consider Professional Services
You can always hire a professional cleaning service if the decluttering project is too emotionally and physically demanding. An independent company has no attachment to the house’s unnecessary items, so the workers won’t have any trouble decluttering. They can also address pest infestations, utility damage, or structural issues with care and expertise.
You can expect the initial decluttering process to take at least a few days, depending on how much clutter you have. It will become easier to throw away items as the project goes along.
Many hoarders don’t make it this far, so you should feel proud that you overcame your unhealthy attachments. Finally, you’re ready to start a new chapter of your life.
Long-Term Organization Strategies
Cleaning the house is a huge step toward escaping your hoarding disorder, but the job isn’t finished yet. Strengthening your mental health and maintaining a clean home is an ongoing task that requires daily commitment. It might take months to settle into your new habits and defeat your clutter problem.
Most conventional organization techniques aren’t sufficient decluttering tips for hoarders. You will either quickly grow tired of the methods or become overwhelmed with anxiety as you rummage through all your old belongings.
You need strategies that will keep you engaged and demand constant accountability. Here are the best of the best.
Classic journaling is the best thing anyone can do to clear their mind. Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper is a healthy and therapeutic way to cope with your problems. There are numerous journaling prompts you could try, but the best ones focus on addressing bad habits.
Rather than using your journal to wallow in self-pity, use it to confront your negative emotions. Take mental strife outside your head and bring it into the real world. Perform a written exorcism of the inner demons that caused you to develop a hoarding disorder. Running from them caused your clutter problem, so you must face them head-on.
The One Touch Rule
This straightforward rule system is a good fit for recovering hoarders because it requires strict attention to detail. You must give each of your household items a singular point of contact. They can touch the table, floor, shelf, or container but nothing else. Everything should have an assigned spot.
This strategy is most useful for the house’s busiest areas, such as the bathroom and living room. These places often accumulate many unnecessary items if the occupants aren’t paying attention.
Indeed, this problem might have caused your hoarding tendencies to worsen. Rather than allowing your belongings to pile up in random places, you can use bowls, hooks, racks and other individual containers for different types of items.
Your touchpoints will also make everyday tasks much easier. For example, applying the one-touch rule to your kitchen or home office will improve your productivity. In addition, this method enables you to cook, eat and work on your projects in an organized setting.
This rule is the inverse of hoarding. You can still have lots of items in the house, but you need to arrange them practically instead of letting them pile up. If you’re struggling to let go of some hoarded items, you can reorganize them instead of donating or selling them.
Related: How To Declutter a Home Office
The KonMari Method
It requires you to answer a straightforward question: Does the item spark joy or not? This question cuts to the real problem behind your organizational deficiencies. If something contributes to your well-being, you can feel confident in keeping it. If it adds to your bad habits, get rid of it. You have no further use for it.
However, it’s important not to misinterpret or misuse the word “joy.” For example, your phone or laptop might not make you joyful, but they’re necessary to communicate. They make your life easier and thus make you happy. Now apply this logic to your unnecessary items. Do they bring genuine happiness? Of course not.
The KonMari method also suggests that you go from smallest to biggest. This linear progression prevents the decluttering process from overpowering you with nostalgia. It also ensures you don’t fall back into your hoarding habits — the main thing you’re trying to avoid.
This strategy only works with genuine honesty. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. It forces you to discard your irrational biases and past experiences — the two main factors that cause people to develop hoarding disorders. It’s remarkably easy to discard objects once you acknowledge they’re holding you back from reaching your best potential.
The Minimalist Game
The minimalist game is another decluttering tip for hoarders that focuses on altering your mindset. Minimalist bloggers Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus created this game to simplify their home cleaning projects.
It’s simple: The number of items you throw away must equal the day of the month. After that, it slowly becomes more challenging and forces your mind to adapt to the new rules.
Throw something away on the first day of the month, then two items the next day and so on. There are no other requirements. Everything in the house is fair game. Each day will make more clutter disappear and increase your mental resilience. If you stick to the game for an entire 31-day month, you will remove 496 needless objects.
The minimalist game requires a greater long-term commitment than the other organization methods, but that’s the beauty of it. Your confidence will increase, your decision-making will improve, and you will feel more comfortable letting things go as the days pass. Recovering from a mental health issue is a slow and steady effort.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique gets its unique name from the Italian word for “tomato,” paying homage to the popular red tomato alarm clock that people often use when cooking. These timers provide the foundation for the time-based Pomodoro technique. Francesco Cirillo coined it more than 40 years ago to address his own organizational shortcomings.
The Pomodoro technique is easy to follow: 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes of rest. These contrasting time frames establish some much-needed structure in the process and help you stay on task. After the first four 25-minute blocks have passed, also known as a “pomodori,” you can rest longer as needed.
This technique is a handy decluttering tip for hoarders because it establishes a healthy, reasonable pace. You still have to follow the time prompts, but they prevent you from becoming stressed and keep you grounded in each moment. Each time block feels more fulfilling than the last, helping you build confidence as the project progresses.
The large working time block presents a reasonable obstacle, while the brief rest period allows you to regather your thoughts. The Pomodoro method is a surefire way to work in moderation and ensure long-term productivity. You need to regain a solid mental state to overcome your hoarding tendencies, which could be the ultimate solution.
Swedish Death Cleaning
Swedish death cleaning is a specific decluttering tip for hoarders introduced by Margareta Magnusson in her self-help book called “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning.” The approach is simple: you remove all unnecessary items you wouldn’t want your family to deal with if you died.
Nobody likes to think about it, but our families must sort through our belongings when we pass away. So, with this picture in mind, do you want them to inherit a house with a clutter problem, or would you rather leave behind an organized home?
Hoarding disorders are inherently selfish. Looking beyond yourself will help you break bad habits and regain mental health.
Swedish death cleaning is the most abrasive approach (2). It provides a rude awakening and forces you to adopt a new perspective on your belongings. However, you don’t have to dive in headfirst.
Ease your way into the technique and let your rational side slowly take over. Mental preparation is one of the most crucial decluttering tips for hoarders of all kinds.
Defeat Your Hoarding Disorder Once and for All
Your hoarding tendencies aren’t accurate reflections of your authentic personality. Many factors can make you a hoarder, especially traumatic life events. Almost anyone can find themselves accumulating too much stuff overtime.
However, you can’t use your personal trauma as an excuse to fill up your home with unnecessary items. This coping mechanism is unhealthy and unsafe. So first, you need to hold yourself accountable and recognize this habit as a mental illness. Then, realize that it is possible to have a healthy living space.
Don’t let this unfortunate stage in your life define you forever. You have the inner strength to overcome this problem. However, you need a little help unlocking it. These are some of the best decluttering tips for hoarders that will help you reclaim your mental health and create a permanent clutter-free home.