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Getting on top of your clutter

In the UK, we’re a nation of hoarders. It’s all too easy to hold on to things for sentimental, but needless, reasons. Bills can pile up as a reminder to be paid, but never shredded once they’ve actually been dealt with. Whole rooms can quickly become dedicated to junk. And most importantly, our homes, lives and minds can become cluttered.

We've teamed up with Clinical Psychologist, Dr Elizabeth Forrester, to bring you some tops tips for spring cleaning your home. With a special interest in in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Dr Forrester has plenty of experience in the world of de-cluttering and hoarding.

Understanding the causes of hoarding

According to Dr Forrester, to be able to get on top of your hoarding problem, it’s important to understand the root cause of the issue. It’s a clear and simple problem that we all face. Dr Forrester says “The main reason for people developing a clutter problem is lack of time; we’re so consumed by our busy lives that cleaning simply falls to the bottom of the to-do list.”

We’re busy. We have too much to do. It’s symptomatic of life today. But we’re also not being strict enough with ourselves. It’s too easy to ignore clutter.

It’s time to get on top of your own problems and then your clutter

According to Dr Forrester, it’s all about motivation, “the problems behind cluttering and hoarding can vary from person to person, but there are common thought processes that unite these problems”. The trick is to understand your own thought-processes then see how you can change them.

Dr Forrester highlights some of the common ways of thinking and excuses that most of us experience at some point in relation to the clutter in our lives.

‘If I put this bill away, I might forget to pay it.’

Poor memory can lead to excessive clutter” says Dr Forrester. “Leaving a bill on the kitchen table so you’ll remember to pay it at a later date is a sure-fire way to build up clutter.” It may be good to have a few reminders in place, but these can easily build up and become a problem.

‘This might come in handy.’

This is one of the biggest things for hoarders. Holding on to clutter with the idea it might one day be useful. Dr Forrester says it’s important to be ruthless. “Keeping items that you have no use for right now but may come in handy in the future is just asking for clutter build-up. Stop picking up surplus napkins and tomato ketchup sachets from restaurants. And that lamp you think will look ‘good as new’ if it was rewired and given a new bulb holder and lampshade will just end up in the shed. Throw it out.”

‘I can’t throw away my old school books – I’ve had them for 15 years.’

Developing what Dr Forrester terms “heightened sentimentality” for possessions will just lead to boxes and boxes being piled up in the loft or cellar for years to come. The advice from professionals is to look at the way you live your life without the need for these possessions; “It’s interesting how we can happily live our lives without giving certain possessions a second thought, but the moment we stumble across it during a clear-out, we suddenly feel overwhelmed by emotion and find it difficult to let go of them”.

‘What if I need it in the future?’

You know how to work your microwave, TV or laptop, so why are you holding on to the instructions for five years after purchase? You probably still have instructions for items that are long gone. Dr Forrester comments, “Many people are frightened of making an error of judgement and needing something that they’ve thrown away, and so they keep on to it for their own peace of mind”.

The four step way to tackle clutter

Dr Forrester details four easy steps that will guarantee you stay on top of your clutter.

Step one

Have a daily ‘sort out’ time – for 30 minutes or so, when you get home from work.

Step two

Put things away as soon as you’ve finished with them.

Step three

Set achievable targets with clear goals – for example, sort out one drawer each evening.

Step four

Don’t bring things into your home if you don’t have space for them.

By understanding the mental processes that contribute to your personal clutter and following the four simple steps, you should start seeing a difference in no time. For more expert advice from Dr Forrester and to delve deeper into the issues associated with OCD look for her book ‘How to Deal with OCD: Stop Fighting, Start Winning and Live the Life You Want’.