The Connection between Mental Health and Chronic Disorganization

What is the connection between Mental Health and Chronic Disorganization?

It was once thought that OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, was the main issue with individuals who were living with “Hoarding Disorder” (which was deemed a Mental Health Illness in the DSM 1V in 2013.

OCD can be an issue and is very debilitating as it prevents its sufferers from being able to carry out the tasks of their daily lives. OCD is an anxiety disorder where individuals struggle with thoughts, feelings and sensations and then engage in behaviours to deal with them.

But actually a very low percentage of people who have OCD would consider themselves to have chronic disorganization or hoarding disorder. It is somewhat more prevalent that those suffering with OCPD Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder also struggle with hoarding.  They have a really difficult time with letting go of possessions.  OCPD has to do with having a strong sense of control and perfectionism. The idea is that if I cannot do it perfectly then I cannot do it at all.

You can read more about OCPD here:

Vulnerability Factors:

Maybe one of your parents had a lot of clutter and/or challenges with their stuff.  Your parent may have been around during the Depression when items were limited and they had to go without.  Or maybe you remember going to Grandma’s house and her place was cluttered but it was a lot of fun to play and look at her stuff.  Another factor could be a parent who was a perfectionist and wanted everything shining clean and spotless.  An individual might feel like rebelling and just doing things their own way.

There is a lot of anxiety associated with dealing with clutter. It has to do with how much clutter is comfortable to live with, how much stuff I am bringing in on a day to day basis and the challenge of letting go of items that are not needed or necessary. The anxiety comes from the inability to trust our own instincts, wanting to avoid uncomfortable emotions or soothe them and difficulty making decisions about our stuff.

You may have heard that clutter is all about holding on to the past and worries about the future.  It is usually not about the present.  Being in the present can be painful and uncomfortable. We are looking for ways to soothe ourselves even if this is unconscious. Shopping, acquiring cool stuff, finding treasures, numbing feelings with drugs or alcohol, planning for the future, moving stuff around (churning) and avoiding discarding are all ways we are taking care of ourselves and paradoxically they are also ways that contribute to having too much stuff.

Mental Health Factors:

Having an episode of depression or major depressive disorder is very challenging when it comes to trying to manage your life, your belongings, doing laundry, appointments, money, poverty, getting food, relationships, physical health, mental health, legal isssues, and possibly addictions.  An individual may be facing more serious crisis situations such as problems from a landlord, the Fire Department or eviction and consequently homelessness. Self esteem can be a factor as well. I remember a woman who came to our group saying that she had a lot of garbage around her apartment and she realized it was a reflection on how she felt about herself.

Most people who have struggles with clutter have had some kind of trauma happen to them. Now please note that not everyone who has trauma issues has clutter issues as there can be other resiliency factors ie: family supports, good friends, positive people in your life, financial supports, etc.

However, among those who have difficulty with their stuff, most if not all have had some kind of loss in the past, losing a loved one, a partner, friend or parent and inheriting their belongings, losing a child through death or (maybe even to CAS, Children’s Aid Society), violence and assault, a serious physical health illness, mental health issues, addictions, relationship breakdowns, divorce, moving or losing all of their belongings due to eviction.  All of these traumas which can cause symptoms of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also lead to having a Hoarding Disorder.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Please add your comments below…..and thanks so much for following along……

Happy Decluttering!



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Five Tips for Happy Spring Cleaning/Clearing

It’s that time of year again when we feel motivated to make some changes in our lives.  Longer daylight hours and seeing the sun a bit more often just helps us all to feel better.

Warmer weather allows us to open windows, feel and smell the fresh air, watch the new growth sprouting out of the ground and to start thinking about organizing and clearing out. The sun feels so much stronger now and if it is streaming in through your windows you are probably noticing the dust, cat or dog hairs, dirty windows, etc.  It can all be a bit overwhelming.  Here are 5 of my tips that I hope will help you to get motivated.

Five Tips for Happy Spring Cleaning/Clearing

  1. When the sun is shining through the windows and you are seeing the dust on the windows, on the blinds or the dust bunnies on the floor, this is the best time to clean up especially if you are feeling somewhat energetic and motivated.
  2.  This is a great time to get all of the garbage, newspapers, and           cardboard ready to get out to the bin or to the curb just because its easier to get out and about.
  3. Have you been noticing any winter clothing (coats, boots, mitts) that are scuffed up, missing buttons, with rips, holes?  They really need to go?  Hopefully, soon we can get rid of these things and next year they could be replaced with something better.  You deserve the best, my friend!
  4. Cleaning up the entrance way, shaking out some rugs, sweeping the floor can really feel good and can really pave the way for good energy to come through your door.
  5. Seasonal change of clothes.  You might not want to rush this but it can be helpful to start thinking about what you may not have worn all winter. It might be time to let go of some of these clothing items.

Once that beautiful spring weather is here I am likely not going to have a lot of time to work inside so I really want to get as much done as possible.  I anticipate I will be outside a lot.  I am so looking forward to Spring, going for walks, bike rides, raking all the leaves leftover from last year, (Ugh!! I will try think of this as great exercise), cleaning up outside and watching the world green up again.  How about you?  What do you love about spring and what are you looking forward to?




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Is there a link between physical and emotional clutter?

Declutter Your Life and Mind.  This is a talk/workshop I am doing on March 21, 2018 at a local library.  One of the areas I will be talking about is the connection between physical and emotional clutter.   How do we move the physical clutter and what happens when we do?  What about the emotional clutter that tends to come up?

Perhaps you find the idea of clearing out more appealing than actually doing the work. If so, you are not alone.   There are a lot of reasons why it is difficult to let go of our stuff aka clutter.  Getting started is usually half the battle.  If you are avoiding dealing with the clutter then it might be helpful to actually sit with your clutter and really look at what comes up for you. What is the resistance to doing this work?  You could try writing about your feelings and see what is coming up for you.  It might feel like you are not doing anything but this is a really great way to get started especially if you are feeling stuck. This helps you to start to take some control and to have power over your belongings and your space.

Working on your physical clutter will help you with the emotional clutter. Click To Tweet

While it is easier to see the physical clutter, if you move it without being conscious about your feelings and not paying attention to what might be underneath it, likely you will just re-acquire and end up back in the same place again. When we look a little deeper we might find there is emotional clutter as well. The clutter can very well be emotional baggage and unfinished business.   Do you have old files from a previous career, love letters or cards from an ex-partner, a wedding dress from a failed marriage, books about dreams that you once had, clothing from a happier time or a time when you were a lot slimmer, or projects that are unfinished?  (When I was involved in a quilting group in the past we called these UFO’s Unfinished Objects).   These are all areas that can keep us emotionally stuck in our lives.  Clutter can be giving us a message that we do not want to or cannot move forward.

Messages like:

“I will be able to wear this when I lose 10 pounds” (someday in the future but for now looking at those clothes can make me feel bad about myself)

“I am afraid to try to meet someone and start a new relationship” (because I am sad and still thinking and dwelling on the past relationship)

“I spent a lot of money on this so I cannot let it go” (I will hang on to this even though I don’t love, want or need it and it is taking up valuable space that could be used for something else)

“Someday, I will fix, sew, sell this” (again, someday in the future but realistically am I really going to do this)

“I will not be able to clean this mess up, so why bother trying” (a good excuse to not even start and an easy out in some ways)

“I would like to have company over but cannot because of the mess” (relationships are tough and I have been hurt in the past so it is easier to not have people over)

“I am keeping these books because one day I will read them and then I will be able to get more organized” (my books offer me the promise of making things better but in the meantime they are taking up space and causing me to feel bad because I haven’t read them or actually done any of the work or followed up)

Can you see how some of these thought processes can hold you back and how they protect you from actually pursuing your dreams?

What is your clutter saying about you? How is it protecting you from moving forward?  Would love to hear from you.  Please comment below…..


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Peer Support Works

The Clutter Clearers’ Peer Support Circle has been meeting now for five years.  They are coming up to their anniversary in April 2018 and are planning to celebrate.  Yes, Peer Support Works!

They might have a party in someones home.  Think about that for a minute.  This is certainly something that they would not have ever imagined could happen.  But yes, the Peer Support members do visit each other in their homes.  WOW!

There are lots of great benefits to attending this Peer Group.  There is always lots of laughter and “clutter jokes” that only those who struggle with clutter really get.  Laughter is so healing and the clutter jokes really help to normalize things and to reduce the anxiety.

Group members may have been quite isolated in the past and also may have family members who do not understand.  They  develop new friendships and connections with others who really get them.

This group encourages participants to work on their personal goals and challenges and also keeps people accountable to those goals.  The Peer Group Facilitator talks about how the group members are developing their “de-cluttering muscles or their housekeeping muscles”  which really just means working on developing some new awareness and habits.

If you would like to learn more about the Peer Circle from the early days please check out this link.

I am so proud of this group and honoured to be invited back every few months to check in and see how everyone is doing.

Peer Support Rocks!!

Personally, with my own goals I feel like I have finally developed a new habit which is hanging or folding up my clothes at the end of the day.  This has honestly been something I have tried to do over the years and by the end of the week I would have a huge pile of clothes to deal with. What a huge difference this new habit has made.  Success!!

Have you been able to develop an awareness or a new habit that you have been able to maintain?  Please comment below and thank you so much for following along.

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The Graduates of the Clearing Clutter Group – Week 8

Week 8 – Eight graduates finished strong today.

Eight Weeks really flies by and from what the participants wrote on their evaluations they wish that this Clearing Clutter Support  Group could be longer. Participants are usually invited to come back for another 8 weeks, however, the next group in April is already full with a waiting list.  A number of the group members asked if they can attend the next group after that which is likely to be in September.

Most of the group members are planning to attend the Peer Group next week which will help them to stay on track with their de-cluttering goals.

The three areas that participants made progress on are:  How much clutter is in the home?, How much difficulty do you have with discarding?, and How much are you acquiring?  In looking over the scores everyone has made improvements.  You can check out some previous scores here:

We had really great attendance for this group and we also had three participants who attended for all of the eight weeks.  We seemed to have a number of snow storms on these mornings too.  We had eight people attend strong on the last week.  We started the group with twelve so this is pretty good.

On the last week we discuss alternative ideas for finding enjoyment in your life.  This is especially helpful for those who find it exciting to find a treasure in a thrift shop, are having fun when moving things around in their homes or are excited to get some free items.  It can be important to find other ways to create comforts in your life.   Think about other activities that you can do other than going to a flea market or yard sales.

We also discussed some Tips for Overcoming Clutter Issues which were adapted from Dr. David Tolin.  These serve as a great resource, review and ideas going forward with confidence.

So, how did I do with my challenge this week.  Well, it was a busy week, out every night blah blah blah.  I know, excuses, excuses!!  I did clean out a drawer in my bedroom and it took about 10 minutes, filled up a bag for donation (it was already mostly full) and it is now in the trunk of my car ready to be dropped off.  My partner also got motivated and filled up a bag to go with mine so ……SUCCESS!!

My co-facilatator and myself will be attending the Peer Support Group next week along with the Graduates from this group.  The topics the group are asking for are Motivation and Procrastination.  Great topics.  Stay tuned as I will let you all know how it goes.

I plan to carry on with my de-cluttering.  My goal is to work on something every week.  How are you doing with your de-cluttering?  Happy De-cluttering and have a great week.



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Week 7 – Now What?

This is actually the second last week but participants are realizing that this group is coming to an end. They are starting to feel concerned that they will not have the same accountability when they are not attending the group.  Now What?

But surprise, this support does not have to end. Today, we had guests come from the Clutter Clearers’ Peer Support Circle. They came to talk about what they have been up to and to invite everyone (the graduates) to attend the Peer Circle. The Peer Circle meets at the same time of the week at an undisclosed location and is an ongoing group. This group operates with a similar format with group members checking in, problem solving and working on personal challenges. You can find more information about the Peer Group here.

A Visit to the Clutter Clearers’ Peer Circle

This has been a really great group with participants really getting the information quickly so it feels like we have really sailed through the material in some ways. One of the challenges that has come up is the dreaded “Paper”. We did discuss a handout a few sessions ago but I thought it was appropriate to re-visit this issue.

Paper can be so challenging because it is small and usually has information on it that we may or may not need and every single piece seems to need a decision. Ugh!! Things have really changed with how we deal with paper especially if we have access to a computer. We always tell participants that “if your system is working for you, then you don’t need to change it”.

So, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Bert Lance

How do you deal with all that paper that comes through your door? Mail, newspapers, flyers, junk mail, pamphlets that you picked up, receipts, etc. It can be helpful to have some kind of system or a flow for dealing with the papers that come through your door.
My partner actually told our delivery person to stop putting flyers in our mailbox, we don’t read them and don’t want them and these have stopped. This has been really good for us as there is now no pile of flyers and papers that we have to deal with. Just one less thing. Yes!!!

How did I do with my challenge this week? My challenge was to finish filling up a box for donation, getting it out of the house to charity and cleaning up the floor in the basement. I did take the time to do this (the night before group hehe) but it got done. Accountability can be a huge thing. I was able to clean up a few things, get the box filled up with a number of other items that have not been used in years including some mops which haven’t been used since maybe 2007. I was very aware of different emotions and indecision that came up.  It’s definitely a process and takes time.

This week I am tackling some messy dresser drawers.

How are you doing with your weekly challenges?

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Doing the Work of Decluttering- Week 6

By week 6 the participants are really getting it and doing the work of decluttering. They are talking about some subtle shifts happening in their lives and homes. Most participants in this session are living with others whether it is a partner, sister or parent so this dynamic is coming up a lot. There hasn’t been any major roadblocks around this, however, it can be important for others in the family to know what you are learning and what you are working on. It is going to be best if you can work together, however, if this is not the case doing the work on yourself will eventually carry over to someone else.

After our check in with challenges and successes and then a discussion regarding the homework from last week we moved on to a Problem Solving Exercise. We always have a group member come up with a good example of a problem they are dealing with and then we go through the process together.

Most of us who struggle with clutter have a hard time with Solving Problems which has to do with making decisions and taking actions. It also has to do with trusting ourselves and knowing who we are and what we want. So, that is why it is important to pay attention to whats going on with ourselves, how we are feeling, what we tell ourselves and what actions do we take.

Think about a problem you might be facing. It could be something that has been on your to do list forever or maybe its a pile of boxes in a corner that you don’t want to deal with. Think about these steps to help you to move forward.

Problem Solving Steps

1. Define the problem and contributing factors
2. Generate as many solutions as possible. (doesn’t matter if these ideas make sense or not – we are just brainstorming here)
3. Evaluate the solutions and select one or two that seem feasible.
4. Break the solution down into manageable steps.
5. Implement the steps.
6. Evaluate the outcome.
7. If necessary, repeat the process until a good solution is found.

We talk a lot this week about really “doing the work”. So, that involves looking at How to Organize: Making decisions about your stuff using the Decision Tree, picking a place to start, gathering supplies, working on some categories for the stuff and following up with where things are going to go.  Individuals always say we make it look so easy but half the battle is just getting started and remember:  



So, how did I do on my challenge this week?  Well, I have to admit, I picked a fairly easy one.  I went through a big pile of books and journals that were sort of hidden in my bedroom.  Yes, I did go through them, found a few to go back on a bookshelf, some to donate, a couple I want to read and put the journals back with the other journals.  This exercise has helped me to feel more focused and able to work on my own personal goals.

This week my challenge is to get some donations out to a charity and clean up my laundry area.  Should be a doable challenge for a busy week ahead.  Stay tuned for next week when we have some visitors from the Clutter Clearers’ Peer Support Circle.

What are you up to with your de-cluttering goals?

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Getting Motivated – Week 5


Getting Motivated and Staying Motivated is always a challenge and of course is never a straight line. Life is going to be up and down, good days and bad days, low energy at times, and slipping back is easy enough to do. In fact, we did have a discussion about relapse which certainly can happen even after getting more of a handle on chronic disorganization. This topic allowed us to introduce the group to the idea of the Clutter Clearers Peer Support Circle which is an ongoing maintenance group and all of the graduates from this group will be invited to attend at the end of this eight week session.

We did an brainstorming exercise on “Reasons Why We Don’t Want to Change” and ending with the more positive “Reasons to Change”. We always end up with more reasons to change which can help with the motivation issue. Another exercise and discussion was based on motivation tips to help individuals move forward with their goals.

You can see what happened with this exercise at a previous group session:

This particular group is doing really well with their challenges, making a lot of progress, lots of insights and feelings of lightness and satisfaction with the areas they are working on. One woman talked about a bag of odds and ends (like a junk drawer) that she was just dreading going through. She was encouraged by her mom to go through it and she did and she was able to let it go without any difficulty.  Check out my tweet here:

Many of the participants are in the process of really de-cluttering and letting go and they are finding it quite satisfying.  We often repeat our mantra:


So how did I do on my challenge?  I picked a fairly easy challenge this week and it went well.  You may remember the picture from last week. It was a small shelf in the bathroom, quite cluttered, dusty, etc.  I was able to take everything off of it and I was unsure as to what I wanted to put back on there.  It’s really too small for towels even though that is what I see in magazines.  So, I decided to only put back this piece that my friend, April, made for me.  It’s a beautiful fairy surrounded by mauve flowers with her baby on one of the flowers.  It is something I have always loved.  Check out the picture at the top of this post. If you would like to see some of my friends beautiful dolls you can check it out here.

So, challenges are on for this week.  The group is motivated.  We talked a lot about clothing and books this week.  So, my challenge this week is to go through a pile of books that are kind of hidden in my bedroom.  Yes, I have my secrets too lol.  They are mixed up with journals, books started but maybe never finished and other books I might want to read.  It’s all about getting focused and working on one of my own goals for this year which is to read more books.

Thanks so much for following along with us. What are your goals for this week?  or this year?





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Awareness and Letting Go – Week 4

Awareness and Letting Go.  Yes, week 4 already and halfway through this session.

You may recall from last week that participants were asked to bring in items that they were struggling to let go of. Participants who bring in items present the item(s) and then the others ask questions of the item.

The first participant to share brought out a little bag of jewellery that was handed down to her by family members. She said it was jewellery that she wouldn’t wear and had no one else to actually pass it down to. She also had a silver pie server and spoon which would need to be cleaned with silver polish. She did not know who this came from and said that she would not use these. This participant shed a few tears as she felt the attachment to these items but also felt good about passing them on to a program that makes new items out of old jewellery and other items.  Often being able to donate to a good cause can help.

Another participant had an unopened boxed gift that had gathered a lot of dust and had been given to her from a young niece. It was a little wooden character that holds your glasses. This group member said she loved the gift because it was given to her by her niece but she won’t use it because she doesn’t wear glasses. After answering many questions she decided to repackage this gift and give it back to her niece at their next visit.

The third example was a gentleman who had a big pile of Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards. At first we all thought they were worth money but actually they had been purchased in order to receive more Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum points and they were used. Why he kept them is hard to understand, perhaps they had become invisible to him or he kept them as a reminder that he had purchased them. He did talk about how he can be lured in with marketing to try to get as many points as possible. In the end, he was able to discard all of these into the garbage bin.

Awareness is key in helping us with the letting go process

Individuals become very aware of their time, energy, stuff around them, triggers, behaviours, etc. This is always the first step in beginning to examine behaviours and habits and to start to be able to make some changes in their lives.  Awareness is key.

We always do a short grounding exercise after our break which really helps people to get calm and focused and ready for the next piece of learning. On this day we moved right into a Visualization which is about visualizing a room in your home and paying attention to what you see and feel. We then look at the same room with the clutter, not gone, but all organized and put neatly in its place. We had people answer a few questions after this and there were some great aha moments. One woman said that when she thought about her space all cluttered it was night time and when she visualized it all organized it was daylight and sunny.  Great metaphors for our space.

So, how did I do on my challenge of cleaning off my dresser? Well, I thought it would only take about 20 minutes but it did take more like an hour or so to do it properly. I did have to push myself to get off the couch and do it but I got into it after awhile. I was able to discard a number of lotions and potions not needed. I put together some bits of jewellery that will be donated to the Micro Enterprise Program at my work place. I felt I might as well clean off a second dresser as well which was not too cluttered. It felt so good to get this done and it really helped to see what I have and what I can be using. A big success.

My challenge this week is to clean off a small shelf in the bathroom.  There are little books at the back and while they are cute, its pretty cluttered and dusty.  Here is a pic below.

Homework for this week is to pay attention to the trigger situations, feelings and thoughts, and behaviours that follow.

What are your challenges for this week with your de-cluttering projects?  Please comment below and thanks for following along with our group progress.


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Emotional Responses to Our Clutter – Week 3

When you think about your stuff what kinds of emotions come up?

If you struggle somewhat with your stuff you may think of these negative emotions right away. They may include feelings of fear and anxiety, grief and loss, sadness, guilt and anger or perhaps just feeling overwhelmed with it all. Some of these feelings may come up when you are handling your possessions, you are thinking about where to put items, how to organize or discard items.


There are also positive emotions like pleasure, comfort, or satisfaction. For example, finding a lost treasure, (ie: something that has been missing for awhile) finding a found treasure (ie: at a thrift shop), finding a bargain, giving something away to someone who will enjoy it or even donating to a worthy cause.

I like to use the example of finding an amazing treasure at a thrift shop, feeling like you are on a high, bringing it home and then thinking “where will I put this” or looking at your finances and thinking “oh no, now what will I do for groceries for the rest of the month?”

Both the negative and positive emotions can keep us stuck in the cycle of acquiring stuff, moving stuff around aka churning (as opposed to finding a home for the item or letting it go) and difficulty discarding.  It often is about the avoidance of the uncomfortable feelings associated with taking these steps to make change.

We always do a Needs vs Wants exercise and this session we had participants do the work right there during the group.  It can make such a difference to take the time to do this right there and then and we always hope that people will have some ah ha moments.  This time they did not disappoint as there was some great discussion.  Do you ever think about this when you are about to purchase something?  Do I really need this or do I just want it?  hmmm?   Here is something that can help in that moment….

So, how did I do with my challenge?  Well, I am loving my new habit of getting off the couch and doing something every evening- anything really – just something small that makes a difference.  I really feel like I am working on a new habit for myself which is awesome.  My other challenge was to clean off my dresser and I have to admit I did not do this.  It will happen this week my friends.  It needs to be done!

One gentleman in the group talked about the fact that he felt like a failure because he had not done his challenge to his expectation.  He thought about this a lot over the week, it likely really stressed him out and he had an awareness of what was going on with his thought process.  Maybe his challenge was too big (which we always caution) but the important thing is that he is showing up, he is doing the work, he is aware and  he is trying to figure out what to do next.  We do have a mantra in our group which is “Small is Huge” so anything you can do to start to make a change is amazing.  Coming to this group and showing up is amazing.

Next week participants will be bringing in items that they know they want to let go of but are having difficulty parting with.  We will have other members of the group ask each person questions about the item in question.  In the end it will be up to each person as to what they plan to do with the item.  Such a great exercise.  I can’t wait.

Thank you so much for following along with our group process.  What emotions does your clutter bring up for you? Please comment below…..


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