How to Determine if Your Client is Just Being Willful or Struggling with OCPD

clutter Is there a difference between OCD Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and OCPD Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder? This was originally posted on April 25, 2015 at

There can be overlapping symptoms at times so it can be very confusing. It was once thought that OCD was the determining factor in “Hoarding Disorder” but as we know now it is much more complex than that. Individuals often have a number of vulnerability factors that have impacted on their struggles with clutter and hoarding.   I work with a client who was diagnosed years ago through the hospital with OCD. She has issues with hoarding which she is fully aware of but she actually has no OCD symptoms and the classic symptoms of OCPD.

I wouldn’t really describe myself as an expert in this field but usually I can see when someone who has challenges with their stuff also may struggle with OCPD.  Perfectionism and the inability to let go of anything are usually the first clues.  When we think about the issue of perfectionism which is something that comes up a lot, someone with OCPD is so challenged by this that they become paralyzed and unable to move forward.   Throwing out a small piece of paper is a huge success for this person.

An OCPD person may have lots of clutter but it is usually all organized neatly in see through bins with labels, in alphabetical order and possibly stacked to the ceiling. There may even be a list somewhere of what is in those boxes or bins. They probably have empty drawers and filing cabinets as they like everything to be in view.

They have certain rules and regulations about the order of things and how things should be in the world. When this doesn’t quite go their way, they may experience a lot of anxiety and turmoil. Having control is very important for someone who suffers with OCPD.  They really can get so caught up in all of the small details that they easily lose sight of the main thing they were initially involved in.  They often have difficulty with others who don’t agree with them or challenge their thought process.

Here is an example from a male who attended the Clearing Clutter Support Group:

Questions to answer to enable possessing something:

Is there unused space to keep this? Will this improve my wellbeing if I have it?

Is there a present need for this proven by recent experience and rational analysis?

Is my intent for this backed up by a firm commitment to follow through with application?

Do I need this specific article to experiment to discover whether something like this would work?

Could I find a customer to buy this at a price greater than the value I have invested in it?

Is this something of such great rarity as to be unavailable through ordinary channels?

Is this valuable enough to justify keeping it in storage for future use?

Do I value this enough to take it with me when moving to another residence?

As you can see, the thought process can be so elaborate that it can be debilitating in making a decision.  Decision making is extremely difficult for these individuals from what to wear to what to order in a restaurant. choosing

Everything is special and needs a special place. Everything is valuable. I remember once saying to a client “what about the things you don’t love”. She said, “pardon”, so I repeated myself and she said “but, I love everything”. I believe that this is common among those who struggle with these challenging issues.

As a Professional Organizer it is important to be aware that someone may be struggling with these issues of control and perfectionism and that they are not just being willful. So, how can we work with these individuals?

It seems that there are quite a lot of resources about this disorder, support for people who love someone with this disorder but not really a lot of easy answers for those who are suffering.   If the person has insight into their own issues support groups can help as well as individual therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy would be recommended as they are the preferred therapies for help for hoarders.

Motivational interviewing may help for professionals working with clients. Some Recommended Reading and Resources:

Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Jeannette Dewyze and Allan Mallinger

When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism by Martin Antony and Richard Swinson – this is an awesome site with really accurate info about OCPD – this is quite long but interesting reading on this issue – great website with links to resources – there are some support forums online

Do you know of other resources that would be helpful? Please share below and thanks so much for following along.

About Kim

Kim Tremblay is a Master Organizer and a Clutter Coach. She has worked with individuals helping them clear the physical and emotional clutter from their lives since 2008. Kim founded and co-facilitated a Clearing Clutter Support Group which has helped hundreds of individuals to make positive changes in their lives. Kim is currently working virtually with clients helping them to clear the emotional and/or physical clutter from their lives. Kim is available to speak to your group about all things organizing.
This entry was posted in Clutter, compulsive acquiring, Emotional Clutter, hoarding, Hoarding Crisis, mental health and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to How to Determine if Your Client is Just Being Willful or Struggling with OCPD

  1. Seana Turner says:

    I run into that “But I love everything” with a few people. I’ll run through those great questions, but they are still paralyzed because they can come up with a possible scenario for using and enjoying every item. I like the well being question, because we can talk about the “cost” of keeping with that one… because the well being is negatively impacted if you can’t access your stuff or walk through the hall.

    • Kimberley says:

      Yes, that is a great question and yes, you are so right – people will come up with all kinds of possible scenarios for their items and you really don’t want to get into a power struggle with them. This man was really working hard at looking at his own thought processes and I hope he has been able to make some changes with his acquiring.

  2. What a detailed post! The list of resources is quite helpful. I hadn’t heard of the Out of the Fog site and after checking it out it seems to be a great website. Thanks for sharing, Kimberley!

    • Kimberley says:

      Thanks for commenting Sarah – there are some great resources online for sure 🙂 Its such a challenging issue!!!

  3. I also recommend the book, When Good Enough Is Never Enough by Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D.

  4. Sabrina Q. says:

    Early in my organizing career I encountered a several of these OCPD clients. The clients would start and then stop within a few sessions. No reason why at all. This was way before the research you discussed was available. I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have been more equipped to help them. I am going to share this with my friends to help them understand too. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ellen Delap says:

    Thanks for these valuable resources. What an enlightening discussion! I knew that my clients struggled with keeping too much and keep it in an organized manner, but did not know this was linked to a disorder. I appreciate all these resources.

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