Many of us allow clutter to build up in our homes, but how far does this issue go? We wanted to find out more about the UK’s clutter habits, including what is the most hoarded item, why we hoard, and how this affects our lives.

The most hoarded items

Our survey reveals that clothes are the most commonly hoarded item in the UK, with 61.1% of people admitting to cluttered closets. There are many reasons people may keep clothes; for nostalgic reasons, in hopes they’ll fit again one day, saving for a special occasion, or simply feeling guilty getting rid of them after spending hard-earned money.

Other commonly hoarded items include plastic bags and bags for life, cards and gift bags, and containers such as shoe boxes. 

Reasons for keeping clutter

The majority of people don’t part with common clutter items in case they can be reused. Whilst it’s great that people are being environmentally conscious, the excuse of ‘I can reuse it’ tends to go unfulfilled - wardrobes remain cluttered with clothes from 2010, and the numerous shoe boxes continue to pile up… 

Sentimentality is another big reason people tend to keep items - this is much more understandable, however, there is a fine line between being sentimental and hoarding. Of course, keeping a card from a loved one who has passed is fine, but keeping a receipt from a holiday when you were ten may be crossing the line. Chances are you never look at the item - getting rid of it will not result in the memory fading. 

Clutter in the home

Our data revealed that over 90% of the UK public have clutter in their home - just 7.4% claim to have none at all. These commonly hoarded items tend to be kept in cupboards and drawers, followed by the attic or loft. With UK homes getting smaller, the need to reduce this clutter is more important than ever.

There are a range of issues that can stem from cluttered homes. Too much clutter can affect our mental health - 47.2% of respondents admitted that clutter in their home makes them feel stressed, and 22.2% said it annoys/upsets them.

Katrina Hassan, founder of Spark Joy London, said: “I fully believe that decluttering the home has the power to transform one's life. I'm certainly proof of that. I used the KonMari Method (made famous by Japanese professional organiser Marie Kondo) to declutter and organise my home when I was preparing for a home birth with my son. What I didn't expect from going through all of the categories, was the powerful impact it would have on my decision making for all other aspects of my life. My head was so clear that I was able to identify that my career as a primary school teacher no longer sparked joy.”

Another issue is conflict between household members - our data revealed that over 80% of respondents said clutter had caused issues with their family/housemates. Nobody wants to live in a cluttered, messy home, so it's understandable that this can affect relationships.
Lisa Pantling, Membership Director of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO), said: “I will usually refer to clutter as 'visual noise' and if everywhere you look there are little piles of clutter and mess some people find it impossible to relax. And all the worse if it's not even their stuff, or they feel that they have repeatedly asked for it to be sorted and nothing has happened.”

Minimising clutter

Our survey revealed that the majority of the UK public tend to declutter their homes every few months, however,  just over 8% of people say they rarely or never declutter. It’s important to declutter your home regularly to prevent it from building up and turning into a bigger issue.

Lisa commented: “A good sort out once every 6 months will be just what we need to keep everything 'current' and uncluttered. But for others, it is more of a process than an event, and it will be a case of working through the clutter at a slow, steady and manageable pace.”

Over 70% of respondents would like more space in their home according to our survey. Decluttering can be a daunting task, but if it is kept on top of it will be much easier, can create more space in the home, and overall will benefit your life. 

Here are some tips on decluttering your home and keeping on top of it: 

Do a little bit at a time

Trying to declutter your whole house at once can be overwhelming. Penny Moyses, Founder and Event Director of the Clean & Tidy Home Show, said: “Use your time effectively. Even going through your letters or kitchen worktop while the kettle is boiling will help you to save  precious time.”  

In line with Penny’s comments, you might consider doing a room at a time or allocating five minutes a day to get into a routine. Penny adds: “‍If what you want or need to achieve seems unachievable, break it down into smaller goals e.g. start with a small drawer.”

Katria suggests organising by category: “ Instead of decluttering one room, one space or one drawer at a time, we tidy one category at a time. We start with clothing, before moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and complete our tidying process with sentimental items.”

Make a list

Before starting, create a list stating what you want to achieve, e.g., declutter the wardrobe, organise the mail. You can make a big overall list, or create lists for each day or amount of time you’re spending decluttering. 

Use a storage facility

It can be hard to part with certain items, especially if they’re valuable or sentimental. Consider using secure box storage so you still have these items, but they’re not cluttering your home. 

Have categorised boxes or bags at the ready

Sort your items into 'donate', 'keep', 'throw’ or any other categories you choose. Having boxes/bags ready can help motivate you to make these tough decisions. 

Lisa added: Have a donation box or bag ‘on the go’ so whenever you notice something isn’t serving you it can go in the bag, and when the bag is full it can be taken straight to the charity shop!”

Ask for help

If you’re struggling with decluttering, you could ask a family member or friend for help. You could also hire a professional declutterer - the APDO website allows you to find professional organisers and declutters in your area.

Does it spark joy?

Marie Kondo is the queen of decluttering and organisation, so follow her sixth rule for tidying. Pick up the item and ask yourself ‘does this spark joy?’ If the answer is yes, keep the item - if it’s no, get rid of it. 

Katrina said: “Write down trigger areas in your home as it is now. What is joyful in your home? What are the necessary things you need to do? What are the waste elements? Is there any opportunity to let go of any of the wasteful elements in your home? Once you have assessed your current reality, the next step is to create your vision of your ideal lifestyle and ideal living environment. Write down your ideal living environment that allows you to be joyful, productive and present, allowing time for self-care.”

One in one out

If you have clutter due to buying a lot of items, try to use the ‘one in, one out' rule - every time you buy a new item, you need to get rid of something you already have and no longer need.

Have organisational items 

It's important to have items that help with storage and organisation (baskets, shelves, etc.) to stay on top of your clutter. Lisa said: "Professional Organisers will generally advise decluttering before trying to organise anything, which does usually work for most of us. However, if you are finding it hard to let go, you might benefit from organising the items into categories first so you can really see how much you have to help you decide what you really love/need enough to keep it."

Our data also revealed that almost 85% of people would like their homes to be more minimalistic to some extent. Decluttering can help you achieve a more minimalistic lifestyle. 

Lisa commented: “Having an organised home and simple systems in place can have a positive effect on every part of our lives. A clear kitchen makes it easier to plan and cook healthy meals, a clutter-free bedroom makes for a good night’s sleep and an easier morning routine.”

When clutter becomes a problem

Despite many respondents admitting they hoard items such as clothes, containers, and packaging, just 25% consider themselves to be hoarders. 

There is a big difference between clutter and hoarding… 

Clutter is a less severe form of hoarding and can be used to refer to unorganised mounds of objects that can build over time in drawers, on tables, and around the home. Whilst clutter is a common sign of hoarding, it doesn’t mean that somebody has a hoarding disorder or is showing hoarding behaviour. It is fairly common to have clutter in the home. Certain periods of life become busy and decluttering may not be a huge priority during these times.

Hoarding on the other hand is much more complicated. 

The NHS states hoarding is when “some acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner, usually resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter.”Megan Karnes, chair of UK Charity HoardingUK, said: “The way hoarding is usually defined is in regard to the impact on the space and the person’s safety and living habitability. We judge this using the clutter image rating - if a person is at a level five we would consider that person having the house impacted significantly enough for that to be considered hoarding.”

Megan continued: “The clinical criteria is the pattern of behaviour that brings the person to this level, so hoarding is actually a symptom.”

Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding is now a clinically recognised mental health disorder - it was recognised in the Diagnostical Statistical Manual in America in 2018, and in the international classification of diseases in 2018. 

Megan comments: “It’s important to remember that a person who is hoarding is in psychological distress - this is manifested visually for this person. Many people have experienced trauma, but you don't physically see this for the average person as you do for somebody who hoards. We need to begin to associate the ‘stuff’ with a person’s stress, anxiety, and potential trauma.”

Causes of hoarding

Hoarding behaviour can be a result of many factors - it is an anxiety disorder that falls under the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, so people suffering from either anxiety or OCD may show hoarding behaviour. In recent years, mania in bipolar disorder has been found to trigger excessive acquisition, psychosis can also trigger this and specifically affect the self-neglect spectrum of hoarding. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has also been linked to hoarding and is perhaps the most common trigger - this disorder can make it difficult for people to make decisions.

Megan commented: “Clinicians might disagree with me, but in my twenty years of experience I will always say that every person I have worked with has experienced a lived trauma that changed their life such as losing a partner, or a job, or an opportunity - the trauma they’ve experienced may not necessarily be clinically recognised but it has impacted them and played a part in their hoarding.”

Lisa added: “Common contributors to the mental health condition of hoarding disorder are often related to childhood trauma, PTSD, complex grief disorder and multiple bereavements, along with other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”

Problems caused by hoarding behaviour

Hoarding behaviour can lead to a range of further issues, including physical and mental health, relationship problems, financial problems and more. 

Megan said: “Hoarding creates problems in all areas of a person’s life. Mould, dust, and damp are present in any significant level of hoarding which can result in chronic lung issues. We’ve had people with scurvy, Vitamin D efficiency and mobility issues due to hoarding.” 

Relationships can also become damaged due to hoarding behaviour - a sufferer may avoid inviting family and friends over resulting in a breakdown of a relationship, partners who live in the home may become distressed due to the state of the home. 

Megan added: “Many people within our support models have broken families and people not speaking to each other. We’ve had stories of partners becoming distressed but understanding it’s an issue and remaining as supportive as they can be, and stories of people being called ‘stupid’ by partners.” 

Lisa commented: “When a home becomes dangerously full it can lead to an increased risk from fire, trips and falls, poor sleep and diet and often isolation and this can lead to a severe decline in mental health and general wellbeing. That being said, it is a strong-willed and resilient person who can continue to function in a hoarded home, which may have fallen into disrepair and even lack heating or hot water.”

Other issues that can be caused include financial, psychological, practical, and even legal. 

Signs of hoarding behaviour

There are certain red flags to look out for if you or somebody you know are unsure whether they have a problem…

  • Buying many of the same items
  • Not inviting people over due to clutter/mess
  • Issues amongst friends and family over clutter
  • Feeling out of control about the clutter
  • Clutter causing health issues or danger in the home
  • Money issues as a result of hoarding

Comparing the amount of clutter to the clutter image rating can also reveal whether somebody is exhibiting hoarding behaviours - if the amount of clutter is on a level one to four, then it is likely simply a case of the home being messy and chaotic, but it is not as dangerous as it could be.

Megan commented: “if we see the clutter index rating go from a three to a five, this is when we should begin asking them what’s wrong and if they’re okay.” 

Moving forward 

If you feel you’re suffering from hoarding behaviour and potentially hoarding disorder, it’s important to seek support. Whilst this can be difficult, there is help out there, such as HoardingUK which has a free helpline, in-house support for those based in London, and run numerous virtual and in-person sessions across the country.

Megan said: “There are services out there that can help cut down clutter and clean up spaces which is great, but they don’t necessarily help people with their hoarding disorder. We work with people in the long term with a model that works.”

“Be kind to yourself and understand that hoarding disorder is real - it’s not a character flaw or personality trait,” Megan advised.

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