Clutter: Learning to Let Go

Some antidepressants may help hoarders stop collecting and start trashing.

By Matthew Hutson, published on March 1, 2007 - last reviewed on March 14, 2012

For some, clutter is a nuisance. For others, it's a handicap. The 2 million compulsive hoarders in the United States should find relief in a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research: Serotonin reuptake inhibitors may help them stop collecting and start trashing. Compulsive hoarding often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety disorders like OCD, and sometimes occurs alongside depression, dementia, and anorexia. Some sufferers form emotional attachments to their belongings. Others are indecisive, disorganized, and prone to procrastination. In any case, lead author Sanjaya Saxena says, "In contrast to conventional wisdom and clinical lore, compulsive hoarding is treatable," and he recommends a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Steps for Spring Cleaning

Psychologist Randy Frost of Smith College, well-known for his studies of perfectionism, offers some tips for reclaiming your space:

  • Don't let someone else—friend, maid, coach—clean up for you. Lasting solutions require talking through the process as you make decisions yourself.
  • Attack small areas at a time, like one corner of a room.
  • If you haven't used it in a year, toss it out. (Make that a week for newspapers.)
  • Assign items to one of a very few categories. For example, shelve it, trash it, or sell it.