Chances are, if you are disorganized by nature, you have a family member who is also disorganized. You may joke about losing your keys or how you misplaced your wallet under the clutter. Your childhood memories probably include playing hide-and-seek behind the stacked boxes in the basement. Usually disorganization can be tamed by developing routines, but sometimes it turns into something worse…hoarding.
Hoarding behavior is usually quite obvious to others, but clinically significant hoarding behaviors are, in part, associated with a score of ≥40[i] on a survey called the Saving Inventory-Revised. The survey consists of 23 questions including “To what extent do you have difficulty throwing things away? “ and “How often do you feel compelled to acquire something you see? e.g., when shopping or offered free things?”
Just as disorganization runs in families, hoarding tendencies are also hereditary. In a study of hoarders, it was found that over half of them had at least one family member who also had hording tendencies[ii]. If your great-uncle Joe was a hoarder, you can probably relax. However, if your brother is a hoarder, you may want to look at your own tendencies. Shared hoarding tendencies are more prevalent in siblings and immediate family members. Also, genetics was found to be a more compelling predictor of hoarding than environmental factors.
However, just because you come from a family of hoarders does not necessarily mean you are doomed to be buried in clutter. If you know a hoarder, you probably know that hoarders often do not recognize that they are hoarding or that their hoarding is causing problem. For those who do recognize that they are hoarding or those who are genetically-predisposed to hoarding, cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment. In one study, therapists targeted three indicators of hoarding: disorganization, compulsive acquisition, and difficulty discarding. Treatment techniques included homework assignments and training on organization, decision-making and facing avoided situations. Those who were compliant with completing homework assignments and attending training sessions made significant progress in reducing hoarding behavior. Thus, learning simple organization techniques and developing routines to keep disorganization under control can be effective ways to prevent clutter from becoming a problem.
Another interesting technique that has been shown to be effective, in both hoarders and non-hoarders, is “thought listing.” Thought listing is simply describing your thoughts about and item to be discarded without analyzing or modifying your thoughts. There is no mental analysis of the advantages or disadvantages of saving or discarding the item. The idea behind though-listing is that it mentally distances you from the item and mentally changing your personal connection to the item[iii]. So, perhaps one way to avoid falling into the trap of becoming a hoarder is not overthinking your relationship with your things. After all, they are only things.