Glancing around your room, you notice your floor is concealed by piles of clothes, a mix of dirty and clean. The bed is unmade. Old ticket stubs, trophies, and sports equipment peek out from around and under the mattress. Books and coursework from semesters ago are scattered across your desk, while stacks of video games and makeup bags layer the top of your dresser. Your closet door is barely able to close from all the junk packed behind it. Are you a hoarder, or just too busy to clean up?
Better question: what is a hoarder? A few days past January 1, is it time for a new year’s cleanup?
Lourdes Santos, a fourth-year chemistry and biology double major living on residence, didn’t think she’d need one. “One of my roommates is messy, so I learned to throw away stuff I didn’t use or need, like old clothes and shoes, at one of those donation bins on campus when available,” she advises. Santos notes that she only tends to keep things she uses repeatedly, and believes an overflowing amount of stuff can become irritating when it starts to affect other people.
A self-proclaimed collector, fourth-year political science and anthropology student Avinash Ryan Doulat doesn’t feel the need to clean up. “I never toss out anything. I thought about cleaning up and starting a new year fresh,” he says. “But I realized that just because it is a new year doesn’t mean that I have to clean up my act just yet.”
Doulat admits that he’s a little messy, but he manages. “Growing up, my mom was a hoarder,” he says. “She kept an apartment she didn’t live in for years with all of our stuff inside of it that we’ve had since my brothers and I were young because she couldn’t bring herself to throw it out.”
As a professional office and home organizer, Laura Kay of Laura Kay Organizing has experienced her fair share of clutter and believes it is better to start implementing better organization as early as possible. “As you go through life growing into adulthood, good organizational skills are essential. You have more stress on your mind and responsibilities as you get older, so the more order you can instill in your life earlier, the better it becomes in saving time and physical energy,” she says.
Kay suggests that jumping into reorganization should be taken with care. She says, “It is a process that shouldn’t be done all at once, and a person has to be really interested in wanting to change. Like adjusting to a healthier lifestyle and diet, an organized life comes with mindfulness and motivation.” Implementing tiny changes over time, such as hooks instead of hangers for those busy people, can make all the difference in minimizing clutter in the long run.
Pamela Adjei, a third-year behaviour, genetics, and neurobiology specialist and biology minor, is an organized student who sometimes has a little bit of trouble knowing what to let go of. “I tend to keep my binders and notes from past years of courses. I most likely won’t refer to them much if at all in the future, but for whatever reason I just have a hard time tossing them out. Even when moving homes, I’ve packed them up to my new location. And about once a year, I make sure to donate some of my excessive clothing to charity, but the process of choosing what to donate can be a bit unsettling,” she says.
When asked what she believed hoarding meant, Adjei answered, “Having a lot more stuff than you have a use for, and feeling uneasy letting go.”
The title of “hoarder” is often used playfully to describe a person who has too much unnecessary stuff, but Kay suggests we approach the term with caution. “Hoarding is a symptom usually of emotional issues and/or a compulsive disorder—many hoarders see themselves as collectors instead and don’t recognize their hoarding as a problem,” she says, adding that hoarding was originally acknowledged by medical practitioners as part of mental illness.
An article in The New York Times on the health effects of clutter backs up Kay’s point. “Compulsive hoarding is defined, in part, by clutter that so overtakes living, dining, and sleeping spaces that it harms the person’s quality of life. A compulsive hoarder finds it impossible, even painful, to part with possessions,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in an article entitled “A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves”.
She describes a study done on brain scans of compulsive hoarders while they had to decide whether they wanted to keep or throw away valued items shown to them, which found that they had increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex—a part of the brain to do with planning and making decisions. Researchers found “that part of the brain seemed to be stressed to the max”.
Kay recommends that students visit challengingdisorganization.org to get a better understanding of chronic disorganization.
“It doesn’t have to be a new year—you can start fresh any time of the year,” says Kay. “I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions and changing all at once. Take control of one thing at a time. Use a planner if you have to budget your time with your busy schedule.”
You can learn more about Laura Kay Organizing at torontohomeorganizer.com. And read up next week for a counterpart article on minimalism.