Whether it’s boxes overflowing with old phones and tangled cables, wardrobes full of clothes that no longer fit, or drawers crammed with letters and birthday cards from decades past – when it comes to clutter, we’ve each got a weakness.
No matter how extensive your storage and organisation methods are, there are admittedly always going to be some stragglers you just can’t let go of. However, have you ever considered that there’s probably a deeper reason as to why you can’t help but hold onto these certain items? And spoiler alert, there is.
According to Helen Sanderson, MSc, psychotherapist and professional organiser, your clutter can actually help you get to know yourself better as she’s a ‘great believer in clutter having a story to tell about its owner.’
‘To some, the answer to clutter is simple: just clear it. But to others, their relationship with their possessions and the clutter that amasses is more complicated. For them, possessions are ways of freezing a moment in time and holding on to it, for better or worse.’
Helen is the author of The Secret Life of Clutter, a psychotherapist, interior designer, and one of the UK’s most well-respected clutter experts, providing the ultimate holistic decluttering service.
Helen helps people create beautifully organised, clutter-free homes and live more mindful and meaningful lives. She works with her clients holistically, both to uncover what their homes reveal whilst supporting them to let go and move on.
Craig is a proud, verified member of APDO (Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers) and the owner of the decluttering service, A Tiny Mind London, which aims to transform people’s homes.
He has a calm and supportive approach to working with clients that allows them to deal with the mental clutter while sorting through the physical ones, too.
Here are the six most common clutter types and what they reveal about your personality, alongside some nifty decluttering tips from Craig Hoareau, APDO member and managing director of A Tiny Mind London, so you can kick the habit of the chaos once and for all.
1. The fashion clutterer – clothes, shoes, jewellery
Is anyone else here guilty of organising a wardrobe just to have it go messy again in just a week? But hey, it’s the thought that counts, right? However, Helen’s got some words on what our clutter of clothes, jewellery, and shoes says about us.
‘This person may be someone who gathers clothes that result from an innocent treat. Treats that don’t reject or argue back. Shopping for the latest fashion can be a form of emotional comfort along with an attempt to reinvent one’s self-image without really changing what is within,’ she explains.
‘This can be someone who is creative and wants to experiment with new looks and new identities but invests so much in fashion that they find it hard to let those unused or no longer fashionable pieces go.’ Yep, guilty.
What to do about it
‘The first step is to categorise. There will be a lot of items that probably don’t fit anymore, were an impulse buy, someone gave it to you and you’re not fond of it, or the style is no longer suited to who you are now. Be realistic with your decisions,’ advises Craig Hoareau.
‘As you declutter each category, further categorise what’s left into seasons and type. Consider slim hangers and use wardrobe and drawer organisers, storage boxes, and dividers to maximise space. If space is an issue, consider putting away out-of-season clothes and doing a wardrobe swap when the season changes.’
If there are things you no longer want, consider donating them to your local charity shop, recycling them, or even selling them on platforms such as Vinted, Depop, and Vintage Cash Cow to give them a new lease of life.
2. The childhood clutterer – old toys, books, games
‘Childhood is a time when we are most present in the moment, which is why it is so memorable. For some, this represents a magical time and for others a place that was never fulfilling. This person wants to hold on to childhood either to reconnect with that inner magic or as a search to go back and find what was lost or missing,’ explains Helen.
‘These are often people who have a challenging present day and may tend to view their childhood with rose-tinted glasses.’
3. The sentimental clutterer – cards, drawings, knick-knacks
‘The most entrenched clutter type, who will tell you a story about every item in the home whilst reliving the moment in full detail. The sentimentality connects them to a deep loss, either in child or adulthood and the objects really are a replacement for something which they feel they need. By keeping the objects, they can feel in control over that which they were not in control of before,’ explains Helen.
What to do about it
Childhood and sentimental items are very similar in the way they overlap and likely hold a dear place in our memories. The idea of getting rid of them may be difficult, but Craig Hoareau advises that ‘you ask yourself why you are keeping it and who you are keeping it for.’
‘Consider letting go of a few items and creating a memory box of your favourite childhood things. It can be one of each category you have. You don’t need all the school books, but pick one, perhaps from your favourite class at school.’
‘Another solution is to create a photo book of your childhood. Take photos and scan your favourite childhood belongings and create a memory book, letting go of the physical items.’
4. The tech clutterer – spare phones, chargers, cables
‘Generally, the tech clutterer is someone who is paralysed with thoughts of, ‘might need it someday’ and may not be a tech-savvy type. Fears such as ‘I might not have the right cable’ or ‘What are all these cables anyway?’ may be haunting. So, the box or drawer of cables stays, even if they are from a couple of decades ago,’ explains Helen.
What to do about it
‘To keep them organised, bring them all together, categorise and create a tech box. Use resealable bags or small takeaway boxes to separate wires by type, and use wire ties to keep them together,’ advises Craig. For the ones you use every day around your desk, consider looking into how to hide wires to reduce visual clutter.
‘As for old tech, these are very easy to wipe these days and many options are available to dispose of them by either recycling or selling them. A simple Google search of how to sell my phone will give you multiple results on how to do this.’
5. The entertainment clutterer – CDs, DVDs
‘Similar to sentimental types, holding onto old vinyl, video and cassette tapes made in times gone by can feel like a direct connection to a special time in the past. Here lies a belief that back then was good, whilst the future looks bleak with less to offer. You will hear these types regularly reminisce about old films or music from days gone by,’ explains Helen.
What to do about it
‘Let go of anything you no longer listen/watch or want to listen/watch, is available on a streaming platform. There are places online that will buy second-hand DVDs or you could donate them too,’ advises Craig.
‘Organise the remaining into CD and DVD storage racks, shelves storage boxes, or binders to save space. You can alphabetise them to make it easy to find what you need. Review your collection regularly and declutter as needed.’
If you fancy, you could even display them centre stage the next time you organise your living room shelves.
6. The paper clutterer – documentation, bills, letters
Helen reveals that these are ‘the most common type of clutterer, not yet ready to embrace the paper-free tech, and often struggle with details. This results in overwhelm due to the sheer quantity of detail on each piece of paper and the perceived magnitude of the task.’
‘Paperwork also represents authority and communication, so this type of clutter can be linked to how people feel about authority and information. Fear of authority can result in keeping everything, ‘just in case’ – a phrase we’re certain many of us know all too well.
What to do about it
We know not everybody is blessed with extensive home office storage, but getting your paperwork together is still possible.
Craig advises separating your paperwork into different categories and then creating a filing system, whether that be using folders, a filing cabinet, or even scanning them instead to store them digitally.
‘To maintain a streamlined system, regularly discard anything which goes out of date or is no longer relevant. When mail comes in, deal with it straight away either action, file or discard it. Do not let it pile up to deal with later because later never comes and you may get penalised if you miss something important.’
We’re not going to lie, we’re pretty guilty of a handful of these, so if you also tick some of these boxes, don’t panic as we’re in the same boat. As you identify the type of clutterer you are, so comes the long, inevitable task of finally tackling your decluttering checklist. We know it’s tough, but it’s possible – and perhaps when you’re sorting through your items, you can call back to some of these profound insights.
Who knew that our home’s seemingly meaningless chaos actually harboured so much significance? If you need us, we’ll be knee-deep sorting through boxes. Wish us luck.