clutter

Got clutter? If so, you’re certainly not alone. A SpareFoot survey shows that more than one-fourth of Americans think their home is at least somewhat cluttered.

In a survey conducted in October 2014 for SpareFoot, 6 percent of American adults said their house or apartment is “very” cluttered, and 21 percent classified their space as “somewhat” cluttered.

The survey results track with national statistics that show up to 5 percent of Americans might have a hoarding disorder, said Matt Paxton, an “extreme cleaner” who helps people with severe clutter problems on the A&E reality show “Hoarders.”

People in extreme situations, like those Paxton helps on TV, nearly always have an underlying issue, such as battling depression or coping with a painful loss like death, divorce or serious illness, Paxton said. “It’s never just about the stuff,” he said.

survey about clutter

However, even for those with less serious clutter, the stuff can cause family conflicts and even affect your social life, experts say. In fact, 12 percent of Americans, when they have guests over, worry very or somewhat often that their home is too cluttered, the SpareFoot survey found. Another 23 percent said they fret about that occasionally.

Organizing experts expressed surprise at the large number of people who say they have no mess in their homes. Forty-six percent of those surveyed by SpareFoot said their living space is not cluttered at all. Meanwhile, 61 percent said that when they invited guests over, they’re never concerned that their home is too cluttered.

“We all have some pocket of clutter in our home,” said professional organizer Lorie Marrero, creator of the ClutterDiet.com organizing program. “Nobody’s perfect.”

6 Tips for Controlling Clutter

If you struggle with clutter, whether it’s a major problem or an occasional annoyance, here are six tips for getting it under control.

1. Define the Problem.

One way to determine the severity of your clutter problem: Use the free clutter and hoarding assessment tool from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, Marrero said. “People can look and see how they’d rate themselves,” Marrero said. People with severe problems likely will need therapy and a professional organizer, Paxton said.

2. Get Help.

Even on a small budget, you can hire a professional organizer to spend an hour or two assessing your clutter and creating a plan of action that you can carry out on your own, said Vivian Eisenstadt, a physical therapist in California who credits that approach with helping her overcome a clutter problem two years ago.

“You don’t have to have them do everything for you,” Eisenstadt said.

Lorie Marrero

Lorie Marrero suggests asking friends and family for objective decluttering help.

Or you can benefit from the objective eye and accountability you get from enlisting a relative or friend to help, Marrero said.

“Your friend can say, ‘Hey, you never wear that sweater’ or ask ‘Why are you keeping this?’” Marrero said.

She recommends setting aside a chunk of a Saturday and swapping favors, such as help straightening up your friend’s garage in exchange for a hand with taming the closet in your master bedroom. This makes it harder to procrastinate. “You know you have an appointment with your friend,” Marrero said.

3. Start Small.

“Instead of organizing your entire kitchen, organize your silverware drawer,” professional organizer Julie Bestry said.

As you’re organizing, assign each type of item a home to make it easier to see what you have and to decide what to pitch, Bestry recommends.

“If you decide that all the coffee mugs go in this one cabinet, then you can see, ‘Oh, I have 72 coffee mugs. That might be too many,’” she said.

Go one drawer at a time and one cabinet at a time until you have a room done and you know what belongs there, Bestry recommends.

Julie Bestry

Julie Bestry recommends a step-by-step approach to home organization.

4. Avoid Stashing Stuff Indefinitely.

Your mother-in-law called to say she’s on her way over, so you quickly hide that stack of unopened mail.

“Sometimes you need to stash,” Marrero said. “It’s a fact of life.”

But those tucked-away items can create a mountain of clutter, Marrero said. She once helped a client clear out a room full of black plastic garbage bags stuffed with items that had been stashed to make the house look nice for guests. Stow stuff in a container you’ll need fairly soon—like your laundry basket—so you’ll be forced to sort through the items after your company leaves, Marrero recommends.

5. Make Decluttering Fun.

About 80 percent of people dread decluttering, and one in 10 hate it so much they’d rather get a tooth pulled, according to a survey of more 8,000 Listia users in August and September 2014. But don’t despair: You can make organizing fun, Paxton said. For example, you can clear out overstuffed closets by holding a family fashion show.

“If anyone laughs at an outfit, it’s got to go,” Paxton said.

He’s also a fan of the “10-minute sweep.” That’s when everyone in the house spends just 10 minutes a night, Monday through Thursday, putting stuff away. “You don’t need to spend five hours cleaning,” he said.

Matt Paxton

Matt Paxton is a fan of the “10-minute sweep” for tidying up your home.

6. Set Up Systems to Keep Your Space Neat.

The key to staying organized is creating systems. For example, thinking about what a room is used for, deciding what items are needed for that purpose and categorizing them, Marrero said.

It’s also important to identify and assign maintenance tasks, she said.

“Somebody’s got to take out the recycling and somebody’s got to buy laundry detergent and somebody’s got to straighten up the tool box,” Marrero said.

Bestry agreed: “People tend to think in terms of big tasks. But staying organized is really about those tiny, everyday maintenance tasks.”

Once you vanquish your clutter, you should see improvements in your life, Bestry said. “The whole purpose of getting organized is to be calmer, happier and have more time to do the things you enjoy,” she said.

Survey Methodology

For this survey, telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults living in the continental U.S. Telephone interviews were done by landline (502) and cellphone (501, including 280 without a landline phone). Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI) conducted the survey. Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from Oct. 9-12, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Allie Johnson
  • http://getcleverlyorganized.com Clever Container Erin

    Great article! I especially like #6! I am an Organizing Consultant with Clever Container! Our tagline is Organizing Just Got Fun! :)

  • Minimalist

    Self-surveys do not accurately measure the clutter problem. Watch A&E’s “Hoarders” and you’ll see insane pack rats who claim that they don’t have a clutter problem. Conversely, some people claim to see clutter where the majority do not.

    Only random spot checks of homes and assessing them using objective criteria can ever determine the true extent of clutter in America. A more objective self-survey might ask how long it takes a person to find and retrieve 10 commonly used and 10 uncommonly used objects in their house. An organized person will probably retrieve objects faster than a disorganized one.

  • Sarah

    These are great tips! I really like #3 a lot – to start small. At our house, we have a hard time getting started with decluttering in the first place so I love the tip to start with a little area like a drawer and move from there. Getting organized seems to be a hot topic right now and in fact, I’d love for you to pop over to my blog http://www.sarahkrug.com/resources/radio/ and hear what you think of my interview with a professional organizer. She talks about how to get into the industry and her tips on how to start getting paid as a professional organizer. :)