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Why Do We Struggle With Clutter?

There are varied reasons people hang on to things they don’t need based on their circumstances or deeper-lying struggles.

A cluttered home—even one that would qualify as a Level 5 situation—doesn’t stem from laziness or lack of willpower.

More often than not, a cluttered home is the result of a difficult-to-control situation, which is part of normal life.

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What’s the source of your clutter?

Here are a few factors that may be contributing to your at-home clutter:

• Kids Will Create Big Messes
• Medical Issues
• Old Age
• Anxiety Disorders
• Trauma and/or Stressful Life Events
• Generational Habits and Heredity
• The Stress to Mess Cycle

Home Clutter

Kids Will Create Big Messes

Kid Icon
Having children can bring an abundance of joy, but also plenty of clutter.

Baby gear that is only used for a short period of time, rapidly changing clothes sizes, and piles of toys accumulate quickly.

It doesn’t end with the baby phase, though. As all guardians know, older kids and teens bring their own messes into the home.

Food-related messes combined with sleep deprivation can make it difficult to keep up with housework.


With children leaving clutter everywhere and food-related messes needing immediate care, it can be difficult to keep up with housework. Especially when you consider the sleep deprivation that also comes with kids.

Between art and science projects on the counter and smelly gym bags and laundry left around the house, things can get (or stay!) messy.

It doesn’t help that children aren’t well-known for cleaning up after themselves!

Medical Issues

Medical issues can make it difficult to clean and organize due to:
Decreased Mobility
Decreased mobility
Other Struggles
Other struggles

For example, immunocompromised individuals may need to be isolated, particularly due to the pandemic. They may not be able to do the needed cleaning themselves, however, they also feel they can’t bring in anyone to help.


Old Age

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As adults age, they may struggle to keep up with their housework.

Think of all the reaching and bending over. Consider all the hard scrubbing. With health issues, simple cleaning tasks take much longer to accomplish, if it can still be done.


Decreased mobility and increased health issues can make cleaning overwhelming or even impossible.

In addition, it can be difficult to let go of possessions accumulated over a lifetime.

Old Man


Anxiety Icon
Anxiety can make it difficult to throw away possessions.

People with anxiety may hold on to items in excess in case of a feared emergency or indecision about what to do with items.



Other Struggles
Finding the motivation to clean and declutter is often a struggle for someone suffering from depression.

The stress of an out-of-control home situation (whether it’s actually out of control or simply perceived to be) can create a negative feedback loop.

What’s a negative feedback loop?

For example, maybe you’re struggling with depression and lack the motivation to do the dishes.

This means the dishes quickly pile up and within a week or two every surface in your kitchen could be covered in dirty dishes.

Now, you’re facing an overwhelming mess that can make you feel even worse—piling on exhaustion, guilt, and shame—and making you even less likely to find the motivation to clean up.

Suffering Depression

This cycle can leave those struggling with depression feeling more overwhelmed and less able to approach their home situation.


Attention Deficit Hyper-activity Disorder (ADHD)

Individuals with ADHD often have intense, passionate interests and may accumulate items related to that interest.

In addition, it can be difficult for a person with ADHD to create and stay focused on a plan for a big cleaning project.

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Mental health counselors and social workers may also step in to help residents change their habits.

Chapter 5 contains a list of cleaning techniques and organizational strategies to help counter this.


Disorder (OCD)

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

People with OCD sometimes deal with anxieties and emergencies by compulsively buying items.

They may have obsessions about running out of essential items or a buying ritual that is difficult to break out of.


Trauma and Stressful Life Events

Trauma can be a trigger for accumulating clutter. If someone grew up without:

Sufficient food
Hygienic Products
Hygienic products
Love Support
Love and support

They may feel driven to hold onto things rather than throw them away when they are no longer needed.

Research shows that childhood emotional abuse and physical neglect in particular predict higher levels of hoarding symptoms.

Items that have sentimental value.

People who have experienced loss may also accumulate possessions to soothe the ache of missing their loved one.


Buying new things triggers a brief dopamine high, bringing temporary emotional relief.


Generational Habits
and Heredity


If you grew up in a home where clutter was common, you are more likely to show these behaviors yourself.

You may have a genetic disposition toward it through related diagnoses like anxiety or depression. You may also be more used to an environment where clutter, mess, and even the higher levels of hoarding are the norm.
Generational Habits

Clutter Is Normal… But It Can Cause Stress

No matter the reason clutter starts, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed by the situation. Home maintenance is a big task under any conditions. Certain factors can make the situation feel impossible:
Trauma Icon
Mental Health Struggles
Mental health
Medical Issues Icon
Medical issues
Interpersonal Issues
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Stress can lead to big messes.
Stress can lead to disorganized homes, and disorganized homes can increase stress.

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We can help

At this level of hoarding, many people are looking for help.
We’re available and respond 24/7.

Big Messes Can Lead to Stress

Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD

Clinical Health Psychologist
Harvard Medical School

Natalie Christine Dattilo

“Recent studies have shown that clutter in our homes is associated with higher cortisol levels [our stress hormone], but it’s still unclear which comes first,” says Dattilo.

“Is it that when we are under stress, our ability to maintain a well-organized home becomes impaired? Or when our home is in disarray, does that make us feel more stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious?”

Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, clinical health psychologist and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, calls it a chicken-or-egg dilemma.


Regardless of the root of the issue, there is a way out. Resources are available to help you deal with your home situation. You’re using one of those resources right now!

Keep reading to discover how you can decrease your stress and live in a clean, comfortable space.

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