Psychotherapist reveals six common clutter types – which are YOU?

I’m a psychologist and these are the six common clutter types – from the sentimental to the tech

  • UK-based psychotherapist Helen Sanderson reveals six common clutter types
  • READ MORE: Why mum has been slammed by ‘furious’ critics for posting a photo of her teenager’s messy room transformation

From drawers overflowing with old pieces of paper, to tangled cables, and wardrobes bursting with clothes that no longer fit – many of us are guilty of hanging onto too much clutter.

But while it may seem like the items you hang on to are meaningless, that is not necessarily the case, says UK-based psychotherapist and professional organiser Helen Sanderson, who is sharing decluttering tips in partnership with buying and selling platform Vintage Cash Cow.

She believes that understanding the type of clutter you hold onto could help you learn more about yourself by uncovering some secrets of your personality type and mental health.

According to Helen: ‘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. I am a great believer in clutter having a story to tell about its owner.’

Here are six of the most common clutter types and what they reveal about your personality, alongside some nifty tricks from the decluttering experts at Vintage Cash Cow to kick your clutter habit to the curb once and for all.

What type of clutterer are you? According to an organisation expert and psychotherapist, identifying why you hold onto clutter could help you understand yourself better

The fashion clutterer: clothing, jewellery & shoes 

According to Helen, there are several reasons people may be reluctant to get rid of clothes – even garments that don’t even fit.

She explained: ‘For some, clothes represent an identity they are not ready to let go of – the person they once were, or perhaps one they wanted to become but never did. Letting go of what those clothes represent would mean accepting the reality that life has changed, that they are no longer who they once were, or may never fulfil that cherished dream.

‘Some experience buyer’s remorse, unable to let go of something they invested their hard-earned money on. It feels irresponsible to let things go, somehow wasteful of their money or environmental resources. These types may be prone to guilt and regret and feel that holding on to the item somehow alleviates the remorse.’

How to declutter

Be honest with yourself. Do you like the look of the item on the hanger, but not when you try it on? Haven’t worn the item in over months? If so, it’s time to get rid. You could donate or recycle old clothes, while jewellery can be sold online via services like Vintage Cash Cow. 

If you feel guilty about letting go of things you’ve barely worn, embrace those feelings and use them as motivation to be more mindful about your purchases in the future.

The childhood clutterer: old toys, books & games 

‘We keep what has a valued story to tell, so holding on to children’s things can be a way of trying to preserve the precious memories of parenthood. It is natural to want to remember the joys of their first step, word or day at school. But, when this is done to excess, it may indicate that someone takes a lot of meaning from the lives of their children, rather than their own.

People who have sacrificed or compromised a career in order to be a parent may need to explore other ways they can find more meaning in their life. Holding on to every toy and game may also be linked to traumatic loss, either of a child or in one’s own childhood.’

How to declutter 

Which items do you genuinely value, and which are just excess? Aim to keep a handful of the most sentimental toys and items, but donate or sell the others. 

Think of it as giving these items a new lease of life and allowing them to be enjoyed by another child, rather than just gathering dust in your attic.

Getting rid of everything isn’t essential, says Helen, who recommends keeping hold of your most sentimental possessions when decluttering

The tech clutterer: spare phones, chargers & cables 

‘People who have high environmental values may not want to put old tech into landfill and would rather clutter their home than the planet. An admirable impulse, but ultimately, if things simply cannot be recycled, they are going to end up in landfill eventually,’ says Helen.

‘When it comes to old laptops or phones containing information that hasn’t been reviewed, actioned, archived and the memory wiped, there is another issue. The type of person who doesn’t get around to this is typically a ‘busy procrastinator’: someone who doesn’t want to be bogged down with dealing with details of life and the past. However, ironically, their very avoidance means they get bogged down by the related clutter.’

How to declutter 

Put any cables and chargers that are compatible with your current devices in your ‘keep’ pile. Any others? It’s time to say goodbye. Some councils will accept cables in your roadside recycling. If not, many recycling centres will take them. 

As for phones, keep one spare for emergencies, but any extras can (and should) go after moving any precious photos and data onto an external hard drive. Most charities accept old phones, even if they’re not working.

The sentimental clutterer: cards, drawings & knick-knacks 

Helen believes that ‘items you have kept specifically because they evoke powerful, significant memories can be the hardest to let go’. 

And, she notes, you don’t actually have to let go of anything you don’t want to. 

She continues: ‘The problem can be if you are holding on to large numbers of sentimental things and they are blocking the flow, productivity or efficiency in your life. For some, holding on to everything that has sentimental meaning may be a way of being in control of something they didn’t feel in control of in the past, the loss of someone close, or needs not met in childhood. 

‘People may have a strong need to attach to sentimental objects if they didn’t develop a secure feeling of attachment to their mother in infancy, or their maturation process was interrupted.

‘The excess of objects can be a way to meet that need for stable connections to others that they lacked in early life. Objects don’t leave unexpectedly, abandon you or reject you in the way it felt people may have in the past.’

How to declutter

Go through each item individually and ask yourself ‘What precisely am I sentimental about?’. Often, it’s not the item itself, but a person or place associated with it. You can hold onto those memories without a physical object, so don’t feel guilty about decluttering. 

Place any items you decide to keep in a designated memory box and consider sticking cards and photos into scrapbooks. This helps to keep them safe, whilst keeping your house free of clutter.

The entertainment clutterer: CDs & DVDs 

Helen says:’Music is especially evocative of the good times, idealism and exuberance of youth. Yes, we can now stream all those same tracks and films on demand, but powerful associations with the excitement of trips to the record store, CDs bought after gigs or special movie nights spent with partners or friends have a strong pull.’

She continues: ‘As with old clothes, over-attachment to old media can reflect not wanting to let go of who we once were or dreamt of becoming. It may be that some losses from earlier in life have not been fully acknowledged and mourned, or some creative impulses still need expression.’

How to declutter 

You might feel that your CD or DVD collection sparks memories, but the memories aren’t connected to the physical disc. It’s the songs or the footage that is sentimental to you, but these are likely available online, or easily digitised. 

Aim to keep limited edition items or stand-out discs that are genuinely special to you, but as for the rest, it’s time to sell, donate or recycle them and start streaming instead.

For some, the danger items they tend to keep hold of are papers, hanging onto bills, letters, and other documentation

The paper clutterer: documentation, bills & letters 

According to Helen, there can be complex reasons behind people’s reluctance to let go of pieces of documentation.

‘People who struggle to let go of old documents have often experienced pain as a result of missing paperwork at some point in their life: losing a piece of homework as a child, or a legal case where they didn’t have all the documents needed,’ she explained. ‘Events that perhaps have not been fully emotionally processed.

‘So, storing old documents is often rooted in fear and a need for security and control, this can be a defence against experiencing similar pain or perhaps re-experiencing something of that previous loss again.’

How to declutter 

Holding onto payslips, household bills and bank statements over a couple of years old, or out-of-date insurance policies? You’re highly unlikely to need them again, so it’s time to get shredding and recycling. 

Scan future documents into your computer and store them digitally – as well as freeing up physical space, it’ll be much easier to keep to an organised filing system.

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