Clutterers Anonymous is a 12-step support group that exists to help people who suffer from a cluttering addiction to regain control over their lives. A cluttering addiction is when clutter dominates your time, space, and energy in an unhealthy way. You may become so attached to products, collections, other various objects, and even animals, that you experience a distressing feeling of loss of control over these possessions. Unlike a true collector, who proudly displays their collections, you may feel shame or embarrassment about your clutter.
Cluttering addiction can also be part of a hoarding disorder, though not everyone who has problems with cluttering qualifies for a hoarding diagnosis. Clutter addictions and compulsive hoarding behavior sometimes arise in connection with ADHD, dementia, and other behavioral health disorders.1
It is difficult to find statistics on cluttering, but one Australian study did find that about 88% of those families surveyed had at least one cluttered room in their homes, and about 59% of female participants were embarrassed to have outsiders see the cluttered parts of their homes.2
Some people may not see cluttering as an addiction, however, there are distinct similarities between the behavior patterns of a clutter addiction and those associated with alcohol or drug abuse, such as:
- A loss of control over the urge to collect and keep clutter.
- Continuing to accumulate clutter despite negative consequences in their life.
- Failed attempts to stop the clutter addiction alone.
Substituting the word alcohol for clutter in the above statements demonstrates some of the striking similarities between the two types of addictive behaviors.
What Is a Clutterer?
Treatment for Recovery
As with any addiction, treatment plays an important role in recovery. Behavioral addiction support groups are an important part of the recovery process, because you can benefit from the advice and support of others.
Storage units for rent are found throughout the United States for all the material items people amass. Some people have so much extra stuff that they park their cars on the street so they can use their garages for storage. Others may keep too many scrapbooks, let the laundry pile up, or save magazines weeks (months or years) longer than necessary.
At times, it can be hard to determine if someone is just messy or a collector or truly has a cluttering addiction. Some may feel like clutter has taken over their lives and it therefore feels like an addiction to them. For others, friends and family first sense that their loved one has a cluttering addiction, but the person doesn’t see the clutter as a problem.
Clutterers Anonymous offer a self-evaluation tool to help determine if you may have a problem with clutter addiction. It asks you questions to help you determine if you may be a clutterer, including:3
- Do you have more possessions than you can comfortably handle?
- Are you embarrassed to invite family, friends, health care providers, or maintenance workers into your home because it is not presentable?
- Do you find it easier to drop something instead of putting it away, or to wedge it into an overcrowded drawer or closet rather than finding space for it?
- Is your home, or any part of it, unusable for its intended purpose: a bed you can’t sleep in; a garage you can’t park in; a kitchen you can’t cook in: or a table you can’t use for dining?
- Is clutter causing problems at home, at work, or in your relationships?
- Do you hesitate to share about this problem because you feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed about it?
- Do you have a weakness for discarded objects, bargain items, freebies, reading materials, or yard sales?
- Do you use avoidance, distraction, or procrastination to escape dealing with your clutter?
- Do you often replace objects, rather than cleaning them or finding them?
Clutterers Anonymous notes several common traits of people with a cluttering addiction:4
- Having more possessions than can be reasonably managed.
- Difficulty disposing of unused things.
- The inability to locate objects, therefore failing to meet obligations.
- Materials can’t be found in all the clutter, so projects aren’t finished.
- Relationship issues resulting from clutter.
- Inability to start projects, due to perfectionism and anxiety.
- Failure to set goals and prioritize, so only urgent things get attention.
- Renting more storage space to keep additional unnecessary items.
- Poor time management that affects many areas of life.
- Failure to deal with clutter, despite repeated attempts to do so.
Some people are more at risk than others for developing a clutter addiction. Though the phenomenon of cluttering has not been exhaustively researched, numerous studies of compulsive hoarding indicate that there may be a genetic component involved. Both cluttering and hoarding cut across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic barriers, and many people who clutter are not aware of how serious their issues are or how they impact others.5
Although hoarding is the most extreme form of a clutter addiction, there are common consequences to both disorders. Many people with a cluttering addiction or hoarding disorder live in unsafe, unsanitary conditions. Cluttering may also lead to issues in social and family relationships, including divorce and losing custody of children. And both addictions can lead to extensive financial issues when a person spends money unwisely to collect more items.6
In addition, many people with a behavioral addiction such as a cluttering are at higher risk of having a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. If you seek out treatment for the substance abuse issue, your cluttering addiction may not come to light, though, simply because it isn’t typically a question in a substance abuse assessment.
Your substance abuse needs often require more immediate treatment, but once you begin a treatment program, it’s not uncommon for your behavioral addiction to escalate as a way to help you cope with the anxiety or discomfort of detoxing from your substance of choice. In essence, you substitute one addiction for another.6 This makes it important to tell the program staff about your behavioral addiction when you receive treatment for other addictions so they can incorporate it into your treatment plan.6
The Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
Clutterers Anonymous and other 12-step groups can be helpful in your recovery from cluttering addiction. They are free, widely available, and—as is true of Clutterers Anonymous—there are groups available online. In addition, Clutterers Anonymous helps anyone who wants to start a new group in an area in which one does not already exist. This group follows a similar 12-step format to well-established groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Led by group members, Clutterers Anonymous can offer unique insight into the recovery process by those who have gone through the process. There are no paid staff members, and all chapters elect officers who perform their duties on a voluntary basis. After attending Clutterers Anonymous for a little while, many people then choose a sponsor to provide extra support in the recovery process.
Clutterers Anonymous, like other forms of 12-step support groups, are not a form of behavioral health treatment in the formal sense of the word. The members of the 12-step group are not therapists, but rather people who have worked through their own struggles with clutter addiction. A sponsor or other group member may help fellow members implement strategies for dealing with clutter outside of the meeting format.
Support groups like Clutterers Anonymous focus on the underlying causes of the addiction, rather than offering tips on managing clutter. The three major areas of focus are:
- Managing physical clutter.
- Emotional stress from dealing with the past and the future.
- A loss of spirituality in their lives.
Clutterers Anonymous is a valuable resource for anyone who needs help with a cluttering addiction. Participating in a 12-step support group can be useful as an adjunct to formal mental health therapy, or as an aftercare program for someone who has completed formal behavioral health treatment for a clutter addiction.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2016). The basics.
- Fear, J., The Australia Institute. (2008). Stuff happens. Unused things cluttering up our homes.
- Clutterers Anonymous. (2017). Am I a clutterer?
- Clutterers Anonymous. (2013). Clutterer’s traits.
- University of North Carolina School of Social Work. (2013). Risk and protective factors related to hoarding.
- Freimuth, M., Waddell, M., Stannard, J., Kelley, S., Kipper, A., Richardson, A. & Szuromi, I. (2008). Expanding the scope of dual diagnosis and co-addictions: Behavioral addictions. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 3(3-4), 137–160.