Sometimes a mess is just a mess and isn’t a cause for concern. However, clutter is more serious when it negatively impacts a person’s well-being and regular home use. If you suspect that you or your loved one is a hoarder, this guide on clutter vs. hoarding is for you.

Hoarding is a disorder that affects about one in every fifty people in the US. But, it can be hard to tell when there’s a serious problem or if it’s just messiness. When it comes to clutter vs. hoarding, most people find it hard to tell one from the other. But it’s essential to know the comparisons between these two terms before you conclude a diagnosis.

We’ll also help you understand the main differences between clutter vs. hoarding. You’ll also learn why it’s to mistake one for the other and how to manage clutter before it becomes severe.


Clutter typically refers to anything that makes a space messy and untidy. We’ve all had clutter like old clothes, lousy furniture, plates or takeout containers, and other useless possessions that fill our space.

The smaller your living space, the more likely you will experience clutter for obvious reasons. Some people are also sentimental about their belongings which can clutter their space. In addition, clutter can also mean different things to many people, and it is not considered a mental illness,

Regarding clutter vs. hoarding, Margit Novack, president of the National Association of Senior Move Management, shared that different people are comfortable with varying degrees of clutter. What you consider a problem may fall on the average scale of cluttering for many people, which is why it’s hard to define clutter precisely.


Hoarding is used to describe a compulsive need to keep junk and items that have no value. Hoarders generally love accumulating and keeping things even when they serve no purpose. A hoarder’s home may be filled with empty boxes, newspapers, junk mail, and containers.

In addition, some hoarders may also keep food waste and other unhygienic items that can become hazardous. Unlike normal cluttering, it’s hard to convince hoarders to let go of junk without causing them severe distress. The two words are often used interchangeably in terms of hoarding vs. clutter.

Hoarding was officially named a mental illness in 2013 that affects about 2 to 6 percent of people. Some studies have also found that hoarding can be a severe form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and may also be related to ADHD or dementia.

Is Clutter A Mental Illness?

No, clutter is not considered a mental illness. Naturally, disorganized people tend to have messy and untidy spaces, which is not necessarily a mental disorder. However, clutter can adversely affect a person’s mental health if it’s not checked. For instance, clutter can make it harder to focus on work and increase stress levels.

Does Clutter Lead To Hoarding

Yes, clutter can eventually lead to hoarding in extreme cases found in many clutter vs. hoarding studies. Some people keep clutter around until it becomes incredibly overwhelming and unhygienic. It can also be considered hoarding when a person accumulates things without purpose.

Is Hoarding A Mental Illness?

Yes, hoarding is a severe mental disorder, and about two to five percent of US residents have been diagnosed with this condition. Researchers also believe hoarding can be linked to other psychological conditions such as OCD, ADHD, and Dementia.

Hoarding disorders often impact one’s mental and physical health and financial and social relationships. However, a mental health specialist will assess the individual and develop a proper treatment plan for their situation. Treatment may include one-on-one counseling, therapy, and professional cleaning assistance.

Signs of Hoarding

While you may understand the explanations for clutter vs. hoarding, knowing when to take action can be tricky. Clutter becomes a red flag when it starts to affect your day-to-day life. Ask yourself these questions to know if you may have a problem:

  • Do you have difficulty throwing things out even when they have no value?
  • Are you constantly buying new items to replace the ones you already have in your home?
  • Do you always have a conflict whenever people ask you to discard your old belongings?
  • Are you unable to have people over because your home is constantly messy?
  • Have you ever been trapped or restricted from specific spaces in your home, e.g., the basement, bedroom, or kitchen?
  • Do you find it hard to leave your house because you can’t find your wallet, keys, clothes, and other personal belongings?
  • Are there random junk piles that take up space in your living room, kitchen, bedroom, and garage?

How To Keep Clutter in Check?

Many hoarding vs. clutter conversations has shown that even mild untidiness leads to a greater problem if not managed. Find out how you can keep clutter in check below:

  • Define your space and give everything a place: You can avoid clutter by organizing your space and having a particular arrangement. For instance, you can keep jars in the pantry and work stationary on your desk.
  • Set a spending limit: You should always know how much you plan to spend before shopping to avoid buying things you don’t need. It also helps to have a list of things you need so you don’t exceed the budget.
  • Tidy up regularly: It may be hard to clean your room daily, but we recommend picking up after yourself. This means you should always put things in their place even when you don’t have guests.
  • Do not procrastinate: It’s easy to say, “I’ll do that later” or “I’m tired right now.” But this allows clutter to build up until it becomes overwhelming. You should be a policymaker and tidy up even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Get rid of your old stuff: When you buy a new item, you mustn’t keep the item you’re trying to replace. For instance, if you buy a new dress, remember to discard the old one.
  • Outsource cleaning: If you don’t have time to clean up your home, you can hire a cleaner. This is the easiest way to ensure you always have a clean space.

Dealing With Clutter, But Think It May Be Hoarding?

If you or someone you love has a definitive clutter problem, we want you to know one thing.

This is nothing to be ashamed of.

We say this because shame is a powerful negative emotion that can lead to hiding our problems when we need help. In the blink of an eye, clutter can become a hoarding issue that challenges your ability to participate in society and live a healthy life. If you’re ready to turn things around, get in touch with the team at Spaulding Decon to discuss hoarding cleanout.

Free Ebook – Dealing with Hoarding Around You

Learn from our 15+ Years Experience with Hoarding Assistance. Hoarding is destructive to your property values as well as theirs. There are many ways to go about working with a harder to get them to clean up the mess. In this free eBook download, Spaulding Decon teaches you lessons learned from dealing with Hoarding Cleanup and the psychology behind hoarding disorders.

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