Following on from a recent wellbeing column I was asked to write something about hoarding. Statistics say that roughly 3% of the UK population hoards, personally I think that the number is a little bigger than that but it depends heavily on how you see hoarding. It’s commonly seen as a mental illness which can be all consuming – filling one’s house to the point where it starts to spill out into the street or the garden. It can be the stuff of TV shows where people are shown to be out of control and who’s families can no longer visit. It can however be someone with the shed full to the roof with broken or bits of things set aside just in case or the collector of buttons and patches removed from years of clothing because you never know when it’ll come in. The root causes of anyone’s hoarding may lay in any number of places – in trauma, loss, struggle, fear, insecurity etc. Wherever it comes from though, the result is quite often the same – our collection or safety net becomes overwhelming in itself and the things we kept to keep us safe quietly become the things that make us unsafe.

Clearing out is not generally the hard part, deciding what to clear out and what to tackle first often is. Start small – one shelf becomes one cupboard which in turn becomes a corner of a room which eventually becomes a room and a house. It isn’t a race but do a little every day and maintain your momentum. A basic rule is: One out does NOT mean one in. Once a space is clear then you can think of what you need to put back into it. Anyway, back to the shelf. Look at it’s contents and be honest with yourself – why do you keep each of the objects there?

Did you get them in strength – was it something you bought to celebrate / something you really need / something you got to reward yourself / a gift that you genuinely like?

Was it something you got at a low point – was it to cheer yourself up / something given to you which you felt too polite to say ‘no’ to / something you’ve kept because 25 years ago you thought it may come in handy?

If the object falls into the last category ask yourself is it something you need that makes you happy or is it something that anchors you to the bad time you were trying to cheer yourself up from? If it’s something you’ve kept for all these years ‘just in case’ ask yourself – in case of what? I recently talked to someone about a range of things which included a Betamax tape head cleaner they had kept ‘just in case’ – just in case the heads on a video recorder that broke down 30 years ago needed cleaning. A good rule of thumb is that you haven’t used something in the last 3 years you probably wont anytime soon.

If it falls into the first category, does it still bring you joy, add positively to your life or is it something you really do want to keep? If the answer is honestly yes, keep it.

You don’t need to feel like you’re throwing things away, you can take things to local charity shops or to be recycled. Remember, the things that have held you back can help someone else move forward. Start small, maintain momentum and recognise that some things will be a real struggle but if you try to understand why you have kept an object it makes it much easier to let it go.