Robin Zasio's 5 Levels of Clutter
How much clutter is normal?
Which of the 5 levels of clutter sound most like a "normal" house to you?
I have been reading the book "The Hoarder in You" By Robin Zasio, a therapist who I recognized from her work on the A&E show Hoarders. In this book Zasio talks about the fact that many of us have some small hoarding tendencies that don't mean we're hoarders but that we can get under control using some of the same techniques that hoarders use in their therapy. In discussing this, she talks about the five different levels of clutter that most of us fall into. I wanted to share those here ... the ideas come from her book but of course are written in my own words.
1. Clear and Clean
If you can't stand any clutter or mess at all then you fall into Zasio's first category of "clear and clean". A home like this never has dishes in the sink or things on the counter. It embodies the idea that everything has a place and everything is always put back into the place. These homes are minimalist, without "stuff" on shelves, and even the closets and drawers in this home are nicely organized. In fact, the people living in this home may get really upset when there is any sort of mess at all in the house.
2. Neat But Dynamic
Unlike the "clear and clean" home the "neat but dynamic" home may have some things out of place at any given time. For example, you may be working on a project to get all of your holiday cards sent out and if you have to stop in the middle of it you leave the project on the desk until later that day when you can come back to it. The drawers and closets may be a little more unkempt than in the "clear and clean" home and a little less cleanliness won't bother the people living in this space but it's still generally considered a very neat, clean home by most people's standards.
3. Controlled Chaos
This is the kind of home that has a lot of stuff around but isn't dirty. For example, there might be dishes in the sink for a few days and even spilling out onto the counter surrounding the sink but it never gets to the point where they smell bad or get mold on them or anything like that. There are likely half-finished projects left out around the house and sometimes yesterday's clothes can still be found on the floor. It may sometimes feel like there is too much stuff for everything to have its own place and you may sometimes find that you lose things (shoes, keys) because there isn't a set place in the home where they go. Closets and junk drawers are likely to be messy. You would probably feel a little better if things were more organized and sometimes you get in a "spring cleaning" mood to try to reign in the chaos.
4. Clutter Crisis
Zasio says that you're reaching the state of a "clutter crisis" when there is a variety of stuff scattered all about the house. If you can look around your home right now and see dishes not just in the sink but also sitting on coffee tables and by computers and on the bed stand then you may be in clutter crisis. A home in this situation often has lots of piles - piles of book, of magazines, of toys, of craft stuff - things that don't necessarily have a place of their own or if they do it's been a long time since they were actually put back into this place. You have more stuff than you need, the stuff bothers you or someone else in the house at least part of the time and you never quite get around to fully cleaning the bathroom or kitchen areas. Your refrigerator or pantry probably has food in there that should be thrown out. You likely buy more than you need and more than you have room for.
5. Borderline Hoarding
You are getting close to a hoarding problem once you've reached this stage of clutter and many of the signs are there. Rather than just having piles your home is starting to have stacks and it's getting tough to move around the house comfortably as a result of the mess. This may be due to a problem with excessive shopping or a problem letting go of things or both. The house is also starting to show serious signs of being dirty - plates in the sink are growing some mold, the bathroom hasn't been cleaned in far too long and your houseguests hold their nose a little at the rank smell of your pets. It's not so bad that you can't let your family come over but they may have to shuffle things around to find a place to sit and there's a good chance you wouldn't invite over your boss or someone you're really trying to impress.
Which level of clutter best describes you? Which one do you wish was you? Share your answers in the comments!