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Robin Zasio's 5 Levels of Clutter

Updated on October 29, 2012

How much clutter is normal?

Which of the 5 levels of clutter sound most like a "normal" house to you?

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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!


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  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 

    6 years ago from USA

    I would say that my house is controlled chaos. I work on several different things, a few minutes at a time, and like to be able to get back to doing something (say making a quilt) without going through the set up and clean up process each time.

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    The preferred state of my living environment is clear and clean, but that's not always achievable, so neat but dynamic would probably best describe it.

    I'm talking about the personal space, a room I rent in a house where 4 other people live (a very common living arrangement in Hawaii). The living room, dining room, and kitchen areas, which we share, go back and forth between neat but dynamic and controlled chaos. I tend to be a little OCD when it comes to cleanliness, so I do a lot of dish washing and sweeping. But I can always withdraw to my personal space and crochet when I don't feel like being bothered with the rest of the house.

    Voted up and shared.

  • Silva Hayes profile image

    Silva Hayes 

    6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

    Our home is between 2. Neat but Dynamic and 3. Controlled Chaos.

    Fortunately it is quite large with lots of windows that let in natural light. The chaos stems from two situations: There are two children who live here who are less than diligent about picking up after themselves so there are textbooks, Nintendo DS, discarded socks, hoodies, etc. flung about, and I am a mosaic artist who always has a project underway so there are little piles and dishes on the dining table full of tiles, jewelry, marbles, broken china, etc., plus glue, sponges, grout, and the like.

    The house is clean, but it isn't neat. If we know company is coming, we can straighten it up to look respectable in about 30 minutes.

    Some of the A&E shows about hoarders are tragic and truly hard to watch. I am diligent about never reaching that point. Several times in the last year, I have done a major "destash" and sorted and sold things on eBay that I would probably never use.


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