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Clutter Addiction

Posted: 08/04/10 04:28 PM ET

Most of us at some time or another have walked into a house and wondered how the residents can live the way they do -- under mounds of stuff. Often times we are shocked. They don't look like the type. Why would live that way? Shouldn't they be able to do something about their situation?

Even as I struggled through recovery from my own addictions, ones that made sense to me, I had no clear understanding that there was such a thing as clutter addiction. That is until I watched it happen. A friend -- an attractive, intelligent professional woman in whose home I'd enjoyed many holiday dinner parties -- went through a traumatic, life-changing experience. Like me, she'd overcome so much to carve out the life she wanted, but little by little I saw her build a wall of clutter around herself until it took over her life.

I wanted to help and at one point while she was out of town, got some friends together and cleaned her house from top to bottom in the mistaken belief that if we cleaned up the mess things would be the way they used to be. Upon her return she began to rebuild the wall of clutter. As time passed, while working with others who had the same problem, I discovered that like any other addiction, it's an inside job. Once clutter addicts are in recovery, then change will manifest itself on the outside.

The main thing I learned about true clutter addicts is that it is not about the stuff. From swank boutiques to rummage sales, dependent on their financial status, they shop. It's a high but it is short-lived. By the time they get their items home the euphoria has worn off and the stuff becomes a part of the ever-expanding wall. They very seldom discard anything, telling themselves they might need it someday. If they do need it, however, it is nearly impossible to find.

Like alcoholics, drug addicts and over-eaters, clutter addicts use their addiction to avoid reality, to keep other people and a world in which they've lost trust at a distance. It keeps them from having to move on with their lives as they attempt to hide behind the wall of stuff for protection. What they don't realize until the addiction has taken root is that instead of keeping others and the world out, they are keeping themselves in.

Clutter may seem almost benign when compared to other addictions, but any addiction is unhealthy when it is in control of your life, causing you to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and unhappy. Recovery is about the freedom to choose and the good news is that there is help out there for those who are willing to do what it takes. However, as long as the cause is unresolved, the addiction will flourish. It will take a brutally honest look at why, when and how it began.

There are anonymous meetings, even on the internet, where others can share their experience, strength and hope, places to get counseling, or for those who can afford it, therapy. It doesn't matter where the help comes from because the main component is how much effort the addict is willing to put into it.

Barb Rogers, author of Clutter Junkie No More and other books on addiction and recovery can be contacted at www.barbrogersinspirations.com