The Chaos of Clutter

Do you have a family member or friend whose home is cluttered? Are you worried about their safety? Are you experiencing tension because of disagreements regarding the clutter? You are not alone. Hoarding is a significant issue and is not uncommon, particularly among older adults. However, addressing it with people you care about can be complicated.

On Thursday, March 1, from 6-7:30 p.m., there will be a workshop at Newton Free Library on this topic, specifically designed for friends and family members of someone who is struggling with this issue. Patty Underwood, LICSW, of Riverside Community Care, will provide information about the psychological reasons why a clutter problem develops, and offer concrete strategies on the best ways to help.

Excessive clutter or hoarding behaviors can range from minimal to severe and may not fit neatly into a diagnostic category. The basic definition of hoarding is:  excessive acquisition and/or retention of items which interferes with the functioning of the home and causes emotional distress.  In addition, it may also cause problems with health and finances, lead to conflicts with family, and interfere with work and social life. Severe hoarding causes safety and health hazards.

While most common in older adults, the behavior can exist for people of any age. It is often characterized by the inability to discern value resulting in someone keeping overwhelming amounts of stuff because they view it all as equally important. Other reasons that people hoard including fear of losing things, perceiving goods as a source of security, challenges with organization and decision-making, or finding pleasure and emotional connection to material goods.

Developing effective strategies to address excessive clutter and/or hoarding behaviors with someone in your life can be challenging. Interventions are typically much more effective if they are approached collaboratively with the person who is struggling and if they address the underlying reasons for the behavior rather than just the behavior. Radical “clean outs” tend to be ineffective and cause immense stress for the person. Left unchecked, excessive clutter can develop into a significant health and safety issue. There are techniques that are respectful of the person’s attachment to their belongings while gradually promoting a reduction in kept possessions and developing safer habits to discourage over-collection. Strategies such as these will be covered at the March 1 workshop. RSVP requested, not required at

This program is sponsored by the City of Newton Health and Human Services Department and the Mass Housing Lee Manillo Grant. For more information, call (617) 796-1420 or visit

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