The three C's - Clutter, Clots and Clogs

A spectrum of clutter and hoarding

Compulsive hoarding literature and books on decluttering both use the word 'clutter' to describe the very mildest bit of disorder to the most extreme hoarding cases.  This has become a source of confusion to the lay reader. 

The general use of the word clutter may be that because the progression and development of the compulsive hoarder has not yet been identified or tracked by research.  In most cases, a hoard has taken 10 or more years to acquire and settle.

Researchers have been focused on the end result. While working with clutter clients at one end of the spectrum, hoarders at the other and the many gradations in between, we have made observations.  A normal household circulates; using all their spaces. Living demands ‘stuff’.  Stuff is taken out and ideally put away.  The minimal rooms that people aspire to are generally photographed between projects. 


Clutter is easily shifted and is part of a lively, sometimes disorganized life. Clutter does not describe how much stuff someone has. Some people are disturbed by small amounts of disorganization or disorder. Others thrive in the midst of a 'creative mess'. There are no absolutes. What matters is: Are the things being used? And can the owner get rid of things easily?

An example where the overall impression may be chaos on its way to a hoard is a family with four children under 10, both parents working full or part time and no outside help.  Toys, school books, projects, muddle together with ironing boards, bicycles, office paperwork and breakfast dishes. Processions are used and while there are frequently scrambles to find things, they are found, employed and disposed of when they are broken or no longer needed.


Clots are when collections of clutter aren't used or moved for 6 months or more. The household still works.  The rooms can still be entered and lived in but there are 'dead' places. The physical clots are often accompanied hoarder rationales, and avoidance.  Touching clots or moving them can provoke the same cries and panic that hoarders have when their things are touched or moved.

The clot we see most is post. Lots of people dread what is in all those envelopes: bills, final demands, dentist appointments, bank statements, etc. We have had clients with as many as 3 years of unopened post.  Other examples of clots:

An ever increasing laundry pile that is never completely folded or put away. Items are added the top layer is regularly churned by household members looking for things but the foundations can be untouched for 2 years or more.

Unfinished clearouts - the bags or boxes that have happened after a sort out but the rejects have never made it out the door to the charity shops or the rubbish bins.

Unfinished projects - collecting fabric for a quilt, cutting the first bits and then not touching it again for 5 years.

Unwanted purchases in their original packaging. These have sat there so long that they can no longer be returned, but the owner doesn't know what to do with them.


Clogs are when clots all over the house have become stuck to one another.  For example a spare room can become a dumping ground.  Imagine all the clots described above have been carried into the spare room and left.  Eventually it is impossible to open the door or get into the room.  That is a clog. When a whole house is clogged it is a completed clog. The things have become a hoard.

Rather than a living space, the home has become a storehouse. Part of the description for compulsive hoarder’s houses includes semi-blocked and blocked doorways. It is very difficult to move through the spaces. Circulation has stopped. The possessions are no longer being used. The person is now serving their things rather than the other way around.

Once clots are in place the person is going to be psychologically much more vulnerable. If clearing clutter lifts depression, what does the development of clots do?  We can work with clots.  Serious clogs are very difficult.  If we can get doctors and people to understand clots, if treatment starts then..... early intervention.

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