The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Clutterers

March 12, 2014

Collections of clutter may vary by the person, but the underlying behaviors and motivations towards stuff is what unites every pack rat, hoarder, and saver. Here, then, are the 7 habits of highly effective clutterers.

1. Live in the past

In order to be the best clutterer you can, it’s essential that you linger in the past. Forget what’s happening here and now, and concentrate your thoughts on those good old days.

Highly effective clutterers channel their yearning for the past and the people they’ve lost by holding onto objects that are in any way remotely connected to a memory. They are especially skilled at imposing sentimental attachments to a bevy of otherwise worthless crap. In so doing, their homes become living relics, shrines to the lives that happened twenty years ago.

2. Let anxiety lead you

Few things are as effective for clutterers as being deeply invested in the unshakable fear that they will, immediately after getting rid of something, find themselves desperately in need of just that item. Such people believe that to cling to all manner of belongings will therefore ensure they never have to experience that terribly uncomfortable regret.

They are skilled at projecting limiting beliefs about their financial status, their ability to access the outside world, et al. They fear most finding themselves in a position of lacking what they need.

Simultaneously, they propagate the belief that they will surely lack the resources needed to acquire what they need, should the need for acquisition arise in the future.

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3. Live in the future

Ah, the great clutterer’s ability to see past the present to that golden ever-coming-day, when she will finally reach for that dress that’s absolutely impractical in all ways, doesn’t fit, and is printed in sensory-exhaustive, oversized Hawaiian flowers. Because one day (although she never travels, and positively abhors the ocean) she might just happen to find herself, her cruise ship having spit her out on a Caribbean island for the day, needing something appropriately festive to festoon herself with (although she concurs Hawaiian print is never festive, but only ironic). One day.

And anyhow, even if she doesn’t end up needing it, her daughter (whom she’s bound to have any year now) will almost certainly like to use it for a halloween costume.

This future-vision is what helps the clutter-prone person to collect, to stock up, and to continually amass material belongings without regard to reality, aesthetic purposes, and practical application.

4. Delay decisions

If you want to be a highly effective clutterer, it’s practically a requirement that you regard decision making as the most grueling and arduous task life has to offer.

Skilled clutterers are apt to find any number of excuses to avoid making decisions, and are notably disposed to turn out the phrase, “I’ll deal with that later.”

By consistently avoiding making decisions, effective clutterers thereby weaken their decision-making muscles. This leads to the cultivation of a wavering attitude in life, and to placing a great deal of trust in the opinions of others, and much less so in oneself and one’s own ability to think clearly.

5. Be ruled by guilt

Highly effective clutterers are closely acquainted with guilt.

Unable to forgive themselves and the mistakes they might have made in the past, effective clutterers remind themselves of the things for which they should feel guilty daily. Things such as: the amount of money they spent (wasted) on a pair of pants, the fact that an item in their possession was once gifted to them, and so on.

The prominence of guilt is what forms an unbreakable bond of obligation between belonging and being, so that the clutterer appears stuck with their stuff forever.

6. Have poor time management skills

The bedrock for all effective clutterers is an imbalance in daily scheduling.

Highly effective clutterers often overcommit themselves to other people’s causes. For them, making time for themselves and necessary household maintenance is not possible.

Moreover, they use their self-created busy syndrome as an additional excuse for why their stuff is in such disarray.

7. Don’t change 

Above all, the highly effective clutterer believes that changing is optional, and it is a phenomenon out of which he or she has opted. Inflexibility prevents any reevaluation of the clutterer’s belongings in order to determine whether decisions made in sound mind or not some years ago remain as apt today.

Certainly the decisions stand, the clutterer retorts, for to even suggest that those 7-inch stilettos are no longer necessary (or necessarily appropriate) for the PTA mom would be to suggest that the clutterer’s lifestyle has changed, which it hasn’t, because it couldn’t have, and so the shoes stay.


P.S. Obviously, this post is intended to be a more comical approach to the matter of clutter and those prone to clutter. My regard for those who struggle with it remains one of deep loving care. If you or someone you know is struggling with clutter, it would be my greatest honor to help. I promise not to ever mock you/them unless expressly invited to do so. No, kidding, I really would never.  
Image credits: Christopher Baker Photography, Herve Pierre via The Selby, Louise Roe via The Coveteur, Christopher Baker Photography x 2, unknown


Annie Traurig was born with the ability to see order through clutter. As a child, she spent playdates organizing friends’ closets and packing their duffle bags for summer camp.

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  1. B Parker on March 12, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Annie, I enjoy your blog immensely, Can’t help but comment that even your pictures of “clutter” are neat, tidy and highly organized!

  2. Alli on March 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

    I wish you lived on the east coast!

    • Annie on March 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

      Always happy to discuss travel for clients! 😉

  3. Hinara Afreen on March 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I loved the comical approach of this post, keep em coming Annie!

    • Annie on March 20, 2014 at 10:20 am

      Thanks Hinara!

  4. Meghan on March 12, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I love your blog! Would you consider a post about how to help other people de-clutter? I am trying to help my parents de-clutter their house (they have asked for my help). They have lived in the house for 20 years and some rooms are borderline frightening. I would love any tips/suggestions. Thank you.

  5. Alissa on March 13, 2014 at 4:02 am

    As a recovering packrat, I enjoyed the post and found a bit of myself in each point you made. A fun take on my issues. Sometimes we need to hear a different voice to make some connections. I think I might copy some of these in my commonplace book that I keep on the topic of clutter. Thanks!

    • Annie on March 20, 2014 at 10:21 am

      So glad it resonated with you, Alissa!

  6. Laura on March 13, 2014 at 5:38 am

    Ahaha I love it – I do almost all of these things unfortunately but I am trying really hard to get over it!

  7. Ronna on March 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    too true

  8. christinapertz1 on March 14, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    I have 6 of the 7 habits of cluttering. Oh boy. And I know it too, I am slowly trying to get rid of things and I am so guilty of feeling guilty about regretfully bad past purchases. For instance, I bought a digital tablet because I had read about it and knew a few people who had one and had tried it a few times and was excited to teach myself to use it. That was over 7 years, and now I am down $200 and its just sitting in my house, I used it maybe 5 times and could never get the hang of looking up when drawing. Now here I am, trying to sell it and finally get over the guilt of the (somewhat) rash and impractical purchase. I had high hopes, but no clue what to do once I bought it!

    So, now that I have admitted this, what now?? The fear of not having enough has spilled over into my relationships, and is tearing everything apart. I’ve been learning about that this month.

    Whew, I just spilled a lot as if this were a therapy forum. At this point in my life I am unable to fund real life help (seriously-I know this is #2, but I am poor but working hard to finish school!), anyway, are there any books you recommend? I would be happy to go through an affiliate link to somewhat compensate you for your help/advice. Thanks so much for your blog, I love it!

    • Annie on March 20, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Hi Christina,
      Pleasee use my blog as a resource, as I touch upon so many of these topics in more depth in other posts. I’d recommend you read through some of the posts categorized in “decluttering” especially, given what you said. I have faith in you!

  9. Barrie on May 27, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Annie, it’s a hard knock life sometimes…you are inspiring : ) your style and personality really come through in the way you write. You somehow hit the hard notes while at the same time lending a forgiveness that says, it’s okay…now let’s do this! I’d like to read how you’d approach anecdotes to these habits : )

  10. nikig083 on September 9, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Love this… Even the title made me laugh. Curious, what is your approach?? You don’t strike me as a minimalist. I’m making my way there…. Well kind of…. One day…. I’m Redoing my bedroom now and hope to narrow down clothes to maybe a Ten by Five rule. 10 tops. 10 tanks. 5 sweaters. 5 gym outfits. It’s very hard with women’s clothes though especially when you do like fashion. 10 blazers add up. 10 dresses. Summer vs fall stuff. Heels vs boots vs flats. I like my stuff but hate “stuff.”

    I also live in a small NYC apartment but I do want/need to downsize. Any insight is appreciated. I will check out more of your declutter posts.

  11. Amy on October 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Ouch. You nailed it. What is a gift to you is a great struggle for others; I’m glad I found your blog today. I’m sure you have discovered in your work that de-cluttering someone’s house is very akin to de-cluttering their heart and mind…Sláinte

    • Annie on November 2, 2014 at 10:52 am

      I have indeed discovered that. Glad you found it as well 🙂

    • Celeste Lynch on December 13, 2014 at 5:37 am

      I like your comment! De cluttering their heart Yes….

  12. Celeste on December 13, 2014 at 5:35 am

    Oh yes… this is my life exactly. The memories, the photographs, the letters written by my mother and grandmother. Those memories great, good and not so good. The artwork, books….some so neatly packed away and some just scattered reminding me everyday of the clutter. Yikes! Glad to read this.

  13. Michaela on December 23, 2014 at 8:48 am

    I’m fairly certain that sarcasm is my love language because this just spoke right to my heart 🙂 So glad you re-posted this today!

  14. […] the road blocks that are getting in the way of getting organized. I just adore this article: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Clutterers, which I highly recommend both reading and seriously contemplating while taking stock. With any […]

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  16. jlw on October 6, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Ditto, Micehaela. Sometimes it is easier to change when we can laugh at ourselves. So it goes for me. Thank you for the refreshing perspective.

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