Less is More? The Problem with Obsessive Compulsive Decluttering

Less is More? The Problem with Obsessive Compulsive Decluttering

Let’s do a thought experiment. You’re visiting a neighbor’s home for the first time. You enter through the ornately designed front door, pass the neat rows of shoes, and head into the living room. The first thing you notice about the room is how tidy it is. The floor is almost empty, spotless and glistening. There are a few books and pens on his desk, placed neatly in front of the table’s chair. The small chair in the center of the room appears to be brand new. You don’t see any lamps in the room and ask why. “Less is more,” he replies. As you leave, your neighbor begins to toss his pens and books into the garbage. He breaks down his chair and chucks it into the trash as well. The next day, he goes out and buys a new pen, more books, a new lamp, and another chair from the market. When you ask why, he says, almost to himself, “I would rather throw something out and buy it again than keep it.” You conclude your neighbor may have obsessive-compulsive decluttering, the polar opposite of hoarding.

Obsessive-compulsive decluttering is listed as a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is an inability to keep possessions and a strong desire to discard one’s belongings (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Throwing away your belongings or wanting to keep a clean house is something that is considered to be normal and productive. However, those who obsessively declutter find themselves in a cycle of purchasing items, tossing those items away, and rebuying them only to get rid of them shortly afterward (Singer, 2016).

Some of psychologist Vivien Diller’s patients describe it as “this tightness in their chest if they see things that should be thrown out.” This feeling can be eased only by getting rid of the offending objects. Another described it as “a physical sensation as though I’m being crushed when I have too many things around me” (Barbour, 2014).

“Being organized and throwing things out and being efficient is applauded in our society because it is productive. But you take somebody who cannot tolerate mess or cannot sit still without cleaning or throwing things out, and we’re talking about a symptom,” says Diller. The cultural embrace of decluttering can provide a cover for this damaging behavior (Garrett, 2015). This makes it difficult for people to recognize when someone has decluttering disorder.

Although cleanliness and minimalism are looked upon as favorable qualities in society, this does not mean that problems will not arise when these issues are taken to the extreme. People who possess obsessive compulsive decluttering disorder are unable to keep their belongings and will feel anxious by just having “stuff” around. “Any behavior can technically become a problem when it starts having an obsessive and compulsive nature. Even healthy behavior” says Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist who has worked with patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive cleaning (Garrett, 2015). Despite being the opposite of hoarding, obsessive-compulsive decluttering is an illness that causes real harm to those who have it.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Barbour, H. (2014, February 04). Less is more. Retrieved April 10, 2017, https://helenbarbour.blogspot.com/2014/02/less-is-more.html

Garrett, L. (2015, September 07). The Opposite of Hoarding. Retrieved April 09, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/ocd-obsessive-compulsive-decluttering-hoarding/401591/

Singer, J. (2016, March 1). Obsessive Decluttering. Retrieved April 09, 2017, https://blogs.psychcentral.com/ocd-reflections/2016/03/obsessive-decluttering/

Allison Chan

My interest in the social sciences emerged during high school when I began taking college level classes that introduced me to research writing. I felt that the opportunity helped me become more conscious of the information I would take in during my daily life. Through being a part of the Humanology Project, I hope to bring more awareness towards mental illnesses. Although I am undecided, I have developed an interest in sociology. My courses have taught me the importance of looking at issues from a different and more larger perspective. I feel that developing this perspective is a part of ending stigma and misconceptions about mental illness. During my free time I like to binge watch Everybody Loves Raymond, volunteer, and enjoy dramatic cooking shows

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