Have you ever watched the show “Hoarders” on TV? Hoarding is a serious behavior issue that affects between 700,000 and 1.4 million people in the United States. It is defined by the Mayo Clinic as the “excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.” Many of us are not in that advanced state of compulsion, but we do tend to get overwhelmed at times with the clutter in our homes. And now we are fast approaching the time of year when we are not only encouraged to add more material possessions to our homes, but expected to spend a lot of money for the privilege of doing so!
Clutter is part of hoarding, but having clutter does not mean that you are a hoarder. The dictionary defines clutter as “a confused or disordered state or collection; a jumble.” Clutter may be comforting to some individuals, but for the rest of us, clutter undermines our ability to live simply and peacefully. I realize that my house is not your house. We all have different levels of tolerance for how much in our home is too much. But one commonality we all share is that every single item we bring into our home needs to be maintained in some way, shape, or form.
And now here comes Christmas. Bringing in new clutter (to pile on top of the old clutter) can make even the most “relaxed” housekeepers go off the rails. I would like to suggest that you think early and carefully about the gifts you are giving to others, and make a conscious decision to try and reduce the number of objects that will come into the house this month. To that end, I have incorporated some suggestions to help make your holiday season a little less chaotic and cluttered; take and use what works for you personally.
#1–Begin preparing for Christmas by taking steps to de-clutter your home. Challenge yourself to remove three items every week from your home between now and Christmas so that your space begins to feel calmer. If a lot of gifts do come in over Christmas, you will have more room to store them.
#2–Give your loved ones the gift of an experience rather than a physical item. Gift cards for the movies, a play, or a concert are specialty items that most people enjoy but don’t always purchase for themselves. Other choices might include a day’s outing to a ski area or the bowling alley. Season passes to an amusement park or the zoo are friendly ways for friends and family to connect with each other beyond a one-day event.
#3—Begin a new family tradition by incorporating a “white elephant” gift exchange. Bring a good, used item from home that you don’t need or want and share it with someone else.
#4—Purchase one “family” gift that benefits everyone, such as a home furnishing item. A nice ottoman, new pillows for the couch, or a flat screen TV are good gift choices that can be enjoyed by all members of the family.
#5—Clutter can also occur in the kitchen. Try not to lose control when it comes to food purchases for the holidays. Be realistic about what you will consume. Kitchen cupboards become cluttered due to overbuying and then not cooking from your own pantry. Go through your cupboards well in advance and try to use up what you can, or donate items to a local food pantry.
#6—Speaking of food, how about a gift card for a favorite restaurant? Or even just for pizza? Everyone likes to eat out once in a while, and for families with limited incomes, an evening out might be a memory maker as well.
#7—A gift of specialty foods such as artichoke hearts or capers, bottle of wine, or special cheese is appreciated by most folks, even if they’re not on a tight budget.
#8—Last, but not least, consider giving someone (of any age) the gift of lessons. When I was a child, I really wanted to take baton lessons. My parents couldn’t afford it, so I had to miss out. Is there some skill or craft you know of that a family member would like to learn? Stained glass? Pottery? Dance lessons? The teenage son of a friend of mine was given flying lessons when he was in high school; now he is in college studying aviation. The sky’s the limit when it comes to potential ideas (pun not intentional!!).
We can complain until the cows come home that Christmas has become too commercial, but the fact remains that gift-giving is a large part of the holiday season. Encourage those you exchange gifts with to consider “clutter-free” gift giving this year. It will truly be the gift that keeps on giving!!
Source: Dias, Denise, Hoarding: The Impact of Compulsive Keepers, Fact Sheet, Kansas State University, August 2011
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Ohio State University Extension