OCD and Decluttering

by Geerati freedigitalphotos.net

by Geerati freedigitalphotos.net

Hoarding has gotten a good deal of attention in the media over the last few years, and many of us are familiar with the fact that hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often related. The DSM-5 lists both hoarding and OCD in the category of Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders. In some cases, hoarding is even seen as a compulsion in OCD.

But what about the opposite of hoarding? What if you aren’t able to keep anything? What if you feel compelled to rid yourself of your belongings and can’t bear the thought of any “stuff” hanging around?

This obsessive decluttering is known as a syndrome called obsessive-compulsive spartanism, and is described in detail here.

I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about someone who likes a tidy home. I myself can’t stand clutter, and am always putting newspapers in the recycling bin too soon, or making sure counters are cleaned off. What I am talking about is the extreme. For example, in the above-mentioned article, a woman with this disorder actually gave away her lamps and then found herself sitting in darkness.

As with most behaviors, it’s all about the degree of severity. Like to throw things away and keep an uncluttered house because it just makes you feel better? That’s fine. But when discarding things directly affects your life, as it does for the woman in the article who keeps throwing out her food processor only to have to go out and buy a new one, it’s a real problem. In this case, getting rid of things has become part of an obsessive – compulsive cycle.

Unfortunately, many people, including some therapists, might not recognize the issue of obsessive decluttering as a legitimate problem.  While hoarding looks abnormal, an uncluttered, clean house does not. Also, we are a culture who embraces simplicity – we have jumped on the bandwagon of “less is more.” This makes it more difficult for those who have this real problem to be taken seriously. Indeed they might even be praised or commended for their desire to declutter.

So what should you do if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive spartanism?

My suggestion, not surprisingly, is to find a good therapist, preferably one who specializes in OCD. He or she can work with you to help you figure out your decluttering. Is it a compulsion related to an obsession you have, such as a way to keep you or your loved ones safe? Is it a manifestation of “just right OCD?” Do you become physically ill or uncomfortable if you’re not able to declutter? While there is no mention of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy in the article, I would think it would be helpful. But I’m not a therapist, so connecting with a competent health-care provider is a must. I hope you’ll do this if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive spartanism. Obviously you’re not the only one.

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4 Responses to OCD and Decluttering

  1. Oh my gosh. I really hadn’t thought about this one. I’ve known several sufferers who constantly had to clean up trash, or push in chairs, or leave things better than they found them. But this – wow. There’s actually someone in my life who cannot bear to have “stuff” lying around. They always need to be ready to leave on a moment’s notice and having stuff would prevent that (to be fair, I have no idea if that person has OCD, it’s just always been interesting behavior). Thanks for an eye opener!

    • You’re welcome Angie. I agree that this is a very interesting topic and there seem to be be quite a few variations of it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if there is actually a problem that needs attention or not. Of course compulsive discarding of necessities is obviously an issue, but the gray areas, such as the behaviors you mention, are more complicated to figure out, I think.

  2. Shelley says:

    My is 17. He has been on just about every antidepressant, antipsychotic, etc.you can think of. He has been in and out of CBT for years. Nothing has worked. He has harm OCD. To me, one of the scariets ones. He has self harm, and feels that the thoughts have been with him for so long that they have become who he is. We recently purchased a BAUD designed by Dr Frank Lawlis of the PNP center. We had emailed the Dr Phil show for about 7 years for help. We have been contacted by the producer of the Dr Phil show to possibly do a show with my son, but then they stopped contacting me. We are at a loss. He has dealt with anxiety, OCD thoughts, major depression since he was about 8. My son tells me to get used to him not being here because he doesnt want to live anymore. At this point all our hopes are with the BAUD. If this doesnt work, then we are back to square one. Any ideas on where else to look for help before its too late?

    • Hi Shelley, I am sorry you and your son have been suffering for so long. You mentioned your son has been “in and out of CBT.” Not all CBT is helpful to those with OCD. Your son needs exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, which is the first line psychological treatment for OCD as recommended by the American Psychological Association. He can get better with a good therapist and a commitment to ERP. I would suggest starting with the IOCDF link on my sidebar and checking out other resources on my blog and book as well. I do not know of any studies saying BAUD (which I looked up – had never heard of) is helpful for those with OCD. The trick is finding the right help. Good luck as you move forward and please feel free to keep in touch.

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