Have you ever made the mistake of online shopping at 3am? No? What about ordering that extra drink at the bar, thinking you’re fine? It’s alright, we’ve all been there. What about keeping a borderline moth-eaten sweater? We all know someone who just can’t let things go. For me, it’s a rectangular piece of felt with puffy paint that spells out #1 Audio Person. We hold on to items because we have an emotional attachment. Unarguably, understandable. What about extreme cases — people who suffer from actual mental health problems: OCD and Hoarding? How do their brains function when it comes to decision making?

Understanding the Mind of a Hoarder

In order to understand the mind of a hoarder, first we must understand the signs of a compulsive hoarder. “Compulsive hoarding was commonly considered to be a type of OCD,” the International OCD Foundation states. What is OCD? OCD occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviors an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress. What does this information have to do with bad decision making, you ask? First step is understanding the functionality of the brain.

Let’s take a closer look at what is happening to the brain as we decide.

“Previous studies of brain function in hoarders implicated regions associated with decision-making, attachment, reward processing, impulse control and emotional regulation,”

NIH, National Institute of Health
Closeup of brain scan result
Closeup of brain scan result

Which makes sense if you think about it. The reason I don’t want to let go of the rectangular felt is because I have created an emotional attachment, it sparks joy in my life. What about the rest of America? How much is too much?

“Studies show that compulsive hoarding affects up to 6 percent of the population, or 19 million American, and it has been found to run in families. The rate is twice that of OCD.”

The Washington Post

The KonMari Method

I know what you’re thinking. You like to keep a couple nick-knacks here and there, but maybe it’s time for some spring cleaning. You don’t know where to start? There’s the bookshelf, the closet full of clothes, old figurines. You’re feeling overwhelmed with just the thought of letting go? Don’t fret. Marie Kondo is here to help.

Portrait of Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Marie Kondo, a Japanese native, coined the term The KonMari Method- which instructs clients to sort through household items in specific order and discard what doesn’t pass the joy litmus test. Marie Kondo has best selling books on how to do minimalism. Her translated books hit the nation in late 2014 and has been successfully climbing since. Marie Kondo’s special on Netflix, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, follows her and her translator as they go to client’s homes and help with the process of de-cluttering.

Kondo guides the clients through the process. She focuses on sparking joy. Kondo has a tender way of letting go of things — instead of getting rid of she suggests thinking of an item no longer sparking joy. But starting with clothing, clients can decipher which articles of clothing they would like to keep and which they would like to let go because they no longer feel a positive emotional attachment to it. By understanding the emotional arc of the item [which means accepting the fact, that this item once brought me joy, but now, no longer does] one can make a conscious decision and accept the emotion and decide to discard that item. Thus, by repeating the process, one learns to make better decisions.

Before and after using the KonMari Method. Photo courtesy of Marie Kondo’s Facebook

There are cases where you don’t want to let go of very specific things, which can be understandable. Marie Kondo does not force her technique, but suggests implementing it as a guide when it comes to making the decision.

Tips to Treat OCD in Hoarding

For extreme cases, with hoarders and people who are diagnosed with OCD, there are ways to seek help. The treatment of hoarding can be challenging because many don’t recognize the negative impact of hoarding on their lives of don’t believe they need treatment.

People organizing possessions

“The main treatment for hoarding is cognitive behavioral therapy,”

Mayo Clinic

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be ways to:

  • Learn to identify and challenge thoughts and beliefs related to acquiring and saving items
  • Learn to resist the urge to acquire more items
  • Learn to organize and categorize possessions
  • Improve decision-making and coping skills
  • Learn ways to enhance motivation for change

For more information on Marie Kondo’s books, you can click on the link. If you know someone or would like more information on hoarding and OCD, you can check the link here.

Do you have any more tips for decluttering your life? Let us know down in the comments.