Decluttering Tips for Hoarders and Pack Rats: 11 Steps to Clutter Freedom

Is your home filled with clutter? Get rid of overwhelming clutter once and for all with these decluttering tips for hoarders and pack rats.

Nearly everyone faces a clutter problem at some point and to some extent – I’m lookin’ at you, cliché “junk drawer!” If areas like that junk drawer are your main problem, then some of my other general declutter tips could be all you need.

But for some people, there comes a time when the clutter takes over and starts to cause stress and interfere with life.

decluttering tips for hoarders text on white background over image of empty and clean wood stairs

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That’s when all that clutter becomes overwhelming and paralyzing. Once you reach the point of hoarding, it takes some serious focus and effort to weed through it all and declutter.

Thankfully, there are some helpful decluttering tips for hoarders to help you get through the process without being a stress-case.

What is a Hoarder?

Before I get any further, I need to talk for a moment about what hoarding is…and isn’t.

“Hoarding” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, both for people who have a hard time throwing things away as well as for people who have a true hoarding disorder.

Clinical hoarding can be a symptom of deeper issues and a true hoarder needs professional help in order to deal with the disorder. If you are trying to decide where there is a true mental disorder involved, here are a few symptoms of hoarding disorder from Mayo Clinic:

  • Strong feelings about saving items with feeling distressed at the prospect of letting any go
  • Accumulating clutter to such a degree that rooms become unusable
  • Excessively accumulating unnecessary items even when there’s not space for them
  • And more

For the purposes of this post, when I refer to “hoarding”, I’m talking about people who have a LOT of stuff and are overwhelmed by it all. These “pack rats” have hoarding tendencies – a habit of holding onto excessive or useless items but really DO want to get rid of things.

decluttering checklist image with text and orange button

Reasons Why People Tend to be Pack Rats

In order to help “hoarders” declutter, it’s important to know why they tend to hold on to so much clutter in the first place. Here are a few common reasons.

  • Believe they will use objects at a later time – only later never comes.
  • Fear of not having what they need when they need them – this is why some people have too many blenders or 30 years of bank statements.
  • Acquiring too many collections – collecting things and then changing interests and starting new collections

Now it’s time to declutter that cluttered house, but where do you even begin?

Related Post: 9 Awesome Ways Your Life Will Become Simpler When You Declutter

Top 11 Decluttering Tips for Hoarders (and Pack Rats)

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your clutter, use these simple tips to take you from paralyzed to stress (and clutter)-free!

1. Just Start

Trust me, I get it – that’s much easier said than done. However, look at it this way, if you don’t start doing something, nothing will ever happen. And in the case of decluttering, “done is better than perfect”.

So, if you find yourself paralyzed because you don’t know how to get it “perfect”, forget about perfect and simply focus on the next task immediately in front of you.

2. Stop Adding to the Clutter

Next, you need to stop bringing in more clutter. Spending time decluttering is a waste of time as long as you’re still buying (or saving) items you don’t need.

If you need a little motivation, just think of all the money you could potentially save by not buying unnecessary items!

3. Start Small

When you’ve been accumulating items for a long time (possibly even years), the thought of going through all that stuff can be overwhelming to say the least.

It’s ok. You don’t need to get the job done all at once or all in one day or even in a week. In fact, it’s better to take your time with it by breaking up the large umbrella task of decluttering into small, manageable tasks.

Decluttering an entire room may be too much. But what about a drawer, a shelf, or a counter? By breaking down your large job into smaller, bite-sized jobs, it won’t feel overwhelming.

Bonus: these small efforts will have a compound effect. In other words, once you get one area cleaned, you’ll feel successful and more confident about tackling another area!

That feeling will increase with each area you tackle, and before you know it, you won’t feel overwhelmed anymore – only encouraged to keep moving forward with decluttering.

Related Post: 10 Tiny Tasks to Clear Your Clutter


extremely cluttered room

4. Take out the Trash

I’m not talking about emptying the trash can, although that’s good, too, if it’s full!

I’m talking about eliminating the obvious trash from your clutter. It’s quick, easy, and it makes a huge impact on your overall clutter.

To do this, simply carry a trash bag with you as you take a stroll through the room. Pull out any trash and throw it in your bag. This could be old product packaging, old to-do lists, used food wrappers or containers, old catalogues or mail, etc.

If you like to recycle, take a second bag around with you as you move through the room. One bag is for trash while the other is for recycling.

You’ll be amazed by how big of a difference this “easy win” can make and how much clutter you really have once the trash is gone.

Grab My Free Printable: 62 Things to Declutter That You Won’t Miss at All 

5. Create a Plan

Once you get the trash out and can get a clearer picture of how much clutter you really have, it’s time to make a plan of attack.

This is one of my favorite decluttering tips for hoarders because having a plan is key to eliminating overwhelm.

Here are a few things to consider as you make your plan:

  • When will you declutter (each day/week)?
  • What order will you declutter your rooms?
  • Which areas of each room will you declutter and in what order?
  • What will you do with the clutter you want to keep?
  • What will you do with the clutter you don’t want? (ex: will you donate it?)

Related Post: Declutter Plan of Action

6. Start Where it Will Make the Biggest Impact

When it comes to decluttering, not every room is created equal. When you can see results, you reap the benefits of your efforts and feel a sense of accomplishment which automatically motivates you to keep moving forward.

I recommend starting in one of these areas. If you can, start with the room that bothers you the most but doesn’t overwhelm you. That said, you may not want to start with the most cluttered room because it can be too much too fast.

With that in mind, if the room that bothers you the most is also the most cluttered, start with the second-most bothersome room.

Some possible ideas include:

  • Kitchen – a room you use multiple times everyday and see all the time
  • Bedroom – create a calming environment to promote better sleep
  • Bathroom – getting ready for your day is so much easier when you aren’t tripping over clutter
  • Living Room – it’s impossible to truly relax in a cluttered space that you see everyday

Decluttering is a personal journey, so I’m not able to say “start here” with one definitive place. However, what I can say is pick the area that bothers you the most but offers you the best chance at success and start there.

And if your brain just turned into an overwhelmed, jumbled mess and you absolutely cannot decide where to start…declutter those kitchen counters!

Related Post: Exactly Where to Start Decluttering Your Home

cluttered storage space too messy to move

7. Time Yourself

I think decluttering is best done in short bursts. When doing it that way, it feels more manageable, is less overwhelming, and your brain is more engaged as you declutter which means that you do a better job.

Related Post: 5 Baby Steps for Successful Decluttering That Don’t Require a Huge Time Commitment

8. Organize at the Same Time

While a major clutter problem is caused by having too much stuff, often, a major contributing factor is a lack of organization. If you don’t organize the stuff you have, it doesn’t matter how much decluttering you do because you’ll always have a clutter problem.

If you need a few supplies to help you get organized, THAT’S the stuff to spend your money on rather than on acquiring unneeded stuff. Here are a few helpful examples:

Related Post: How to Organize a Cluttered House in 4 Essential Steps

9. Make it Fun

There’s no way around it, decluttering is work. However, as any good list of decluttering tips for hoarders will tell you, work and fun can go hand-in-hand!

In addition to keeping your decluttering “sessions” short, make it fun. It’s one of my top decluttering tips for hoarders because if the job isn’t at least a little fun, it’s much harder to motivate yourself to do it.

Here are some ideas:

  • Diffuse your favorite smells or light a nice candle to enjoy while you work
  • Play music you love then work while you listen
  • Get comfy – no need to declutter in work clothes!
  • Plan a reward for yourself once you’re done: a cup of your favorite tea or coffee, a yummy treat, etc.

10. Set Goals

Setting goals will help you to stay focused and not slough off after a day or two of good progress. If you need that little extra kick of motivation, set goals for yourself.

I recommend taking your plan of attack and using that to set goals. Examples could be something like:

  • Have the kitchen counters decluttered by _____.
  • Get the bedroom tasks complete by _____.

Make them doable and measurable. Saying a basic “get the kitchen counters clean” won’t work because you can blow it off too easily. Instead, making a goal that says “clean the kitchen counters by Saturday” is much more effective.

beautiful clutter-free room in neutral shades of black and white and gray with wood accents

11. Ask for Help

Most of the time you can do this yourself. However, if you find yourself having a hard time emotionally or motivating yourself to get started, ask a friend or family member to support and help you.

The best decluttering tips for hoarders definitely involves going back to #7 to have fun together as you work! 🙂

More Helpful Information for Decluttering for Pack Rats

Decluttering Tips for Hoarders and Pack Rats: Final Thoughts

It’ll take some time and some work to declutter your home, but if you start slowly and allow yourself to get a little out of your comfort zone, you’ll be so surprised at how much you start to enjoy your home all over again.

While it may feel overwhelming at first, you’ll quickly find your groove and soon realize that those feelings aren’t even there anymore. But if they do crop up again once in a while, you’ll know that you can overcome them by continuing to declutter!

You’ve got this!

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