Psychologists say that closets can be a window into people’s mental health, either because they are perfectly organized or because they reflect a complete mess.

An article that I recently read in The Wall Street Journal published some interesting stories that I will tell you below:

Jennifer James and her husband don’t have a huge amount of clutter, however, they find it difficult to part with their children’s things. The pretty guest shed behind her Oklahoma City home is filled with old toys, unused clothing, artwork, school papers, two baby beds, a crib, and a rocking horse.

“Every time I think about getting rid of it all, I want to cry,” says Mrs. James, a 46-year-old public relations consultant. She fears that her children, ages 6, 8 and 16, will grow up to believe that she doesn’t love them enough if she doesn’t keep everything. “Maintaining all this, I think that one day I will be able to say to my children, I loved your innocence! I loved you very much!”

Powerful emotions accumulate among the things we keep, whether it’s piles of read newspapers, small clothes, obsolete electronics or even empty margarine containers. Our deepest thoughts and feelings are reflected in everything we accumulate.

There is a growing recognition among professional organizers that we are faced with clutter on a daily basis, of the need to understand why we keep what we keep, or why we inevitably accumulate things again.

Our work goes far beyond making cabinets look pretty. It consists of entering hearts and understanding feelings.

For some people who have large basements full of old items with no apparent use, this is not a problem. But many others say they are drowning in clutter and are anxious at the thought of getting rid of things.

In some cases, chronic disorganization can be a symptom of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even dementia, all of which can lead to difficulties with planning, focus, and decision-making.

In its extreme form, hoarding is now a distinct psychiatric disorder, defined in the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as “difficulty discarding persistent possessions regardless of value” such that areas they can no longer be used.

Difficulty getting rid of our stuff could go hand in hand with separation anxiety, compulsive shopping, perfectionism, procrastination, or image issues. And refusing to face these problems can create a vicious cycle of avoidance, anxiety, and guilt.

In most cases, however, psychologists say the disorder can be caused by what they call cognitive errors, vicious errors that drive exaggerated behaviors that get out of hand. Some examples would be to say: “I might need it some day”, “this could be valuable”, or “this could work for me again if I lose (or gain) weight”.

We all have these thoughts and it is perfectly normal. The trick is to recognize the irrational thought that makes you cling to that item and replace it with something else that helps you, like someone else could use this so I’m going to get rid of it.

However, the biggest source of clutter and the hardest thing to dismiss is anything that has sentimental significance. It’s natural to want to hold on to objects that trigger memories, but some people confuse getting rid of the object with letting go of the person.

There is no reason to get rid of our belongings just for the sake of it. What we have to find out is, what is important to one and create an environment that supports that.

Robert McCollum, state tax auditor and husband of Mrs. Jenifer James, mentioned at the beginning of our story, said that he kept a broken fairy wand from his daughter when she was only months old.

“I don’t want to lose my memories, and I don’t need a professional organizer,” he commented. “I have already organized everything in boxes. The only problem is if we ever move to a house that does not have 100 square meters of storage room or garage, ”he added.

Sometimes the people who hold onto the memories are images of themselves in different roles or in happier times. Our closets are windows to our inner being.

Nostalgia is the feeling that often leads us to put away those stacks of newspapers, magazines, outdated electronic equipment, and decades of billing records and craft supplies.

For people who are afraid of throwing away things they might need in the future, it helps to think about the worst case scenario: what would happen if the tutu that have you thrown away, will you need it to make a Halloween costume? What would you do? You could find almost anything on
eBay, for example.

Can we also be too clean, too organized and quick to part with things? Everything is subjective.

What matters is whether our habits distress us.

“Guilty as charged, my family makes fun of me,” says Dr. Baumgartner. “I have to control my desire to get rid of things. Often and literally I have nothing to wear” …


As a professional organizer I recommend these tips to help you eliminate clutter and keep it from building up again:


If you organize the t-shirts one day, the dresses the next, and the pants the next, by the time you’re done you’ll find yourself exactly where you started. You should start and finish homework the same day or the next day. Organize the work and make sure you have all the material for when you start: hangers, boxes, suit racks, etc…


Finding a second home for salvageable things can alleviate separation anxiety and ease feelings of guilt about being a waste.


Photos of old party dresses, of our grandmother’s hats and jerseys from our basketball team when we were eight years old, will evoke the same memories and take up much less space.


Most of us wear only 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. The rest reflect an image or role in a past life. Recognize them for what they are. If you want to move forward and free yourself from the past, start with your closet!


How many pairs of jeans, shoes, T-shirts, black dresses, or other items do you have and how many do you need? You have to set limits!


Am I really going to use it or am I trying to fill an emotional void? A closet full of clothes and shoes with the price tags still on them is a telltale sign that I’m shopping without a real need. You sure have more than enough!


If getting rid of things seems painful to you, temporarily hide them in an accessible place and see if the feeling goes away. You may even forget you saved them!

Famous quote: “For every minute dedicated to the organization, one hour is earned.” Benjamin Franklin


Lorena Peláez