Photo illustration by John Clark, Deseret News

Only 1 percent of the population are hoarders. This fact comes as a great relief to those who are merely "clutterers," Mike Nelson says. There is hope for clutterers.

Clutters might be able to cure themselves, Nelson says. Hoarders are going to need professional help.

In the new edition of his book "Stop Clutter From Stealing Your Life" (Career Press), Nelson explains the difference between clutterers and hoarders. When a clutterer goes to a restaurant, he slips a few extra packets of mustard into his pocket because "they might come in handy," Nelson says. When a hoarder goes to a restaurant, he takes home half a sandwich and he never eats it or throws it out because "I might run out of food."

Hoarders tend to be obsessive/compulsive, anxious and depressed, Nelson says. Still, he notes, cluttering affects a significant portion of the population. And clutterers tend to be a bit more anxious and a bit more depressed than the average person.

"I don't see this as a continuum," says Frances Wilby, an assistant professor at the College of Social Work at the University of Utah. She says a clutterer is not going to slip over the edge into hoarding. Unless, perhaps, dementia sets in and the person can no longer judge when it is time to throw things out.

Through the university, Wilby heads up a volunteer program called Neighbors Helping Neighbors. Several times a year, they get a call from a hoarder who is about to be evicted, she says. At that point the hoarder is willing to let college students spend a day chucking their stuff into a Dumpster. However, she says, unless someone makes regular visits to the hoarder's home, the piles will pile up again.

Wilby defines hoarding as a having a house so full of stuff that it can no longer function as a home.

Nelson's home never got that bad, even at the height of his cluttering. Still, he says, his house was so messy that he never asked anyone over. And his collecting habits were so bad that they caused problems between himself and his former girlfriends and ex-wife.

As a former clutterer himself, Nelson believes it is fairly easy for a clutterer to clean out a closet. However, he says, you need to think about your underlying emotions if you want to keep that closet clean.

Once you start to declutter, then you can begin to deal with the attendant emotions, Nelson says. "It won't be easy, and we may need the help of a therapist, but we can untangle ourselves from our stuff."

Decluttering is a two-part process, he says. First, you have to be practical and ask yourself if you need to keep something. And then you have to ask yourself the harder question, "What does this represent in my subconscious?"

Nelson believes, "As you declutter, you will find your true self."

One of his hardest tasks was to go through the photos and letters of his deceased parents, Nelson admits. In his book he describes how he went into a trance and actually became the child he once was. He'd long been angry with his father but came to understand the man better through the process.

Eventually, he was able to get rid of about 30 percent of the memorabilia. And even more important, he says, he was able to file the remaining items where he could find them again.

We hold on to things because we feel not-good-enough, Nelson says. But if you want more love, you should volunteer at a nursing home. Or get a pet. In the end, he notes, our things can't love us.

Cluttering expert Mike Nelson offers some tips for those who want less clutter in their lives:

1. Be kind to yourself. You didn't get this way overnight, and you won't be decluttered in a day or a week or a month. But you will get better.

2. Start small. Make tiny, reachable goals. It is important, at first, to feel successful.

3. You will probably never be completely decluttered. That's fine. You are who you are, and we clutterers like to have more possessions around us than others do.

4. Your goal is to have a home where you feel comfortable.

5. Clutter is an excess of abundance. Celebrate your abundance by sharing it.

6. Shoot the next person who tells you, "If you haven't seen it in six months, you don't need it." If you haven't seen it, how do you know you don't need it? By their reasoning, the tomb of Ramses the Great had no value.

7. Keep a decluttering diary. By keeping track of where you have been, you know where you want to go. Take before and after pictures.

8. Try decluttering in 15-minute increments. If you find you work better in longer sessions, do that.

9. Keep thinking small. A square foot is a lot to declutter in a session, at first.

10. Make spaces sacred after you have decluttered them. One sacred space at a time will grow to be a whole house. (Or nearly a whole house. You need to give yourself permission to clutter somewhere.)

11. If you love books, let them fly free. Donate them to a hospital or to a library book sale. If you really miss them, you can go to the library book sale and buy them back. (You can also hope that you will procrastinate and not get to the sale on time.)

12. Having a garage sale is likely going to be too much work and stress for you. Take some of your good stuff to a resale shop. If it doesn't sell, donate it.

13. Shopping is not a sport. The less you buy, the less you have to declutter. If you don't learn to stop shopping, you may as well just shoot yourself in the foot.

14. If you devote 15 minutes a day to the mail, you can eliminate a lot of stress and a lot of clutter.

15. Invite a friend over for dinner. That will help you declutter the living room. If your clutter is too overwhelming, invite an imaginary friend over for dinner.

16. Don't overthink it. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen?" If you throw something away unintentionally, will it kill you? Remember: People and pets are important but stuff isn't.

17. Tell yourself, "I'm worth it." You deserve to live in a clutter-free environment.

18. Decluttering is also about your emotional, mental and spiritual life. A cluttered mind is a dangerous place to be. So is a cluttered soul.


E-mail: susan@desnews.com