With so much pressure to embrace minimalism and discard anything that doesn’t spark joy, where should we draw the line?

We’ve all heard of compulsive hoarding disorder; it receives a lot of attention in the media with popular TV shows dedicated to the disease.

But what about the other side of the coin? Compulsive decluttering disorder is a part of the OCD spectrum and can cause its own unique problems.

We shed some light on this lesser-known disorder and discuss how it can be recognised and dealt with.


What is Compulsive Decluttering?

Two Hands

Obsessive decluttering or obsessive-compulsive spartanism is a recognised mental illness classified within the broader name obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

While hoarding disorder was classified as a distinct form of mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013, compulsive decluttering disorder is still considered a subtype of OCD, so it doesn’t appear as its own entry in the manual.

Around 2% of Australians have OCD.

Compulsive decluttering is the opposite of hoarding disorder, as people with this disorder have a compulsive need to throw things away.

New York psychologist Vivien Diller has experience working with patients with compulsive decluttering.

“Being organised and throwing things out and being efficient is applauded in our society because it’s productive,” Vivien told The Atlantic in their 2015 feature on compulsive decluttering. “But you take somebody who cannot tolerate mess or cannot sit still without cleaning or throwing things out, and we’re talking about a symptom.”

Having a decluttering disorder goes far beyond keeping a clean and tidy home – it’s an obsession that can take control of lives.

Diller explains her patients with decluttering disorders describe a “tightness in their chest if they see things that should be thrown out” – and this tightness can only be eased by disposing of the objects.


What are the signs of Compulsive Decluttering?

Woman Struggling with OCD

Some of the signs and symptoms of compulsive decluttering might include:

  • Repetitive discarding of items
  • Consistent reorganising and tidying of surroundings
  • Discomfort and inability to relax if things aren’t in “order”
  • Consistent questioning of whether or not they need particular items
  • Home is empty or lacking possessions.

Psychiatrist and anxiety and depression expert Dr. Carlo Carandang explains in his article published on Anxiety Boss that people with compulsive decluttering disorder feel severe anxiety when they accumulate items.

“For people with compulsive decluttering, they have the anxiety that they can feel in their gut about having too much stuff around, or have the fear that they are being overcrowded or smothered by stuff,” Dr. Carandang says. “So to relieve this anxiety and uncomfortable feeling, they have to get rid of stuff, to the point where almost everything is discarded or recycled out of their home.”


How to Treat Compulsive Decluttering Disorder

Treatment for Decluttering Disorder

Because compulsive decluttering is considered a form of OCD, it is treatable.

Health Direct suggests these options for treating OCD:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) – Mental health professionals can help you learn new ways to cope with your symptoms and perhaps eventually reduce your symptoms.
  • Medicine – A doctor or medical professional can determine whether this could be an option for you.
  • Community support and recovery programs – Support groups can help people with OCD and other disorders feel less isolated.

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs and symptoms of OCD, it’s always best to seek advice from a medical professional. You can talk to your doctor about your concerns, and they can refer you to the right support.


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