If Clutter is King in Your Apartment, There’s Hope

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CX, No. 2February, 2010

Cindy Green, LCSW

As New York City residents, we somehow learn to live in very small spaces.

Because of our lack of space, it is a constant challenge to figure out how to fit more and more stuff into less and less space.

I remember walking into my first New York apartment, opening a door and seeing a nice-sized walk-in closet.

Seconds later, I realized I was looking at my bedroom.

Sadly, I had to purge all of my belongings that were not utter necessities. I was worried about clutter.

More and more people are having difficulty managing their space and organizing the clutter.

Recently a MAP client talked to me about how hard it was to organize his apartment and he was starting to feel out of control.

His challenge is not unusual.

Having too many belongings in too small a space will result in a cramped, confined living environment.

Staying on top of what we keep and what we throw away can be time consuming, tedious and emotional.

It’s not always easy to decide whether or not we need a particular item or even a piece of mail. It might feel better to put it aside and decide later. Unfortunately, while we’re waiting for the right time to decide, we continue to acquire new stuff.

When considering whether or not to throw something out, our concerns include:

  • We might need it someday
  • It’s too good or aesthetically pleasing to throw out
  • It has sentimental value

These concerns are fear-based. Letting go of belongings can leave us feeling unprepared for what we might face in the future.

Our belongings can represent fond memories of loved ones we’ve lost or represent untapped potential or dreams that have not materialized.

This is why extreme clutter, or hoarding, is known to be similar to an anxiety disorder. Holding onto possessions helps to maintain a sense of safety and keeps anxiety at bay.

Experts like Dr. Randy Frost, who has done extensive research on clutter and hoarding, states that the anxiety and discomfort associated with throwing things away is frequently short-lived.

Individual therapy can be helpful in understanding and treating the underlying causes of anxiety and how it can relate to our clutter.

Clutter is a problem that generally gets worse with age, so it’s important to be aware that de-cluttering will become more difficult as time goes on.

If it seems daunting now, you can be sure it will be even more overwhelming to organize your belongings later on.

When you start to feel discouraged by the idea of purging some of your long held items, consider these tips:

Ask yourself two questions: Do I need it? Do I love it? If the answer is no, get rid of it. There is not nearly enough space to fill our homes with things we are indifferent to.

Set realistic goals. Choose a reasonable number of boxes, closets or bookshelves to sort through in a day.

For most of us, sorting through the bulk of our belongings in one day is not a fair expectation. Take a break. When you find it’s become difficult to make sense of anything, give yourself some time off.

If you would like more information on clutter or hoarding, please contact me at (212) 397-4802 or

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musician’s health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at (212) 245-4802, ext. 180 or