Clutter is a Trauma Response
Clutter is a trauma response for me. I used to think that I was just disorganized. I had piles of papers on the floor, not high piles mind you, small stacks of papers a couple of inches high spread about the room. I liked to tell myself that those were stacks in the process of being organized.
But then, an empty box would be added to the room. That box was to hold the soon-to-be-organized stacks of paper. Then another stack of paper and another box. All with a purpose, I would tell myself.
Until one day, I read something that made me realize I had created a fort. When I sat at my desk, you could not walk a straight line to get to me from the door. I was unconsciously protecting myself. My clutter is a trauma response. And I think it may be the precursor to hoarding.
Clutter & Trauma
My least favorite thing is organizing. And yet, I like the idea of things being organized. But, unfortunately, someone has to organize things. This isn’t a Disney cartoon whereby the items in question will find their place while I dance around singing a song.
Perhaps my lack of song and dance abilities is where I am going wrong with this. Sigh. And so, I am stuck organizing my stuff without magical or cartoon powers. Why does it seem like such a daunting task? Yet, I feel even lighter after I have organized and decluttered.
Because my clutter is a trauma response, clutter made it difficult for my abuser to get to me at night while I attempted to sleep. The clutter made it, so no one wanted to enter my room. Clutter kept people away from me. It kept me safe(ish).
Removing clutter meant that I wasn’t safe. Being safe was my primary goal.
Clutter & Hoarding
It may be a stretch of sorts to jump from clutter to hoarding, but I am not sure. I think hoarding is a trauma response when trauma is untreated.
For example, my mother is a hoarder. And she has untreated OCD. Amongst many, many other untreated diagnoses.
Everything about my mother is untreated, so I guess I didn’t need to write that. But she is a perfect example of what happens when trauma and mental illness go untreated.
It spirals into what I can only imagine is now an even greater maze of boxes, unopened orders from eBay, and things have gone unrepaired in her home, making it barely habitable.
You can see the devolving of my mother’s mental state in her environment. And I could see that looking back on my space as I bought more things, only to not do anything with them except add them to my fort.
My alcoholism was well on its way to owning my ass, and I could do nothing at the time except sit in my office and try to focus on anything else except my world falling down around me.
Here, in utter
My heart races
and my stomach rolls
as I wait.
Hardly any time
I look forward to
fear what is to
Fear is something
I hate. As I am
frozen from within.
Here, in utter
to think –
But, what if…
I wrote that poem somewhere around 1990, maybe 1992. But, even back then, I knew. Somehow, I knew that the world I created, the world I had control over, which is to say the clutter, was my way of protecting myself.
Not all clutter is for the same reason. For me, clutter is a trauma response. For you, it could be just clutter. If you think it isn’t “just” clutter, please reach out to a therapist.
I recommend Online-Therapy.* Encouraging therapy is their first step in healing.
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