Messy vs. Neat

Hints on how to deal with clutter at home and work

The left side of this cabinet belongs to Chelsea Yocius, while the right is used by Farrah Salem in their Gainesville apartment. Salem likes to keep her home neat and tidy while her roommate Yocius can accumulate clutter.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.

Best friends and roommates Farrah Salem and Chelsea Yocius are total opposites.


Tips for getting organized

■ Assign every object a place in your home and keep it in that spot when you're not using it.
■ Keep shopping to a minimum. Don't bring an item into your home unless you need it.
■ Remember, you don't have to keep every gift and inherited object.
■ Take photos of sentimental but unused items, such as china or a special occasion dress, and display the prints instead of the actual objects.
■ Have realistic expectations. Your house doesn't have to look like a model home to be organized and clean.

“Farrah makes great grades. She rarely goes out. She keeps her life perfectly in order,” said Yocius, a second year student at Santa Fe College. “And I'm more laid back. I switch jobs a lot. I like to go out. My life is pretty inconsistent.”

How they keep their apartment reflects their personalities. Salem's room is meticulously organized, while Yocius' is a little more cluttered.

“I've learned a lot living with her,” said Salem, a second-year neurobiology and sociology major at the University of Florida. “She's taught me how to be less uptight, even though I still like to have a clean house.”

But there may be a reason Yocius keeps her space on the cluttered side.

Helen Kornblum, owner of Natural Order Organizing, works as a professional organizer and helps her clients deal with clutter in their homes.

According to Kornblum, how we feel about the things we own makes it difficult for some people to part with their belongings.

She said it's important for people to remember that objects are not the sole source of their memories.

“You won't forget your mother because you don't keep everything she owned,” she said.

Likewise, some people worry that discarding a gift means being disloyal to the person who gave it to them, she said.

“Just because someone gave something to you doesn't mean you have to be held hostage by that gift,” she said. “Once someone gives it to you, it's yours, and you can do whatever you want with it.”

Sometimes clutter becomes more than just a messy garage or an disorganized filing cabinet.

Eric Storch, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, works with clients who are dealing with the most extreme cases of clutter.

Storch specializes in treating patients who compulsively hoard, a behavior where a person collects items to such an extreme that their living spaces become unusable.

To a hoarder, all objects have emotional value and usefulness, which makes it difficult for them to part with things others see as unimportant, he said.

“I'll have a client take what I perceive to be trash, and they'll lay it on the table and say ‘Look at it, isn't it beautiful?'” Storch said.

Storch helps his clients organize their clutter while providing therapy to help them resolve their emotional attachments to their belongings. While purging his client's home of clutter, he helps them recognize that they can thrive without so many possessions.

And while modest clutter is not as devastating as hoarding, the two may be related, he said.

“I believe there's a spectrum,” Storch said. “From simple clutter to unmanageable hoarding.”

According to Storch, the difference between a hoarder and a person with a manageable amount of clutter, is their level of flexibility. Where casual clutterers may eventually convince themselves that they can throw away certain things, a hoarder likely cannot come to that conclusion on their own, he said.

Clutter on any level, from a messy desk drawer to the home of a hoarder, can be a source of stress for families, said Lindsey Mehrkam, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Florida.

“You don't have to be a hoarder to understand the stress that even a small amount of clutter can cause,” she said.

Mehrkam said clutter can spur discord between spouses or roommates. Small things, like an unorganized refrigerator or a stack of unopened letters, can cause friction in a home when one person doesn't mind the clutter and the other wants it clean, she said.

Relationships can be further strained because one partner doesn't understand the behavior of the other.

A “neat-freak” might see a clutterer's belongings as “junk,” even though the messy partner holds them in high value, Mehrkam said.

Yocius and Salem know the feeling and have had their disagreements. They argue occasionally about dirty dishes in the sink or clothes lying on the floor.

“But we don't fight any more than any other roommates,” Salem said. “And we've learned a lot about compromise along the way.”

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