Hoarding has gotten a good deal of attention in the media over the last few years, and many of us are familiar with the fact that hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often related. The DSM-5, which is the classification and diagnostic tool of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), lists both hoarding and OCD in the category of Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders. In some cases, hoarding is even seen as a compulsion in OCD.
But what about the opposite of hoarding? What if you aren’t able to keep anything? What if you feel compelled to rid yourself of your belongings and can’t bear the thought of any “stuff” hanging around?
This obsessive decluttering is known as a syndrome called obsessive-compulsive spartanism, and is described in detail here.
I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about someone who likes a tidy home. I myself can’t stand clutter, and am always putting newspapers in the recycling bin too soon, or making sure counters are cleaned off. What I am talking about is the extreme. For example, in the above-mentioned article, a woman with this disorder actually gave away her lamps and then found herself sitting in darkness.
As with most behaviors, it’s all about the degree of severity. Like to throw things away and keep an uncluttered house because it just makes you feel better? That’s fine. But when discarding things directly affects your life, as it does for the woman in the article who keeps throwing out her food processor only to have to go out and buy a new one, it’s a real problem. In this case, getting rid of things has become part of an obsessive – compulsive cycle.
Unfortunately, many people, including some therapists, might not recognize the issue of obsessive decluttering as a legitimate problem. While hoarding looks abnormal, an uncluttered, clean house does not. Also, we are a culture who embraces simplicity – we have jumped on the bandwagon of “less is more.” This makes it more difficult for those who have this real problem to be taken seriously. Indeed they might even be praised or commended for their desire to declutter.
So what should you do if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive spartanism?
My suggestion, not surprisingly, is to find a good therapist, preferably one who specializes in OCD. He or she can work with you to figure out your decluttering. Is it a compulsion related to an obsession you have, such as a way to keep you or your loved ones safe? Is it a manifestation of “just right OCD?” Do you become physically ill or uncomfortable if you’re not able to declutter? While there is no mention of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy in the article, I would think it would be helpful. But I’m not a therapist, so connecting with a competent health-care provider is a must. I hope you’ll do this if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive spartanism. Obviously you’re not the only one.