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Clutter and Depression

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From the U.S.: I have been married for 20 years, and we have a 5-year old son and 12-year old daughter. My wife has depression, she has taken medications and went to therapy in the past, but currently is taking non-prescription supplements. She has not found therapy very successful. In addition to depression, she has menstrual issues and becomes even less productive based on her cycle.

I am concerned with her lack of productivity. She does not have a job, but does not want to be a stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t own it as a choice, but rather feels her lack of a job is something she is stuck in. She manages our household finances (extremely well) and does some volunteer work. I do most of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, get the kids up and put them to bed, yard work, etc.

I have identified a “frustration cycle” that appears to keep repeating:

1. My wife starts projects, but runs out of motivation and/or energy before she completes the task. She acquires “stuff” with the idea that it will be useful, or she will use it to complete a project, but the project never starts. Consequently, we have accumulated clutter around our home.

2. I do my best to continue to function in the house and work around them.

3. I get frustrated when household maintenance, eating as a family, cooking, etc cannot be done (or is done much slower) because stuff is in the way. Or cats pee on things. Or it just looks messy. Or I realize the wasted potential of what our home could be. Or the kids follow the bad example. Or my wife breaks down, withdraws, or gets overwhelmed, or indecisive because she can’t do (or decide) what she wants to do.

4. I try to support my wife and get things things done by providing her time. Or asking how I can help. Or trying to set goals to get one thing done to move forward. Or try to help her focus and make a decision. Or I just deal with it, and my wife gets upset because I didn’t do it right. Often as part of this process, my wife get frustrated with herself or me. Or she feels like I am belittling her. Or she shuts down.

5. I wonder if I am pushing her too hard (or not enough). Or if I am enabling. Or if it is because I work too much. Or if I just need to wait for her to get better (physically and/or mentally). Maybe it is just because she isn’t feeling good right now. Or maybe it really isn’t that bad and I am just overblowing it.

6. I try to be more understanding and back off.

7. Repeat

I want to organize and reduce the clutter, but my wife does not want me to. We have a storage room, which in theory houses supplies for crafting and other projects, but it is so disorganized it is unusable. I want to set up the room in a way that will enable her to work on projects successfully that hopefully will help her depression. She states she wants that organization too, but doesn’t want me to work on it. She feels it will lead to a loss of control for her. She has said that she resents the concept of me working on it, because it feels like I am “rescuing” her. I think she desires to do these things herself, but she is too overwhelmed to start. She has also said she feels shame at not being able to do things that she “should” be able to do.

Any ideas on strategies to use?

Thanks for your time

Clutter and Depression

Answered by on -


Please take a look at the book Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding (Treatments That Work) by David Tolin and Randy O. Frost.

My guess is that your wife has a hoarding disorder that hasn’t been treated. Your efforts to help aren’t helping because you don’t know how to do it in an effective way.

Tolin and Frost are among the foremost researchers in hoarding behaviors and how to help people overcome them. I think you will find the answers to your questions in their book.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Clutter and Depression

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Clutter and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 21 Mar 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.