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  • Cheryl Libutti

4 Things I See in Houses that are Warning Signs


I've had the pleasure during the 5+ years I've been a professional organizer to see lots of different houses: big ones, small ones, neat ones, messy ones, apartments, houses, garages, basements, closets, bedrooms, kitchens, playrooms. I love seeing how people live and how their outer environment reflects what's going on inside their heads.


When you see that many different living situations, and then dive in with the owner to make positive changes, patterns begin to emerge about how people live and what's working... and what's not. I have identified a few things that seem to be patterns amongst those who are heading towards having a real issue with hoarding behaviors, really poor self- care and/or worsening issues with depression and anxiety. I share this list to give some insight that if you have two or more of these warning signs, it's time to seek help of some kind- either from your family, a good friend, a doctor or a professional organizer.


4 Warning Signs:

  1. Missing lampshades or missing light bulbs from light fixtures: houses filled with depression or anxiety or hoarding behaviors are often physically dark. The preferred state of living in the house when people are struggling is dark, and this manifests in a few ways. Often overhead lights don't work or have missing light bulbs. Cobwebs are often very present on the light fixture. Lamps are few, and the lamps that are around either have a lampshade and no bulb OR a bulb but no lampshade, which casts a harsh, cold light everywhere in the room.

  2. Unattached or missing fitted sheets on the bed where the main occupant sleeps: Flat sheets are becoming more and more of an optional item, but I think its safe to say that fitted bottom sheets to entirely cover one's mattress are a basic necessity of good sleep hygiene and personal hygiene. An unattached or missing fitted sheet is a warning sign that something is off. The person is either sleeping rumpled and not taking the time/energy to fix the sheet or they are not sleeping in the bed, choosing a recliner or sofa instead.

  3. Poorly functioning/ broken / missing / very outdated vacuum cleaner: Houses in which the main occupant is struggling often does not have a functional vacuum, and one is needed to take basic care of floors and furniture from a cleanliness standpoint. Dust and debris often pile up in homes without a decent vacuum cleaner, and I would like to see everyone have a vacuum that is less than five years old or else it's time to invest in one. I see lots of people who struggle with older vacuums and it's not fun/ convenient to use it so they just don't. A minor investment in a basic corded Shark vacuum can be made for $85-$100 and makes a big difference.

  4. Overabundance of clothing and a poor system for doing laundry: When I see tons and tons of clothes strewn around, that is a warning sign. People who are struggling emotionally often don't do laundry, so they purchase more clothing to wear. When they do wash and dry their clothing, it is a rare that they fold and put away the clean items. Clothing goes from the dryer to the clean pile and then is pulled from the pile to be worn. The system is never complete where dirty clothing is cleaned and put away, so the thought is "I don't have anything to wear" and the temptation- conscious or not- is to buy more, which just adds to the overwhelm or dirty clothing to process. The other angle of this is that clothing is a very personal reflection of who we are and how we feel, which is why weeding out unused items in your closet is so difficult. When your clothing is dirty, wrinkled, and not properly cared for, it becomes a warning sign that something more is going on.

These are the interesting patterns I see, and are pretty universal to people who are struggling. If you see yourself and your behaviors in this list, there is always help available to assist you both with your mental health and physical environment. Everyone deserves to live in a healthy, clean home they can feel comfortable in!




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