wastenot-want-not-clutter-nyc-exhibition-art-moma-hoard-3As a professional organizer, I’m frequently called upon to help clients deal with de-cluttering. But in my experience, the word “clutter” doesn’t really describe what most people want my help with.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines clutter as “a collection of things lying about in an untidy mess.” Interestingly, the definition of clutter doesn’t mention quantity. The definition isn’t “a collection of too many things lying about in an untidy mess.”

Yet, “too many things” really describes what most people are calling me about. They are overwhelmed by the vast numbers of things that fill bookshelves, counters, desks, cupboards, boxes, chests, bins, closets, garages, attics, and basements in their homes.

Overwhelm!?! That’s so much more descriptive than “clutter!”

Overwhelm, verb {transitive}: bury or drown beneath a huge mass; to be too strong for; overpower.

Yup, that describes how my clients feel: they are buried in stuff, deluged by papers and things, and feel powerless to change the situation on their own.

And although I’ve struggled with seeing “overwhelm” used as a noun, I’ve come around to thinking that it’s actually the right usage for this situation.

Overwhelm, noun: Feeling buried or drowned beneath a huge mass (of stuff!); overpowered by said stuff; unable to deal with vast numbers of stuff without help from a trained professional organizer.

“Please help me with overwhelm” describes the situation so much better than “Please help me with clutter!”

P.S. If you need help with overwhelm, contact me!