Are You Hoarding Time?

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The latest crop of reality TV tells stories of people suffering because their homes are filled with useless junk and filth. But how many of us treat our time as badly as these people treat their spaces? You may be a “time hoarder” and not even know it.

Does the old, tired phrase “where does the time go?” ring a bell with you? Do you find yourself going to sleep struggling to recall what you did with your day? If this sounds familiar, it’s probably not so much a problem with your memory as how you habitually use your time. Just as hoarders are often largely unaware of the extent of their mess, people who feel perpetually short of time often don’t realize where it’s all going. But if you’re willing to endure a little discomfort, you can intervene in your own “time hoarding” behavior and “clean out” your days.

Hoarder reality TV follows a predictable pattern which you can adapt for your own benefit. The show inevitably begins with a walk-through of the home in question. Strewn through the rooms are usually piles of boxes, books, empty take-out containers and perhaps even more unsavory findings. Similarly, the best way to start a “time purge” is to walk through your week one hour at a time. This exercise is adapted from Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World .

Take a piece of paper (or a spreadsheet if you’re so inclined) and label the long edge of the paper with the hours of the day, starting with midnight and ending with 11 pm. Then across the short edge label the days of the week, Sunday through Saturday. Create a grid that represents all of the 168 hours that make a week. The exercise is to write down how you spend each of these hours. Feel free to use alarms on your phone or other reminders to help you keep up with what’s happening throughout your days. After a week of diligence, you’ll have all your time laid out before you in much the same way as a hoarder confronts their pile of stuff laid out on a tarp in their driveway. You may for the first time see how many hours you devote to TV, the Internet, or other time-hungry distractions. It could be a rude awakening.

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The highlight of any hoarder TV show is the “sort,” where the hoarder picks through their stuff and decides what can stay and what must go. To continue the metaphor, it’s time to sort your time usage into uses you’d like to keep and those you’d like to throw out. Just as material hoarders often begin with the view that everything in their homes must stay, it’s tempting to believe that all your uses of time are well justified and must stay exactly as they are. This is where the rubber meets the road. Surely you must have money to live, but does it have to be this job, and this many hours? Or perhaps you feel you need to drive your daughter to soccer, but must you do it? Could someone else? Could she play for a different league that makes the travel less onerous? Thinking courageously and creatively helps maximize the number of time-consuming activities you can sort into “give away” or “trash.” As on television, it may be helpful to have a trusted ally to help you stay motivated and on-task. You may need to coordinate with family, friends and colleagues if you’re planning to delegate some of these tasks.

On reality television, once the sort is complete, the house gets put back together again, neater, cleaner and better than before. Now it is time for you to create a new, blank weekly grid as you did earlier and re-pack your week with only those activities you’ve decided to keep. Perhaps you can rearrange the “furniture” of your life to better meet your needs, reassign some “open space” to add new, enriching activities, or maybe just keep that time open to breathe and enjoy.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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