In my previous the post, Where to Start When You Have ADHD & Your Clutter Overwhelms You, I looked at both the reasons you may be accumulating so much clutter and the impact it may be having on you. If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out. But what about how ADHD adults deal with clutter?
Ultimately, though, I know the question you really want answered is, “How can I get rid of the clutter in my house / office and maintain it in a way that works with my ADHD?” And you’ve tried plenty of techniques without a lot of success or you would not be reading this right now.
While the exact path is going to be different for everyone, you can start by first answering the question, “What do I want my space to look like when it is good enough and works for me?” If you need help answering this question, check out my last post.
Then, when you are clear on the outcome you want, you can choose some of the techniques below that will work best for you.
Tip #1 – Treat Your Backlog as a Project
When you are first starting out you may find it daunting because you are trying to keep up with your current stuff and deal with all the old stuff at the same time.
The trick is to deal with the backlog as a project. And concurrently experiment with initiating a new habit or two to keep the clutter from building up again (more on this below…).
To get a handle on the backlog the first step is to choose one room to start and separate all items into the following 4 piles / boxes:
- throw away
Then, when you’ve finished one room, go on to the next room — rinse and repeat.
Of course, you’ll also need to decide on a time otherwise it will likely just remain a good idea, right? You may decide to binge clean and do a big chunk at once. Alternatively, if you’re short on time, you may decide to do a few short sprints 1-2 times a week.
The key is to just keep the ball rolling…
Tip #2 – Create a Place and Habit for All the Items You Want to Keep
The next step, after dividing all your stuff, is to:
- either put away everything you are keeping where it belongs or create spaces where it can go.
- then work on creating habits to maintain these spaces.
For example, you may create a launching pad (small table works) by the door where you put everything (purse, briefcase, keys etc.) you need to get out the door in the morning.
Another common challenge is the ever growing pile of snail mail. Rather than adding it to the pile, you can start now to sort it every day, using the tips from 9 Steps to Streamline Your Mail. And work on the backlog when you can.
If want to file papers, but are just too overwhelmed by the stack you have now, start with the current papers — from the last month or so.
You get the idea.
What keeps a lot of people from starting new habits to keep their clutter from building up is they don’t think they have the time. And it is true. You probably don’t have time to deal with it all now. But you don’t have to wait. You can start adopting habits today so you have less clutter going forward.
The key is to stop telling yourself, “I’ll deal with this later. I don’t have time now!” Instead, trust that slowing down and dealing with your stuff in the moment is time well spent. Remind yourself, “If I do this now, it won’t build up into a monster of clutter that overwhelms me.”
Strategies Can Sound Simple but be Hard to Implement
You may be thinking by now, “Really, Marla, that is all you have for me! I’ve heard this before. It sounds simple, but I just haven’t been able to make it work.”
I get it. And here’s the rub in all of this. While a lot of the suggestions you come across for clearing your clutter may sound simple, executing on the suggestions can be really hard for adults with ADHD.
So, in order to implement even the most straight forward sounding strategy, you will need to:
- be compassionate with yourself, really.
- understand how your ADHD may be getting in your way.
- get the support you need when things get hard.
Because simple is not the same as easy!
How Your ADHD Can Get In The Way Of Clearing Your Clutter
Your ADHD symptoms may get in the way of clearing your clutter because you:
- don’t know how to create a step-by-step plan to tackle the backlog projects.
- have challenges estimating the time needed.
- get distracted and fail to get started when you say you will.
- forget your intention, literally, to tackle the clutter.
- become distracted in the middle of working on it.
- get frustrated and give up because it just seems too hard.
- become bored with following through.
I know some of the above sounds familiar to you. Are there any that really stand out in terms of creating the biggest challenge for you?
Sure, there are many ways your ADHD can get in your way. But, luckily, there are just as many workarounds. So, let’s get on to those.
Tip #3 – Use a Body Double to Stay on Track
While you can substitute your own project, below I used the example of enlisting the help of another person to persist in clearing the clutter in your office.
- Ask someone to help you plan out the steps, estimate the time and determine when you block off time to do the work.
- When it is time to start, you could have someone work on the project with you. For example, you could have another person help you make decisions whether you should donate, throw away, store or keep an item.
- A body double could also help you deal with anticipated distractions. For instance, when your son comes running in, wanting your attention, this person could help him find his way back to the mother’s helper you hired to play with him.
- Before starting you could ask your body double to gently remind to stay on task. So, when you start responding to a text from a friend, she could steer you back to what you were doing.
- If you don’t need a lot of help, you may still find it helpful to have someone by your side to help minimize the boredom of working alone that might lead you to go off task.
- Last, if you are likely to give up when you hit a rough spot, you could have someone to do a task that feels too challenging while you proceed with the rest.
How could you use a body to help you with your clutter?
Why a Body Double Is So Useful For ADHD Adults
Just having a person in the same room seems to be helpful for Adults with ADHD, as the right person seems to act as a:
- calming influence. You are only thinking about the project for which you enlisted the help of the body double, not the myriad of other possible tasks
- reminder of your intentions when you get distracted
- gatekeeper of sorts. You feel obligated to work while your body double is there.
- model for how you want to work.
Can you think of other reasons a body double could helpful for you?
I know a body double just isn’t an option for some people. If that is the case for you, check out how you can persist in doing it on your own in my post, How ADHD Adults Can Stay Focused on Long Term Projects.
Next Steps for ADHD Adults Dealing With Clutter
First, take stock of what you find challenging about clearing out your clutter. Then decide what kind of support you need and who can help you.
Finally, if you have the resources to hire an organizer, just make sure they have expertise and experience working with ADHD Adults.