Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: My Spouse Is a Pack Rat. How am I Supposed to Declutter?

Fact: mess causes stress. But it doesn’t have to ruin your marriage – even if your spouse saves everything and you don’t know where to begin the purge. Our organization coach offers five steps for turning around a disorganized home.

Q: “My house needs a major reorganization and cleaning. My husband has attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and is sentimentally attached to everything. He won’t let even the most minor possessions go in the spirit of decluttering. My home feels like a dumping ground, and it is starting to cause problems in my marriage. The mess is triggering situational depression and anxiety. I have never-ending lists of things to scrub and purge, but when my ADHD son and I try to start, we feel so overwhelmed that we walk away. Help! Where do we begin??” — Overwhelmed


Hi Overwhelmed:

Your question is quite common, and it’s one of the reasons why I work with the whole family to make sure everyone is properly supported when everyone is living with ADHD.

Think of your children and husband as your problem-solving partners. Sit down with them — and a list of the areas you want to tackle. Then, simply ask what they think would work best in these situations. In other words, the whole dynamic in your home may shift as you begin to collaborate as a family unit, instead of delegating orders.

Try implementing clutter-free zones. Perhaps loose papers and tchotchkes are forbidden in communal spaces like the living room and bedroom. But, your husband has free rein to stack and pile in a section of the basement or a home office.

Pair up to pare down. Grab your son AND your husband, then tackle work together. Sometimes “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) helps us to initiate and stay on the task of decluttering sentimental items. Plus, hard work goes faster when we do it with someone else.

[The Ultimate Room-by-Room Organization Guide]

Create specific daily intentions. To get started, set to-dos for each day. “Thursday night I’m going to tackle the bedroom closet.” “Saturday morning I’m going to work on the files in the home office.” In other words, break down your decluttering tasks into manageable parts so you feel more in control.

Try the “black tablecloth” method of organizing. Yes, it’s a thing. And it’s one of my favorite tricks to help my clients feel less flabbergasted by a truly messy space that begs the question, “Where do I even begin?!” Drape black tablecloths over the areas of your home where you’re decluttering and organizing. Only expose a small amount at a time so you stay focused, on track, and most importantly, less overwhelmed. In this instance, out of sight will help you NOT be out of your mind!

Good Luck!


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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