Clutter

Stop the Slide from Clutter Into Hoarding

First comes a pile. Then comes clutter. Learn why ADHD brains are prone to slipping down the slope into hoarding — and how to dig yourself out of the piles of stuff.

An illustration of an overstuffed house represents excessive clutter and hoarding.

Research shows that while many people who are compulsive hoarders have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), the reverse is not true. People with ADD are not typically hoarders. Nor are they on some kind of disorganization spectrum that ends up in the mental disorder called hoarding. What gives rise to problematic clutter that can look like hoarding is less-than-stellar executive functioning.

What Is It About ADHD That Causes Excessive Clutter?

Lucy, a client with ADD, can imagine 10 things to do with a straw before I can suggest tossing it in the garbage. It’s this “possibility thinking” that adds to her clutter distress. “My mind conjures up all sorts of ways to use things.”

Lucy also has a textbook case of distractibility. Give her the task of going through old magazines, and one text message will shake her train of thought off the track.

Then there is the matter of decision-making. Lucy’s garage bulges with baby swings, desktop computer monitors, and camping coolers. What was once a two-car garage is now a one-bike garage. She cannot decide whether to keep the stuff, sell it at a yard sale, or drop it off at Goodwill.

So there you have it. Lucy has a hoard of things, even though she is not diagnosed with hoarding behavior.

[Self Test: Is Your Clutter and Disorganization Out of Control?]

My Top Five Clutter Busters

Both ADD and hoarding disorder are marked by executive function deficits that contribute to excessive clutter. These include difficulty with categorizing and decision-making, and distractibility.

1. Personalize your category names. It makes a difference. I use Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers to sort stuff. Friends stay. Acquaintances move along to donation, and Strangers are tossed.

2. Use the “gradual de-cluttering method” to help with decision-making. In Week 1, toss out three items. Anything counts: plastic bags, clothes that are worn out, old phone directories. The idea is to get used to decision-making. In Weeks 2 and 3, toss out one item a day. In Week 4, toss out 12 items by the end of the week. Keep tossing 12 items per week going forward.

3. Hire a professional organizer (PO) if you’re distractible. A PO will help you stay focused, and will be objective about de-cluttering, which is what you need. POs are usually compassionate, even when they push you a little. You can find a professional organizer at challengingdisorganization.org or napo.net.

4. Turn intentions into action by scheduling them. Make an appointment with yourself to take action. For instance, when Lucy says, “I need to recycle this stuff,” we immediately put a date on her calendar to go to the recycling center. Putting intentions on a schedule is powerful, and increases the chance that you will take action.

5. Join a Messies Anonymous group (messies.com), an online clutter support group, or an Organizing Meetup group near you.

[Free Download: 22 Clutter-Busting Strategies for Adults with ADHD]

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