Clutter

Want to Organize Your Stuff? Don’t Do It!

“Organizing” your possessions is a common (and admirable) goal, but it’s not your only option — and may not be feasible for someone with an ADHD brain. Instead, throw or give away the things you don’t ever use.

One of my favorite things to do is to help my friends clear their clutter. It’s less taxing than clearing my own stuff. As a consequence, I’ve seen a lot of clutter and heard lots of people talk about it. And I’ve reached a conclusion: Don’t get organized.

When you’re facing a desk swamped with papers, or a closet bursting with clothes, or kitchen countertops littered with piles of things, don’t say, “I need to get organized.” Your first instinct should be to get rid of stuff. If you don’t keep it, you don’t have to organize it.

Stuff Without a Purpose

A huge amount of clutter is the result of keeping things you don’t use. “Well, I don’t have that problem,” you think. “Why would I keep something I don’t use?” But it’s easier than you think for this stuff to accumulate.

And there are a number of reasons to hang on to something you don’t use. Maybe you used an object in the past, and it has sentimental value — your 10-year-old’s old sippy cup. Maybe you wish you used another object, even though you never do — a jump rope. Maybe you want to pretend you live a life in which an object would be useful — linen cocktail napkins. Maybe you’ve never used this thing, and you feel guilty for wasting your money buying it — a bottle of decoupage glue. (All items that I held onto for years, without using, by the way.)

It is painful to admit that you’ll never use certain possessions, but all that junk gets in your way. Be honest with yourself. When I’m helping people clear clutter, they say, “I refuse to give that up! It’s got too much sentimental value to throw away.” I’m a big believer in sentimental value, but you should admit that is what you’re doing and act accordingly.

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A friend was keeping a pile of t-shirts she loved in college, but no longer wore. She wanted to buy a set of plastic shelves to put in her closet to organize them. I asked her, “Do you need to keep all these t-shirts, or can you pick a few to jog your memory?” With some coaxing, she got rid of most of them. Once she was down to two t-shirts, I asked her, “Do you actually wear these t-shirts?” She didn’t, so we moved them out of the precious real estate of her closet, and stuck them on the top shelf in a little-used space.

“Maybe I’ll Need It”

People say, “No, I’ve never used that, but maybe I will! It might come in handy!” Maybe it will — it probably won’t. Ask yourself: How easy would it be to replace this item? Have I ever used it? What in my life would have to change for me to use this?

My sister had huge amounts of paper, and when we started going through it, I saw that she was hanging on to hundreds of statements and receipts. She wanted to buy a file box to put it all away neatly, but I disagreed. “You should just throw these papers away,” I said. “Why do you keep them at all?” “Maybe I’ll need them,” she objected. But she’d never needed them in the past, and it wouldn’t be hard to get copies, if she ever needed them. So we tossed all of it. Much easier than organizing it!

People with the worst clutter problems have the instinct to run out and buy complicated hangers, drawer compartments, and so on. I love and use that stuff, too, but I never buy an item until it’s absolutely clear that it will help me put objects in order that are truly necessary.

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The next time you have the urge to get organized, especially if you feel tempted to buy organizing doodads, push yourself to throw away or give away things you don’t actually use.

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  1. I went one step in the wrong direction with the clutter. Someone said, “you can sell that on eBay you know,” so I bought a mannequin, special lights to take pictures and sold 5 or 6 things, then got distracted with something else. Now I’ve had that mannequin, lights and several boxes of stuff sitting in my living room and more boxes of stuff sitting in another room. I keep telling myself “it’s worth something!”so I keep hanging onto it even though I’m sick of looking at it. I used to do yard sales, which is fine because whatever isn’t sold by the end of the day goes to charity, but this is a whole different thing. I don’t have a lot of money to begin with, and I keep going in circles about wanting to take it to a charity and wanting money from selling it. Maybe I can just keep the stuff that’s actually worth a lot and put the rest in a big garbage bag and take it to Goodwill.

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