Ask the Experts

Q: “Help! Piles of Paper are Cluttering My Life.”

“Instead of looking at the entire mountain of papers, focus on one pile or paper at a time.”

stack of paper piles

Q: “Piles of unorganized papers are taking over my life and very small apartment. I know I need to sort, organize, and file them, but instead, I find myself scrolling through my phone and wasting time. How can I motivate myself to organize my papers and create peace in my home?” — Tahoe93

Hi Tahoe93:

I feel your struggle! It’s completely understandable that the thought of tackling those paper piles feels endless and daunting. Neurodiverse minds often process information differently, and their executive functioning difficulties can make tasks like organizing and filing seem overwhelming.

Use this step-by-step approach to regain control over your papers, living space, and time.

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

1. Start Small

If you walk into a room and all you see is clutter, you may feel too outnumbered to start. Instead of looking at the entire mountain of papers, focus on one pile or paper at a time. If you’re worried that seeing all those piles will divert your attention, try my “black tablecloth method.” Drape black tablecloths over the areas of your home you are organizing. Roll back the tablecloth a little at a time, only exposing a small pile, so you stay focused, on track, and, most importantly, less overwhelmed. In this instance, being out of sight will help you not be out of your mind.

2. Set Short, Simple & Specific Goals

Use my “Triple S” system (setting short, simple, and specific daily goals). For example, “Thursday night I’m going to pay bills,” or “Sunday night I’ll tackle the weekly mail.” If that is too much to handle, say, “Saturday morning I’ll file 10 pieces of paper.” In other words, break down your tasks into manageable parts to feel more in control.

3. Work Time Over Task

Use the Pomodoro technique (working on tasks in 25-minute chunks)  or a similar method to declutter and organize in short, focused bursts. Set a timer and commit to paper filing during that time. Then, take a short break — even if you don’t feel like you need one. Trust me! This approach can help you maintain your focus and prevent overload.

4. Go Paperless

Pay your bills online, scan receipts, and sign up for a mobile application program that will store all your medical records. Create folders on your computer the same way you would in your file cabinet. Decreasing the amount of paper coming into your home will reduce the stress of managing it.

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

5. Create — or Find — a Supportive Environment

Having a designated space for sorting and organizing papers signals to your brain that it’s time to focus. If creating such an area is too difficult, remove yourself from the space. There’s no rule that you need to sort in your home. If you have a favorite coffee spot or special go-to haunt, grab a pile of papers and go! Paring something you dread doing with a place you love will help you initiate a task and stay the course.

6. Pair Up to Pare Down

If accountability is challenging, enlist a friend or family member to help keep you focused. You may want to hire a professional organizer who understands your unique challenges. They can provide much-needed support and brainstorm out-of-the-box organization ideas for you.

And here’s some food for thought: You said you focus on your phone instead of organizing. So, use technology to your advantage. Many apps are designed to help with task management, organization, and productivity. Give one a try. (Evernote is one of my favorites.)

Most importantly, remember that progress is not always linear, and setbacks are bound to happen. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the steps you’ve taken to create a more organized and manageable space.

Good luck!

Piles of Paper: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach 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.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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