Clutter

The Professional Organizer’s Guide to Getting Rid of ADHD Clutter

How you think about clutter will help you control it. Use the IDLE approach from professional organizer, Lisa Woodruff, to gain the upper hand over your stuff.

Organizing clutter
Organizing clutter

As a professional organizer, I try to help my clients change how they think about their “stuff.” Magazines are often a clutter item. We buy them or subscribe to them, and we intend to read them some day.

Last week, I was ready to launch into my magazine spiel with a client when she almost stumped me. I was looking at stacks of magazines, which I assumed she hadn’t read yet. My first question is always: If you could buy only three magazines this week, which three would you pick?

As the color drained from her face, I realized these magazines meant more to her than I had thought. So I asked: “Which magazines do you sit down and read cover to cover as soon as you get them?”

“I read them all cover to cover as soon as I get them,” she said.

I was in shock. “You have read all these magazines already?” I asked.

I had to switch gears from finding time for her to enjoy what she had purchased, or limiting her future purchases, to trying to explain that she had already consumed the content that she purchased.

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

Then it hit me. That morning, I was 30 minutes ahead of schedule. I stopped by Starbucks and got a Caramel Macchiato. It tasted great, and when I finished it, I threw the cup away. Even though I spent $3.55 on it, and even though I loved it, I had consumed the product. At the end of my story, I said, “Your magazines are like empty coffee cups.”

I asked again, “Are there any titles you can part with?” Her reply was, “All of them.” She got rid of most of her magazines, without guilt or regret.

Perspective is everything. Your mindset makes all the difference. It is how you think about clutter — the useful items and the things you don’t know what to do with — that will help you control it. Your mindset is made up of rules you have created for yourself. Rules help you declutter faster.

The IDLE process will help you make decisions about categories of items in your house, not just one item at a time. When you see items that belong in a certain category, you will know what to do with them.

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Identify the Clutter Category.

Start by identifying a category. Let’s consider magazines and catalogs.

Decide How to Declutter.

There are many kinds of magazines and catalogs in your home — new ones, piled-up ones, and very old magazines you may have collected as a child. First, can this whole category of items go? If so, you have made your decision — recycle all magazines and catalogs. This is the easiest type of rule to create. When you realize a whole category of items can go, take 15-30 minutes to go through your house, collect those items, and recycle them right away.

If all of the magazines and catalogs can’t go, or you want to keep some of them, find all of those items and consolidate them in one location. Some can stay and some will go. This is the complicated part of decluttering and organizing, and is usually where we get stuck. The goal here is still to see all the magazines and catalogs as piles of items, not just individual items. Now ask yourself:

Are there any magazines and catalogs by title that can all go? Recycle those.

Are there any magazines and catalogs that need to stay, no matter how old? Put those in a pile.

For the rest, here are some rules that have worked for other clients:

  • A catalog can stay until the new one arrives.
  • Magazines stay for no longer than one year.
  • This magazine stays for one year;  all others go after they are read. (Must be read or gone in six months.)

I know this requires a lot of decision-making, but these rules will matter every time a new magazine or catalog comes into your home.

Locate or Let Go.

If all magazines can go, take them to the recycling bin. If some stay, now is when you decide where, for how long, and how many. Having one location for magazines and catalogs to reside is the goal. When you see or receive a catalog or magazine, you have two choices: recycle it or put it in its designated location.

Evaluate Your Clutter Rules

Rules will help you declutter and get organized faster. However, you should review your rules from time to time to make sure that the IDLE process is still accurate. When I started professionally organizing, most of my clients kept phone books; now, they do not.

Considering the changes in entertainment consumption habits, our rules need to be updated. Often we look for organization solutions for items that are no longer relevant to our lives. Before you organize your next big pile of “stuff,” ask yourself if you need to organize it at all!

Lisa Woodruff is the founder of Organize 365 and the creator of the 100-Day Home Organization Program, the Sunday Basket Workshop, and the Sunday Basket Workshop Paper Organization Certification Program.

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Updated on November 18, 2019

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