How to Declutter with an ADHD Brain: Organization Solutions for Real Life
If your closet or pantry is bursting with unnecessary, unhelpful stuff, then you likely know how clutter can spark overwhelm, stress, guilt, and even shame. Learn how to declutter and stay organized with these ADHD-tested tips and solutions that actually work.
More than half of adults with ADHD say disorganization is a serious problem, and 40% of women over the age of 40 say disorganization is their most urgent ADHD issue. Our ADHD brains are prone to clutter for a number of reasons: poor working memory, weak impulse control, and access to services like Amazon that instantly fulfil our whims. When the sheer physical and emotional space consumed by clutter becomes unmanageable, it can get in the way of relationships, work, and mental health.
Here, ADHD expert Linda Roggli shares 7 decluttering strategies and solution recommendations that work for ADHD minds — and homes.
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How to Declutter Tip #1: Don’t Buy Stuff
Shopping acts as self-medication for ADHD brains; impulsive or big purchases can cause a dopamine rush. Before clicking ‘Buy,’ be honest about your finances by asking yourself: Is this purchase realistic for my budget? Am I pretending that it will be “alright just this once?” Leave the item in your shopping cart for several days, and then reassess whether the desire to purchase remains high over time.
Do I over-shop (even sales or thrift shops)?
What are the real reasons I over-shop? Is it impulsivity? Do I need something new to “feel alive?”
Could I better organize my stuff to find the things I already own? Could I see a therapist to deal with “deserve it” issues?
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How to Declutter Tip #2: Heed the 80/20 Rule
Follow the 80/20 rule, or the “Pareto Principle,” which says that 80% of the time we use 20% of what is stored in our files, closets, or drawers. The more stuff we keep in storage, the less it will be used (or even seen!). When weeding out these items that never get used, try not to spend too much time holding the objects; we “own” things by touching them, so the longer you spend in physical contact with an otherwise forgotten item, the more likely you are to keep it.
What stops me from getting rid of stuff? ADHD minds are famous for repeating unhelpful stories like “I will give this to my children” or “I might need this someday.” What works of fiction am I repeating?
What is one thing I can do to clear out the stuff I don’t need, want, or use? Can I make one step forward?
Where (or to whom) will I donate, sell, or give away/recycle stuff that is still usable but not part of my future?
Think once, and then let it go. Ask yourself these quick questions to avoid getting stuck trying to create yet another organizing system:
How often will I use this?
Where will I use this?
What will I use this for?
Consider recruiting a professional organizer, non-judgmental friend, online organizing group, or a coach to guide you through this process.
What is one particularly “tangled knot” that most needs a think-once solution?
Solving which problem would most reduce my tension or frustration?
How can I accept help without surrendering my own position?
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How to Declutter Tip #4: Compartmentalize
Don’t purchase any new containers until you have first decluttered and removed unneeded items from your life. Then consider using creative “corrals” rather than buying new solutions: Office storage bins can double as holders for personal items like glasses, an empty makeup compartment can hold medication, old milk cartons are perfect for winter boots.
What stuff is running loose that needs to be compartmentalized?
What containers do I have (or need) to corral those rascals?
How can I make the system “mess proof?”
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The Organizing Products That Work Best for ADHD Brains
How to Declutter Tip #6: Center Your Organization System Around Your ADHD
Mold your organization solutions to you. Think functional, not fancy or fantasy. And convenience is key. Remember these universal rules for ADHD brains:
Files are piles turned sideways.
Write it down before you forget.
Automate everything possible.
Which ADHD ideas that already work for me can be used to get organized?
What can I automate to make life easier? (e.g., packing lists, appointments, Rx refills, recurring purchases, and birthdays.)
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How to Declutter Tip #7: Return Everything to Its Home
It takes more time to find stuff than it does to put it away. Individuals without ADHD spend roughly 23 weeks of their lives trying to find items; adults with ADHD spend two times that amount.
What stops me from putting away the things I use or pull out?
What destroys my good intentions? (e.g., busy, bored, don’t remember new system)
The best approach to decluttering your home is to adopt a beginner’s mindset. Getting organized takes time when it’s done right, and the work will be slow going at first. Expect breakdowns along the way. Embracing your ADHD brain means cutting yourself some slack when you get emotional or frustrated.
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