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.

Opened drawer wooden table at workplace
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Understanding the Burden of ADHD Clutter

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.

Ask Yourself:

  1. Do I over-shop (even sales or thrift shops)?
  2. What are the real reasons I over-shop? Is it impulsivity? Do I need something new to “feel alive?”
  3. 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.

Ask Yourself:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Where (or to whom) will I donate, sell, or give away/recycle stuff that is still usable but not part of my future?
  4. How will I better organize the things I’m keeping? Invest in the right kind of storage. That might mean a laundry hamper, rolling drawers, or paper dividers. (#CommissionsEarned)

[Use This Free Guide To Organize Everything Today]

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How to Declutter Tip #3: Think Once

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.

Ask Yourself

  1. What is one particularly “tangled knot” that most needs a think-once solution?
  2. Solving which problem would most reduce my tension or frustration?
  3. 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.

Ask Yourself:

  1. What stuff is running loose that needs to be compartmentalized?
  2. What containers do I have (or need) to corral those rascals?
  3. How can I make the system “mess proof?”
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The Organizing Products That Work Best for ADHD Brains

  1. Plastic storage bins hold items you decide to keep and can be stacked easily so they don’t take up floor space. Buy for $39.99. (#CommissionsEarned)
  2. Flat sorting carts are great for organizing paper materials. The wheels make reorganizing quick and doable. Buy for $47.99. (#CommissionsEarned)
  3. Poly project view folders are good for keeping documents separate but easily readable and findable. Buy for $6.53. (#CommissionsEarned)
  4. Super sticky post It notes are a “save your place” essential. Buy for $9.47 (#CommissionsEarned)
  5. A stapler in the office and kitchen can help with keeping documents together. Buy for $11.80. (#CommissionsEarned)
  6. Desk drawer office organizers which would traditionally store pens and highlighters can double as storage space for personal items like glasses. Buy for $10.39. (#CommissionsEarned)
  7. A handbag with multiple pockets and compartments helps to minimize clutter. Buy for $17.90. (#CommissionsEarned)
  8. Transparent kitchen “snapwear” is another efficient form of office storage (and might help create space in your kitchen pantry! Buy for $13.79. (#CommissionsEarned)
  9. Rubbermaid drawer organizing containers solve the problem of overcrowded drawers by designating specific places for each item. Buy for $14.00. (#CommissionsEarned)
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How to Declutter Tip # 5: Label Everything

A “label gun(#CommissionsEarned) is a helpful addition in any ADHD household. Put labels on pantries, in drawers, outside of drawers. Labels can title objects and also provide directions.

Next Steps:

  1. Ask yourself, what do I consistently lose or have to spend time figuring out over and over (e.g. which charger goes with each device)?
  2. Set a date to a) buy a labeler b) Find the one you already bought or c) ask for help to get started? _____________________

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

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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.

Ask Yourself:

  1. Which ADHD ideas that already work for me can be used to get organized?
  2. 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.

Ask Yourself:

  1. What stops me from putting away the things I use or pull out?
  2. 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.

The content for this slideshow came from Linda Roggli's webinar, "Conquer Clutter, the ADD Way: 7 Practical Steps To Organizing A Messy House." You can watch the replay here

How To Declutter: Next Steps

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#CommissionsEarned As an Amazon Associate, ADDitude earns a commission from qualifying purchases made by ADDitude readers on the affiliate links we share. However, all products linked in the ADDitude Store have been independently selected by our editors and/or recommended by our readers. Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.