Having an organized physical environment helps ADHDers feel calm, organized and improves focus and concentration.
It can be a Catch-22 though, because ADHD symptoms make creating and maintaining an organized environment a challenge (you can learn why that is here).
The biggest sabotager of an organized space is definitely clutter!
There are two types of clutter: items you use regularly and items you use rarely.
Regularly used items
These day to day items are regularly used. However, in the wrong place they become clutter. For example, you might pop items down on the dining room table. Then by the end of the week the table is completely covered with unopened letters, newspapers, the contents of your gym bag, etc.
Rarely used items
The second type of clutter is items that haven’t been touched for months or possibly years.
Text books from school (you graduated decades ago), cushion covers from an old sofa, sport equipment, out of date clothes, a decorative cake stand in case you ever learn to bake, etc.
This article is about the rarely used items that are creating clutter in your home.
Twenty years ago, organization guru Julie Morgenstern wrote a book called SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck.
Many other books have been written about decluttering since this was first published. However, there is a key idea in this book which is incredibly helpful for ADHDers.
Julie makes the connection between hoarding your belongings and staying stuck in life. She says it is really hard to move forward in life when you have the physical and mental reminders of the past.
She gives a powerful personal example of how her old belongings were preventing her from moving forward.
Ever since she was 8 years old, Julie had a passion for theatre. She lived and breathed theatre life, first at her local community theatre, then as a theatre major in college. In grad school she studied theatre direction. Finally she arrived in New York City and worked with off-Broadway theatre companies.
In her late 20’s, Julie became a mom and the long hours of theatre life weren’t compatible for her and her young daughter. Looking for stable income and work hours, Julie started her own business as a professional organizer. The business took off and was a huge success. In its third year it reached a plateau and seemed to stay there.
Then one day at home, Julie’s eyes fell on six boxes of theatre production books (her old life) that were living under her dining room table. She decided to sort through them and clear the space. It felt like a brave thing to do. However, within two months of decluttering those boxes, Julie witnessed a remarkable growth in her business (her current life).
Julie’s philosophy of clearing belongings that don’t represent your current life or where you are heading gives a deeper meaning to getting rid of clutter. That is why it’s so helpful to ADHDers.
Decluttering is a boring, attention-to-detail and mundane task – everything that ADHDers usually try to avoid! However, when you link decluttering to a bigger picture, it becomes meaningful. That in turn allows you to feel motivated to do even the dullest task.
Plus, if you feel stuck or behind in life and not sure how to move forward, decluttering is a practical step you can take right now.
Here are 6 steps to help you declutter
1. Pick a theme
Julie suggests picking a theme for the next chapter of your life. When you know what your theme is, it is much easier to decide if an item should stay or go.
Are you a singleton, empty nester, freshly graduated or about to embrace a new healthy lifestyle? Identify your theme and pick a few positive words to describe it.
2. Choose decluttering areas
Select the areas you want to declutter. You probably know where your clutter is lurking. There might be a little in every room, or you might have one room that is “off limits.”
3. Write it down
On a piece of paper, write down the areas you are going to declutter. Even if you usually hate writing things down, or lists, don’t skip this step! It helps you turn a vague idea into a concrete plan with an end point. It also helps you to see the progress you are making.
4. Do 15 minutes at a time
Grab your kitchen timer and work for fifteen minutes on your decluttering project. If you are inspired to do more than fifteen minutes, go for it, but don’t burn yourself out. 15 minutes might not seem like a lot but slow and steady wins the race.
5. If in doubt…
If you are unsure whether to donate, throw out or in some other way get rid of an item, remember your theme. Does this item fit in with the next chapter of your life?
6. Reward yourself
Reward yourself along the way. Rewards help to keep you motivated and enjoy the decluttering process.
EDIT/UPDATE 12/9/21: Clear and Calm is available as a self-study course! Click here for access