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Clutter and ADHD

When it comes to managing clutter and being organised, do any of these seem familiar to you?


“I find mess and disorder incredibly stressful but just can't get on top of it”

“I’m so disorganised, I’m always losing things or forgetting appointments”

“I tend to make impulsive purchases of things I don’t need”

“I find it really difficult to focus on projects that take a long time to complete”

“When I’m decluttering, I find myself getting distracted by things like old photos or letters and lose sight of the big picture”

“I have difficulty finishing a decluttering project, I tend to get frustrated and give up”


If you recognise yourself in any of these descriptions, then you are not alone.


We have been decluttering professionally since 2015 and one of the things we have noticed is that some people simply seem to find decluttering and organising much more difficult than others. Just as some people are artistic and others are not, or some people love maths while others hate it, so it is with keeping on top of household organisation.


In recent months it has come to light that some of our clients who seem to struggle the most, have in fact been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). In most cases they have been given this diagnosis as an adult, rather than having known about it since childhood.


In some ways this has been a relief to them as they have been given an insight into why certain things have been so difficult for them – it is not because they are lazy, or untidy, it is because they have a medical condition.


Having done some more research into this topic, we find it absolutely fascinating, and wonder if in fact ADHD is more common among our decluttering clients than among the rest of the population. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure, but if you think you, or a loved one may have ADHD here is some information about it and some tips on how to manage clutter successfully when you have it.


First of all, what is ADHD?


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people's behaviour. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may tend to act on impulse. Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and these days most cases are diagnosed in childhood.


However, in many cases especially in the older generations it is likely that ADHD has not been diagnosed and so adults may have it without knowing what it is or being aware of its impact.


People with ADHD are often incredibly creative and interesting people. Unfortunately, however they may struggle with certain things such as:


  • Routines like getting to sleep at night or getting ready for work/school

  • Being organised – remembering appointments, meeting deadlines.

  • Difficulty maintaining attention and focus especially on routine tasks.

  • Impulsive behaviour and difficulty focussing.

  • Impatience and managing emotions especially when under stress.

ADHD can be hard to live with. It seems that issues such as anxiety disorder and depression can often co-exist with ADHD. We have certainly found that many of our decluttering clients report having had these conditions.


ADHD and Clutter


Some people with ADHD thrive in an environment that other people might see as messy, but they see as “creative chaos.


For example, it’s quite common for people with ADHD to have untidy desks, multiple projects on the go at one time, and to be surrounded by lots of photos and memorabilia. People with ADHD often love to make lists and put reminders on post its or scraps of paper. There may be piles of paper around or things that are being kept “just in case” they are needed.


None of this is necessarily a problem. It would be so boring if we all lived in neat and tidy boxes!


However, it could be a problem if the amount of clutter is starting to interfere with your ability to manage every day household tasks, if you are at physical risk of tripping over things or from things falling on you, if you are losing time or money because you have lost important things, or if you have to keep buying things to replace things you can’t find.


And of course, if other people in your life like your partner or your boss are finding your clutter problematic, then maybe it’s time to sort it out.


How to declutter when you have ADHD


The very nature of your condition means you might find decluttering difficult. Organising, sorting, staying focussed, and making decisions are all likely to be things you struggle with.


The irony is that decluttering might actually be a great way to help reduce your stress and improve your ability to stay organised. A cluttered environment can actually make it much harder for you to focus and concentrate. Less clutter tends to mean fewer distractions, and less stuff means less time needed to clean, tidy and organise which leaves you more time to do the things you enjoy.


So although you might find that decluttering does not come as easily to you as it might to others, there are some ways you can help yourself, and here are our top suggestions:


Make it yours - systems and processes designed by other people (who don’t have ADHD) are unlikely to work for you. Don’t feel bad if they don’t - what’s important is find your own ways of working that are more user friendly for you.


For example, rather than having lots of post it notes around the place with reminders on, could you use your mobile phone or an electronic device (like an Alexa) to send you reminders or keep lists?


Find your focus – if you have a specific goal to work towards, that can help. Set yourself a motivating goal such as being able to have friends to stay for the weekend and work towards that.


Keep it simple – find a super simple system to help you make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. Stick to that system, one object at a time. This will help you not to get involved in mental discussions with yourself about whether or not to keep something. You can download a handy pdf to help you with this here.


Break it down – you are likely to find a long drawn out decluttering session very overwhelming. Think about breaking it into small chunks and setting a timer – just 15 mins can make a huge difference to a room.


Make it fun – decluttering can seem like a huge drag, and a chore. However one of the strengths people with ADHD often have is creativity – so why not see if you can harness that creativity and find ways to make decluttering more interesting. Could you ask a friend to help you? You could set aside a specific time to tackle a small but manageable project, and then make sure you do something fun afterwards.


Keep clutter out of the home - one very important thing to consider is where does the clutter come from in the first place? Do you buy things impulsively like in the charity shop or when things are on sale? Are you unable to resist a “bargain”? Or do people pass on their own unwanted items to you knowing that you won’t be able to say no?


Have a good think about this, as stopping the clutter building up in the first place is going to be very helpful to you. Develop a strategy to avoid impulse shopping, such as making a list before you shop, or leaving your credit card at home.


How we can help

As professional declutterers, we are used to working with all sorts of people in all sorts of different homes and there is not much that fazes us. So, if you’re feeling embarrassed about your clutter or worry that you might be judged, then please don’t.


When we come into your home for a decluttering session, here are some of the things we can do for you:


Help you look at your home more objectively, so you make a plan for what needs to be done. We can help you break this down into steps which make it seem more manageable and less overwhelming.


We can help you with the physical process of decluttering and making decisions about what should be kept and what could be let go.


We can help keep you focussed on the task in hand so that you are not caught up in your own mental chatter and don’t get distracted by details.


We can help you design simple, manageable systems and processes to help you keep on top of the clutter in future.


Our presence brings energy and momentum into your decluttering project, we help make it more fun and keep you going when it might feel like you are flagging.


We can help you tidy up and finish off at the end so that you feel a sense of completeness and satisfaction at a job well done. We’re happy to help with the loose ends that often derail a decluttering job like putting out the recycling or taking things to the charity shop.


Where to learn more


In addition to coming into your home and helping you declutter, we recently launched an online decluttering course “Decluttering for Life”.


The entire course is 25 lessons over 5 modules that you can complete at your own pace, and you have unlimited access so can go back and revisit it at any time.


The course costs about the same as one decluttering session with us but gives you all the skills and tools you need to do your own decluttering. It also includes a full hour of individual online coaching with us.


If you are really interested in understanding the psychology of clutter, and what might be holding you back, we are sure you would enjoy this course.


Not only that but we also give you lots of practical tips and advice on how to declutter, from how to make decisions about an item to how to get rid of your unwanted stuff.


More information


You can read more about us at our website here

To find out more about decluttering sessions with us in your own home here

To find out more about the Decluttering for Life course here


If you have any questions or would like to chat about what we do, don't hesitate to get in touch.


Best wishes


Sue & Claire



Disclaimer:

We are not qualified as clinical psychologists and are unable to diagnose or treat ADHD or any other psychological condition.

It’s important to remember that almost everyone has some symptoms similar to ADHD at some point in their lives. If you only have some of these issues, or they come and go, then it’s likely you don’t have ADHD.

However, if you have these symptoms and they are persistent, or they affect your day to life significantly, our advice would be to see a doctor in the first instance, and they may be able to refer you on for additional support.


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