Updated: Nov 7
I'm someone who was diagnosed late in life. In fact, I learned that I had ADHD after I started my career as a professional organizer.
Getting that diagnosis and understanding its impact on my life has been the most helpful tool in both decluttering my own home and then helping my clients to do the same.
I will share with you the ways that I have found my ADHD to be useful when it comes to decluttering. And the ways that it can be really frustrating. Most importantly, though, I'm recording this episode to prove to you that it is not impossible for people with ADHD to get good at decluttering even if that voice in our head is telling us otherwise.
Now, I know that those of you with ADHD are probably thinking, "man, she's crazy to think that there are any aspects of it that I would consider to be helpful when it comes to decluttering." In my experience, tasks like decluttering can be an absolute nightmare for us. And I'm going to address that. But first, I want to acknowledge the positive things that ADHD brings to the table.
What a lot of people don't immediately realize is that there are some aspects of ADHD that are really useful when it comes to decluttering.
The fact that we can hyper-focus on a project for hours on end can be super helpful.
If we can make the cluttering a priority for us. Once we decide that a task like that is important to us, we will dive in headfirst and won't come up for air until the job is done.
Ability to work extremely well under pressure.
This has come in handy for me on many occasions as a professional organizer. Because my client sessions are in five-hour blocks, I'm able to use that time constraint to crank out ridiculous amounts of productivity. This is the aspect of ADHD that most of my clients comment on. They will say things like, "I cannot believe the amount that you can accomplish in just one session. " Or, "just watching me work is exhausting." They're also very quick to mention how they've noticed that I don't take time to stop for bathroom breaks or to eat anything.
What they don't realize is that something as little as switching gears from working to eating for five minutes can bring my productivity to a complete halt. And honestly, I don't even notice signs of hunger or the need to go to the bathroom when I'm in the zone. This is the other reason I don't allow myself to spend more than five hours in a session. you best believe that all my spidey senses start going off as soon as I open that garage door at home. My family has learned that it is best not to talk to mommy until she's had her potty break and a snack after a job.
Outside of these few things that work in our favor, there are many obstacles that ADHD can bring about.
The biggest is our struggle with a thing called Task Initiation.
If we have any hesitations about a task, it can be really difficult for us to get started. The crazy part is that our reservations don't even have to be realistic. With something like decluttering there are multiple reasons that we might have trouble getting started. It could be that we're overwhelmed by the number of items that we have to go through. It could be that we don't quite know the right steps to get the task completed effectively or it could just be that it doesn't seem very interesting. If any of these thoughts are involved, our bodies flat-out reject the idea of starting.
When I was decluttering my own home before my diagnosis, I can remember feeling so confused and frustrated. I couldn't understand why it was so difficult to just do the thing. My lack of diagnosis and understanding of task initiation, probably added years to my journey to get my own home organized, and certainly made my first few clients' experiences a lot more difficult.
Now, my newfound knowledge has helped me to find effective solutions to make the process much easier. As I mentioned before, task initiation is the most common problem, but it can stem from a few different hesitations that we have. The key is to figure out which of these hesitations are holding you back and focus on solutions to put them at bay.
The first of the hesitations is the feeling of being overwhelmed because the overall project just seems too big. To combat this, I always advise that you break the decluttering project into multiple smaller projects. Instead of committing to doing the entire kitchen, commit to going through one drawer. If you want to go through your closet, just commit to going through your sock drawer today, you can pick up another type of clothing the next day. Eventually, you'll be able to tackle more than one at a day and task initiation won't be an issue anymore.
The second is that the task seems too complex and has too many components. Typically, people with ADHD struggle in some capacity with prioritizing, and we try to do all the things simultaneously. We pride ourselves on being master multitaskers because we tend to jump from task to task a lot. But I have found that this usually isn't very effective and can be mentally draining. In reality, we benefit more from breaking large projects like decluttering, down into smaller, simpler mini-projects.
With my clients who are struggling with overwhelm. The first mini-projectWith my clients who are struggling with overwhelm. The first mini-project that I always start with is eliminating the trash. We touch every item in the space and decide whether it is trash or not. We don't make any other decisions about the items until all of the trash is eliminated.
that I always start with is eliminating the trash. We touch every item in the space and decide whether it is trash or not. We don't make any other decisions about the items until all of the trash is eliminated.
Once we have all the trash out of the way, we take a break and celebrate our accomplishments. And begin our next mini project that I like to call the big sword. We go back through the items that remain in the space and simply sort them into three categories. Items to keep in the space items to give away or sell, and items that belong in another room.
This leaves us with three piles of items to take action on one. But the decluttering portion of the project is actually complete at this point, putting away the items that will remain selling and donating items that you no longer want. And putting away things that belong elsewhere is considered organizing.
The third, and probably most frustrating reason that we hesitate to get started in decluttering is that it just doesn't seem super appealing to us right now. It doesn't matter how important it is to us or how much having the clutter drives us crazy. If there is no appeal to the task, our bodies simply reject the idea of getting started. This amazing gift bestowed upon us ADHD years is exactly the reason that many of us label ourselves lazy and broken. It doesn't always make sense. But I'm here to tell you that this doesn't make it any less real.
If you find yourself unable to take action and have no logical explanation as to why you are not lazy, you are struggling with task initiation. The disconnect between the desire for long-term results and motivation at the moment is something that I have spent a lot of time learning about. And doing my research and using my own experiences.
I've learned that the short-term motivation needed to get started with tasks like decluttering is pretty easy to create.
I know it sounds a little silly, but there are ways to make even the most boring task instantly appealing to you.
Well, having ADHD can make it difficult to get started with the clutter. It is not impossible. Once you understand what hesitations are holding you back and you address them. You should have no problem getting the ball rolling and using that hyper-focus to make some amazing progress in getting your home decluttered.
As someone who struggles with this constantly in my own life, and as someone who is always looking for better ways to help my clients, I've spent a lot of time digging into finding the most effective tactics for a wide range of individuals. I've taken the knowledge that I've gained and created a free online quiz that helps you discover how to create your best organizational motivation.
This quiz gives you insight into the most effective tactics for you to use when you find yourself struggling with task initiation into cluttering. I have it linked below for anyone who wants to be prepared for their next attempt to declutter.