Simplicity 101: Decluttering With ADHD

Decluttering when you don't have ADHD is hard enough.  But when you do ADHD?  It makes decluttering damn near impossible.  This is because most of us get so attached to our stuff that we don't know where to start.  So I've found (after forty some odd years of trying) a way to actually make it work and make it stick.  

Let me introduce myself again to you.  My name is Shay and I used to be a freaking messy ass bitch.  I am, I still kind of am, but I used to be soooooo much worse.  Like I was that kid who's desk was overflowing with stuff onto the floor and anyone who walked into my classroom could look around for a few seconds and say "Oh yeah, that's Shay's desk."  My room?  Was an organized mess.  Which meant my organizational style was "piles" of stuff everywhere.  I knew what was in those piles.  But to onlookers, I looked like a crazy hoarder.  And I kind of was.  And still kind of am with certain things (books, I hoard books!).  But I've found better ways to declutter than just sitting in front of my messes and saying "Well, I have no idea how to even start."  Because a type-A personality would walk in and just throw everything away (like my mother used to do to me).  But us more type-B's (or what I used to call us: type-CC, which stood for "creative chaos"), we see things in a layers.  We can't just start pitching things because our piles or stuff are carefully organized to which project we are working on at any given moment.  So decluttering for us has not as much to do with seeing our spaces become clean as much as it has to do with being a carefully cultivated space in which we can do our work.  Even if our work is just reading books, it doesn't matter.  What we do is important to us, so we need our spaces to hold the items we use regularly.  

The issue is when we have so much stuff that it interferes with our daily lives and the work we want to get done, then we need to figure out how to declutter it.  And here is how.

Decluttering with ADHD

Here is the trick to decluttering with ADHD: 

When you declutter, you need to do so in “passes”. I use a three pass system, but you can add as many as you need to. The trick is to get rid of as much as possible in each pass. But before you start, you need to throw away all the garbage you can find, which is not a pass, but needs to be done before the actual decluttering. Try not to fill up landfills with your garbage, so please recycle whatever items you can (this doesn't mean you should keep literal garbage--I mean find it a new home!) and burn your cardboard and paper (if you can't, know that most paper and cardboard is compostable, or just put it in your recycle bin). Also, if the garbage is not food related, you don't even need a garbage bag. Just place all of it into a box, and pour the box directly into your garbage can. And when all the garbage is gone from your area, start with your first pass.

The first pass is just the obvious stuff you no longer want. Box it up, get it into your car, and donate it. I could tell you to sell it at a garage sale and that may work. But I hate garage sales (though I love to shop them) because they are too much work for not enough money. AND they do not get your stuff out of the house fast enough. And the trick is to actually remove the clutter, not store it elsewhere in your house. So I just donate everything. If I have bigger items to sell? I use Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. So if you feel you need to, keep the bigger items and sell them and donate the rest. You'll thank me when you're not having to get up at 6 am and dragging tables out in your driveway and having to run out to go get your change because you forgot to do it the day before (or am I the only one who does that??).

After all that is gone, then go in for a second pass. The second pass is all the stuff you've been holding onto, but when you sit and think about having to store it or take care of it, you decide “Yeah, I really don't actually need this.” You could ask if it brings you joy, but if that answer is yes? Then ask yourself “Do I really want to take care of this item anymore? Do I want to put effort into maintaining a space for it this to stay in my house?” If the answer is no, in the donation box it goes. Then after you're done with the second pass, then get it all out to your car and donate the crap out of it. Or sell a couple items. But just get it all out of your house.

Now comes the third pass. This is for the stragglers. And it's for the items you think you want to keep but now you need to ask yourself “Do I really want or need this? Do I want to maintain keeping it around? Is this stuff worth my time, the space it takes up in my house, and will I ever, ever use it?” It's not enough at this point to ask if an item brings you joy or not, because it's so easy to look at things you've always had and say “Well, of course I want that! It's always been here!” But always being there isn't the same as “I need this or will use it someday.” If you think you will use it? Then use it. Right now. If it's a book? Open it up and read some of it. If it's an item of clothing? Put it on right now. Prove to yourself you really want to keep it and that it's actually bringing you joy. If you open that book and say “God, I don't like this. Why was I keeping it so long?” It's most likely because pictures speak to the parts of our brains that stores memories. A book cover, a picture on a shirt, or even the cover of a DVD can pull us into a nostalgic feeling that says “This item is mine. I get positive feelings from looking at it.” But those positive feelings may not have anything to do with the actual item itself, but rather only to do with the picture on the front or how it looks. So find a way to use that item immediately and see if it still brings you joy or not. If you slap that shirt on and say “Wowee! I looove this shirt!” Then baby, it's yours! Congrats, you're a master declutterer. If you find after your third pass you still have too much stuff? Then go in for a fourth and a fifth. Go until you are satisfied with the amount of stuff you have left.

But don't get pushed into getting rid of something you truly want. You don't want to be upset later over something, when you could have just held onto it and waited until you were ready to part with it. If someone is pushing you to get rid of something, then tell them you'll put into a “maybe later” box for now and come back to it when you've really thought about it. I know more than anyone how emotionally attached someone can get to their stuff. I am still in mourning from all the stuff I lost in 2018 (like EVERY SINGLE MOVIE WE OWNED—waaaahhhh our entire Harry Potter set is gone!) when we became homeless. So being forced to get rid of something without you letting it go (or even letting it go and forgetting you did later) can actually hurt for a very long time, even though it's just “stuff”. One thing I did when I didn't want to get rid of a lovely basket set I had since early childhood from a friend in another country was to write a goodbye letter to the baskets. And then I put a letter inside the baskets to my old friend who the baskets went back to. I said “Thank you for all the lovely years I've got to have with these, but they are going back to you now as I do not need them anymore”. And I never once mourned the loss of those baskets, even though it hurt to think about getting rid of them to begin with. Exploring my feelings about why they meant so much to me allowed me to purge those feelings onto paper instead of leaving it inside the baskets, where they've been for all my life.

Sometimes we have to treat our stuff like old friends or family members who are moving away. We have to give ourselves space to come to terms with the loss of our stuff and give ourselves proper ways to mourn them. Detaching from something we are greatly attached to isn't always easy. But if we stop feeling guilty for feeling this way and instead allow ourselves to process it, we can learn to detach from almost all our stuff. We can write our stuff good-bye letters, but we can also have good-bye parties, journal about what our stuff means to use (in depth), have funerals for our broken items (my sweet over-sized Buddha statue died during our move back home after being homeless), and pay our proper respects to it all. The world acts like we need to live these detached lives, and yes, that is something to strive for, as being attached to “things” only brings sadness when we lose them. But it's not something we are all born knowing how to do. But it is something we can all learn.

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