Living with ADHD is a journey filled with paradoxes, and one of the most profound is our relationship with our possessions. On the one hand, we gather and hold onto things for a myriad of deeply personal and psychological reasons; on the other, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by the very clutter these items create. Understanding this dynamic is crucial, not only for navigating our physical spaces but also for managing our mental and emotional well-being.

The Why’s Behind Accumulation

Sensory Connection

For many with ADHD, our items are not just objects but sensory experiences. We might keep a variety of clothing to accommodate fluctuating sensory needs or accumulate gadgets that satisfy a tactile urge. These items promise comfort in a world that often feels too loud, too bright, or too fast.

Adhd and visual aids

Social Preparedness

Another layer is the desire to fit in, to be prepared for any social scenario. We collect outfits for every possible occasion, fearing the judgment that might come from being underprepared. This collection serves as our armour in a world where social cues and norms can feel like a foreign language.

Memories and Emotional Attachments

Items become containers for memories, tangible connections to moments or people we fear losing. Each object tells a story, holds a laugh, a tear, a milestone, making the idea of parting with it feel like losing a piece of our history.

woman overwhelmed by messy closet.

Impulsive Shopping

Impulsive shopping is another facet, often driven by the ADHD brain’s search for dopamine—a quick hit of pleasure or excitement. The rush of acquiring something new can be intoxicating, momentarily satisfying the craving for stimulation. However, this impulse can lead to a cycle of accumulation and overwhelm, as items quickly transition from treasures to clutter.

Strategies for Navigating Clutter with ADHD

If this delicate balance between wanting the comfort of having things around and the overwhelm that comes with too much visual clutter sounds familiar, remember, you’re in good company. Today I am sharing my favourite tips and tricks. As an ADHD coach, I am aware that preferences are everything for the ADHD brain and that not every strategy will resonate with everyone. For that reason, I have lots of options for you to consider and the intention is that you pick and choose what you think will work for you.  

Adhd and visual aids

Acknowledge the Complexity: Understand that while having too many things can be overwhelming, aiming for minimalism might not align with how your ADHD brain works. It’s about finding your unique balance.

Embrace the Purge (with Compassion): If you’re feeling buried, it’s time for a declutter. This might feel daunting, but it’s a crucial step towards a more manageable space.

  • Creative Keepsakes: If letting go is hard, transform bulky mementos into photo books or scrap quilts. This keeps the memory without the clutter.
  • The ‘Maybe’ Bin: Unsure about certain items? Place them in a ‘maybe’ bin. If you don’t use them within six months, it might be time to say goodbye.
  • Purposeful Rehoming: Knowing your items will be cherished elsewhere can make parting easier. Find homes or charities that align with the value you place on your things.

Invest in Open Organization: Everything needs a visible, accessible ‘home.’ Avoid storage solutions that hide items away or make access a puzzle. Out of sight often means out of mind, and out of use, in ADHD land.

Implement Rotation Systems: Keep only what’s currently in use by rotating items, such as seasonal clothing or gear. This approach works wonders for children’s toys too, keeping their play areas fresh and manageable.

Adhd and visual aids

Establish Visual Systems: Use labels, color coding, or clear containers to make organization visually intuitive. This not only helps in remembering where things belong but also makes the process of putting things away less of a chore.

Prioritize Daily Items: Identify the items you use every day and make sure they’re the easiest to access. This reduces daily decision fatigue and keeps your most essential items from getting lost in the clutter.

Streamline with Multi-functional Solutions: Simplify by finding one item that serves multiple purposes, effectively reducing clutter while still catering to your needs. For example, consider a towel poncho for each family member that doubles as both a beach cover-up and a towel, eliminating the need for multiple towels and cover-ups. This approach not only saves space but also makes packing and organizing for outings more efficient.

Develop an Impulsivity Plan: Address impulsive shopping by pausing to explore the ‘why’ behind each purchase. Is it a search for dopamine or a genuine need? Implement a ‘three-day rule’—wait for three days before making a non-essential purchase. This cooling-off period can help differentiate between impulse and necessity, reducing clutter from unwanted items.

Seek Joy in Letting Go: Focus on the feeling of relief and space created by decluttering. Emphasizing the positive outcomes can make the process more rewarding and less overwhelming.

Routine Check-ins: Regularly review your belongings to prevent accumulation. A monthly or seasonal check-in can help keep your space in harmony with your needs and prevent clutter from building up again. I personally do this in the spring and the fall.

Connect with Others: Sharing the journey with friends or a support group can provide motivation and accountability. Sometimes, a decluttering buddy can make all the difference.

Final Thoughts

Managing clutter with ADHD extends beyond simple organization; it involves a deep understanding of our habits and impulses, including the drive for impulsive shopping. By acknowledging the reasons behind our accumulation, from sensory needs and social preparedness to emotional attachments and dopamine-seeking, we can apply strategies that address the root of the issue. Implementing practical steps such as embracing decluttering with compassion, investing in open organization, and developing an impulsivity plan can create a living space that reflects our needs and supports our well-being. This journey towards a clutter-free environment is not just about tidiness but embracing a lifestyle that fosters clarity, calm, and joy for those of us navigating life with ADHD.

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