How Can I Declutter? 3 Powerful ADHD Home Organization Tips

Smiling facade, chaos underneath.

That’s how I used to describe my home and my mind before I learned how to organize both and keep it that way.

5 or 6 years ago, I came across a concept that completely shifted my perspective on clutter and organization.

What was this concept, you ask?

Your physical space is a reflection of your state of mind.

The first time I heard this idea, I realized how true it was for me. 

For years, I lived life as a giant bundle of stress and overwhelm.

I had constantly racing, anxious thoughts, which I hid behind the facade of a smile.

I kept trying to convince everyone (including myself) that I had it all together.

Similarly, when you’d walk into my apartment, at first glance, it looked okay.

The surfaces were relatively clean.

But then you’d open a cabinet door, and things would come tumbling out. 

Or my closet doors would hardly close because I had so much stuff in there.

Smiling facade, chaos underneath. 

Once I started seeing this connection between my emotional state and the state of my house, things shifted.

I started coaching my ADHD brain and learning how to navigate my racing thoughts. 

I learned how to work more efficiently with less overwhelm so I could actually enjoy the process.

And I finally released the excess physical stuff that was no longer serving me.

In other words, I decluttered my brain, I decluttered my stuff, and I was finally able to organize my life in a way that worked best for me. 

And in episode 116 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re diving into part one of a two-part series on all-things decluttering and organization. (Check out part 2 here!)

I’m sharing how you, too, can declutter your mind, declutter your life, and get organized.

Are you in?

Then listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here: 

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In This Episode, You Will Discover

  • Why and how to declutter before organizing
  • The underlying reasons why we have so much clutter in the first place
  • How to cut off clutter from the source so we can keep it at bay going forward

Links From The Podcast

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Episode #116: How Can I Declutter? 3 Powerful ADHD Home Organization Tips (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson. Episode number 116.

Hey, friends. How are ya? Welcome to the podcast. I have to tell you, I have had decluttering on my mind for the last few weeks. I know this is often common for people in the spring, but I seem to get it twice a year – both in the spring and the fall. And it seems that many of you do, too. I’ve received several requests and questions about how to declutter our stuff. How to get organized. And what we can do to keep it that way.

So I decided to do a deep dive into the topic of decluttering in a two-part series. And I think both parts are equally necessary in order to help us not only declutter and get organized but also STAY organized for the long haul. So if you haven’t yet subscribed to the podcast, be sure to do so so you don’t miss next week’s episode. And while you’re there, would you leave me a quick review?

Now like I said, the two parts of this series focus on both the action steps of how we actually get organized, as well as the mindset component – how we actually think about our stuff and buying stuff and getting rid of stuff. And while you may be thinking you only need the tips and strategies. You may be thinking, “just give me the step-by-step!” I promise you that it’s the mindset that allows you to maintain the work you did for the long run.

You see, I came across a concept that hit me hard several years ago now – it was back when I was really scrambling to stay on top of everything during grad school. And the concept was: your physical space is a reflection of your state of mind. 

Let me say that again. Our physical space – whether your house, your car, or your office at work  – is a reflection of our state of mind. 

And when I heard this idea and really slowed down to think about it, I realized how true it was for me. During school I was a giant bundle of stress and overwhelm with constantly racing thoughts hiding behind the facade of a smile, trying to convince everyone (including myself) that I had it all together.

And when you walked into my apartment, at first glance it looked okay, until you opened up a cabinet door and things would come tumbling out. Or you looked in my closet and the doors would hardly close because I had so much stuff in there. 

Smiling facade, chaos underneath.

And once I started seeing this connection between my emotional state and the state of my house, things shifted because I started coaching my brain and learning to handle my racing thoughts. I started learning how to do my work more efficiently with much less stress and overwhelm so I could actually enjoy the process of what I was doing.

And I finally released all of the excess physical stuff that was no longer serving me. I could let go of the things that I no longer used, didn’t fit, didn’t work, whatever. And when I was able to do that, I could create more open space in my life to just be.

And that visual shift in less stuff was an important one. It was important because it was an outward reflection of an inward transformation. I learned to let go of the physical things in my life without needing to bring more stuff in its place. And I similarly learned to release the overwhelming thoughts spinning around my ADHD brain without bringing in more stress and adding more to my plate. 

In other words, I decluttered my brain, I decluttered my stuff, and I was finally able to organize the things I wanted to have in my life in a way that worked best for me. 

And we’re going to talk about how to do that in these next two episodes. Part one today is a deep dive into organizing vs decluttering and getting to the root of why we have all this stuff in the first place. And part two has the action steps you need to start clearing the clutter and getting yourself organized.

Organizing vs Decluttering

First things first, let’s talk about organizing vs decluttering. So many of us think that getting organized is the first step. I know that’s what I used to think all the time. We tell ourselves: “I just need to get organized. I need to straighten out all of my stuff. Or I need to put everything in its place so I can create a sense of order and structure in my house.”

And then we tell ourselves we should head to The Container Store and buy every new organization tool and container available so we can organize and store all of the stuff in our home. Now, I am all in for organization. And I absolutely love the container store. It is not the first step. 

Rather, the first step is decluttering. You see, there is no use in getting a bunch of organizational containers and systems to organize a bunch of stuff that you don’t need or use or in your house, right? So we need to declutter our home first. We need to get rid of all of the extra before we think about organizing the things we intentionally decide to keep in our home.

So again, I am not saying don’t get things to help you stay organized. Instead, I am saying we want to be intentional about what we decide to organize in the first place. Sound good?

Why do we have so much stuff?!

Okay. So now that you’re going to hold off on getting more organizing containers – at least for the time being – let’s talk about why we’re dealing with all of this stuff in the first place. Why do we have this need to keep collecting and accumulating more and more stuff?

I think so many of us – myself included for a long time – often just dive in and get rid of things or donate things without ever questioning WHY we have so much of it. And if this sounds familiar – if you haven’t questioned WHY there is so much stuff – my guess is that you’ve experienced a bit of “clutter creep” on the other side. 

Maybe you’ve decluttered once, you tell yourself never again, but then within a matter of weeks or months, that space has managed to go back to what it was before. WHAT GIVES? Well, most likely we didn’t solve for the cause of the clutter. We didn’t solve for the problem.

We only addressed the symptoms. It’s like taking Ibuprofen for a broken arm, right? It may offer temporary relief from the pain, but the real solution is healing the bone. So we need to figure out the cause here, too.

Now, on one level, we have circumstances all around us that we want to blame. And these circumstances certainly play a role, but maybe not in the way that we traditionally think. They play a role in that it’s easier for our brain to think, “I need this. I want this. I must buy this.” whenever it sees some of these circumstances. 

So what do I mean here?

Consumer culture

Well, many of us live in a very strong consumer-based culture, especially if you’re from the United States. No matter where you turn you are bombarded with advertisements for the latest season of clothes, the newest gadget for the kitchen, the newest piece of tech, whatever it is the algorithm knows will catch your attention when you’re online.

And advertising has gotten SO GOOD as they work to convince us that if we just buy this next pair of yoga pants, or this set of pens, or this hair product or whatever, our lives will be easier, we’ll have more time, we’ll laugh all the time, and we’ll be filled with joy.

Now, our prefrontal cortex, the rational part of our brain, knows that’s a lot of pressure to put on a pair of yoga pants or a set of pens. But our toddler brain is on board with those advertisements. The toddler part of our brain gives into the impulse purchases or wants that quick hit of dopamine from buying something new. So it raises its hand and says, yes please! I want to make my life easier with that new set of pens. I want to be happier because I have those pants.

Easy of online shopping

And then you combine that with the incredible EASE with which technology has made the act of shopping. Remember the days when we would have to actually leave the house to buy stuff? Crazy, right? But seriously, there has been such a remarkable shift in the level of ease that allows us to buy basically anything we want with the click of a button. 

The resistance that used to be there in terms of getting in the car and driving to the store to see if they have what we’re looking for isn’t there anymore. And with the nearly instantaneous availability of next-day or 2-day shipping, it makes it so easy to keep adding to our piles of stuff.  

Living and working from home

And then finally, since many people during 2020 and into 2021 have spent much of their time living and working from home. And many companies are shifting their policies and making it an option to remain remote for work, many of us have dramatically increased our time spent at home. So as we brought our work life and school life into our home life, that added an additional layer of stuff that we need to manage. And while things may be shifting depending on where you live in the world, that doesn’t mean we have less stuff in the house unless you’ve already intentionally decluttered from that. 

So I’d love for you to pause here and check in with yourself. Do any of these circumstances sound familiar? Can you relate to any of them?

Circumstances isn’t the problem

Now, whether you can or not, we also need to recognize that it is not the circumstances specifically that make our house cluttered and unorganized. It is not the fact that we have more advertisements in front of our eyes than 20 years ago or the ease of online shopping that inherently makes us fill our houses with stuff. 

It may SEEM that way. But it is not the circumstance to blame. 

How do we know? 

If it was the circumstance, then EVERYONE would have the same experience. Everyone who had exposure to the same amount of advertisements or access to online shopping would have the same clutter issues, but it’s not that way. 

You probably know someone who still managed to keep their home free of clutter despite the increase in advertisements. And you may know someone else who has even more stuff that you do, despite you both having access to similar buying opportunities. 

So what gives? What is the problem here?

Clutter Creep

Well, the real cause for the clutter creep is our thoughts. And this is one of the big places where we want to start. We must declutter our minds. You see, it’s because we are seeing these advertisements so often that some of us have an easier time thinking to ourselves, “Oh! I probably need that.” Or, “that’s right! I’ve been meaning to get this new thing or that new thing for the house.”

This is especially true for people like me with ADHD who have that knee-jerk impulsivity to new things. We see the new item or the new product and we get so excited about it. We want to check it out and see how it works. And we can’t wait to try it for ourselves. 

Rather than taking time to pause and decide if we really need it, however, we instead click “buy now.” We get that quick burst of excitement that feels so good to our toddler brain. And in reality, this is true for so many of us, whether you have ADHD or ADHD tendencies or not. That’s WHY they’re called impulse buys, right? This is why candy and magazines and gum are located at the register if you go to the store. We give into them quickly on an impulse. 

Cut it off at the source

So the first step in helping with the clutter in our home is to cut it off at the source. Don’t bring it in the home in the first place! And one of the best ways we can do this is by identifying the impulsive thoughts that our brain offers whenever we decide to purchase something we don’t really need.

So I am going to share some of the most common impulse-buy thoughts that trick SO MANY of us into bringing more stuff into the house in the first place. And when I share them, I invite you to notice whether you have these thoughts too. Additionally, I encourage you to identify any other sneaky thoughts that get you to jump on the impulse. Because the sooner we can identify these thoughts, the sooner we can be aware of them the next time they pop up in our head. 

And then rather than acting immediately on that urge to buy the thing, we can pause. We can create some more space to be intentional about whether or not we want to actually bring this new item into the home or not.

So we often look for ways to justify the purchase and it might sound like: I need this for the house/bedroom/the kids/my office. We find a way to justify the purchase through the word NEED. My dad always used to challenge me on that. You don’t NEED it, you WANT it. So when your brain offers this thought, you can pause and question it. Is this true? Do I really NEED it?

Another big one is it’s on sale! It’s like losing money if I don’t buy it! We have this fear of missing out. Missing out on the deal, on the sale, on the product. Again, this is when we can check in with ourselves. Is this true? Am I really missing out? 

Or is it 5% off at Target and the red clearance sticker caught my eye. What if the opposite is true? How am I missing out if I DO buy it and bring MORE stuff into the house?

Others might be: It’s such a good deal. I’ll need it eventually (paper towels, soap, etc.). I’ve heard this is great!. It’s FREE! We also like to convince ourselves that buying the thing will make us feel better. This is why they call it retail therapy.  We buy stuff, we get a hit of dopamine and excitement because it’s shiny and new.

But spoiler alert, it doesn’t last. 

PLUS, it’s not the THING that’s making you feel better in the first place. It is your thought about it. Think about it. Consider the last time your partner or roommate bought something and brought it home that you weren’t particularly excited about. They’re STOKED and absolutely love it. You…strongly question their judgment. Why is this? It’s the SAME THING!

It’s because we have different thoughts about it. It is not the THING that makes you happy, it’s your thoughts about the thing.

So step one is identifying the thoughts that create the urge to buy on impulse. We want to bring these thoughts into our awareness and keep them front and center so that we cut off the clutter at the source. We prevent it from coming in the house in the first place.

Clutter in the house

Step two is the challenge of letting go of the things we already own. It can often feel even more challenging for us to let things go once they’ve crossed the threshold. The thing that was once an object in the store has now become our stuff. Now we think of these things as ours. We have possession over them. We’ve now given them meaning.

Some of those common thought errors are:

I might need it sometime. I’m saving it for my grandkids. I’m saving it for “just in case.”

Do you know this one? Does it sound familiar? How is that thought working out for you?

If you’re like me, it results in the collection of a whole bunch of stuff I never use, and I am also denying the opportunity for someone else to use it by donating it.

But it was SO expensive. It’s still in good condition!

Just like the “I might need it sometime,” this one is usually not helpful either. Regardless of how much money you spent, if you’re not using the things, you have a whole bunch of expensive clutter.  So again, you have stuff that’s in good condition or was really expensive gathering dust not being used…OR you could donate it and give it to someone who would LOVE to have it. 

What about you? What are some of the thoughts your brain offers when it comes to either bringing in more stuff (I need this! I want this) of getting rid of stuff? (I might need this later!)

This week I invite you to really dig in and raise your awareness of the thoughts your brain offers you. Notice when you’re out in the store and you feel that impulse to buy the thing at Target because it has that red clearance sticker. Pay attention to when you’re holding onto that sweater you don’t really like because it’s super itchy, but since it’s in good condition you keep in folded in your closet.

Start noticing and questioning your brain.

And thinking ahead to next week, consider what might need decluttering in your house. When you think about decluttering and getting yourself organized, what space in your life comes to mind first? 

  • Are your kitchen cabinets barely able to close because of all the appliances tucked away in there? 
  • Is your office buried under a pile of papers?
  • Is your closet filled with clothes you don’t even like anymore? 
  • Do you have that one “Monica closet” that gives you nightmares if you knew other people might see it? Shout out to any Friends fans out there, by the way.
  • Maybe it’s your car or your garage.

Spend some time raising your awareness in both of these areas, and next week we’ll create a plan to make that happen. 

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