The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Tag: decluttering (page 1 of 2)

Organizing & ADHD: what’s in my library?

A reader recently asked: do you have any resources for decluttering or journaling with ADHD?

What a wonderful question to be asked! I write often about organizing because I find cluttered, messy spaces stressful and overstimulating. A chaotic environment begets a chaotic mind, and vice versa. I suspect I’m in good company among people with ADHD.

Along the way, I’ve written about everything from note-taking on my bathroom mirror to reducing my junk mail, from participating in an online decluttering challenge to getting my visual-thinker husband to put his stuff away.

Of course, I’m a writer, and I’ve kept a notebook since the seventh grade. I’ve shared a peek inside my Bullet Journal once, and I’ll probably do it again.

What I’m reading now & what I’ve read along the way

My journey has been populated with life-changing writing from other people — that’s the reason I have so much to write about! I’ve read a few books about organizing and ADHD, and a few books about organizing in general. I also check in with some favorite minimalism-focused blogs when I need to re-center.

ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life was my first ADHD-specific organizing book. I read it years ago, and I recall it being especially useful for visual thinkers. I’m not a highly visual thinker, but I’m married to one, and I’ve had to learn a whole new world of organizing strategies to combat “out of sight, out of mind” anxiety. Many people with ADHD share this problem. There’s also a book called Organizing Solutions for People With Attention Deficit Disorder, which I know I got from the library several years ago but can’t remember much about. Rather than breaking strategies out by category, it has a section for each room in the house. It’s written by a professional organizer who works with ADHD clients, while ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life is co-written by a professional organizer and a renowned ADHD expert. If you can only get one, I’d recommend ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

As for general organizing books, I got a lot out of Unclutter Your Life in One Week. I received the author’s follow-up, Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter, for Christmas, and I’m psyched to read it. If you can’t snag the book, the accompanying Unclutterer website has lots of tips, too.

Speaking of blogs, I keep a few in my list to catch up on from time to time. My favorites are Becoming Minimalist and Be More With Less.

If you struggle with emotional attachments to things, or if typical organizing literature feels cold and unapproachable, I recommend Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up . Some of Kondo’s advice feels like a stretch, especially for adults with ADHD, but it’s definitely worth a read. It helped me navigate my own feelings of guilt and attachment around stuff I don’t use or enjoy anymore.

And now, for what I consider the bookends of my ADHD journey. Many years ago, I read a book called It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. It changed my life. It doesn’t focus on ADHD, though the author does mention it. The writing exercises spoke to me through my love of journaling and writing things down. As I progressed through the book, the text guided me through an inventory of everything my disorganization was costing me — emotionally, physically, and financially. It was a sobering moment, and the beginning of my realization that I needed help. Later, when I sought diagnosis and medication for my ADHD, this quantification of how it affected my life proved invaluable. It’s Hard to Make a Difference also taught me, then a recent BFA graduate, that extreme disorganization wasn’t an indicator of creativity. I could be a creative person without living in chaos, and I could be happier and more productive.

Finally, I owe the biggest debt to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If It’s Hard to Make a Difference turned on the lights, Getting Things Done showed me the way out.

Enough from my library. What are your top life-changing reads about getting organized with ADHD?

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Unfortunately, every parenting win springs from impulse control.

Parents with AdultADHDAn interaction I had with my three-year-old a couple months ago blew me away. I should’ve been delighted. Instead, I felt deeply sad. And I knew I couldn’t say a thing.

We’d talked about his books before. He had too many to fit on his shelves. One day, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want to give Little Critter Snowball Soup away.”

I was flabbergasted. This was one of his favorite stories, one we’d read over and over and over again. He hadn’t asked for it lately, but I was still shocked he’d get rid of it. We talked more. He understood what he was saying: he didn’t enjoy the book anymore and wanted someone else to love it as much as he’d loved it. It needed to become someone else’s favorite.

Then he started pulling more books from the shelf, saying “I only wanted to read this one five times,” and “I don’t enjoy this one anymore.”

Our children mirror us.

As anyone who knows me will attest, my son did only what I taught him to do. I’m an aspiring minimalist, and I believe minimalism has special benefits for people with ADHD. I also believe self-efficacy is the most important gift I can give my child.

My son is generous, thoughtful, and capable of making his own choices. He’s learning to part with material things — even old favorites — that he no longer enjoys.

He needs a mom with impulse control. A mom who knows how to keep her mouth shut and let him do his thing. I haven’t always been that person, but I’m working at it every day.

We don’t start out choosing our reactions.

My core values as a parent, homemaker, and person demand a pretty high level of impulse control. This is something I totally lacked at the beginning of my ADHD journey. Before I started learning about and medicating my ADHD, I didn’t choose my reactions to people and events in life. I didn’t know a choice existed. I thought what happened inside also happened outside — for everyone.

During my first week on stimulant medication, I described in my journal this gap that had opened up between stimulus and response. I felt like I’d discovered a time warp. I gained a few critical seconds (maybe even milliseconds) to notice what I was feeling and attempt to control how I expressed it.

Kids need parents who stay out of the way

Getting out of the way: tough for any parent, tougher for ADHD parents.

Plenty of parenting books warn against emotional reactions when we’re angry. What about when we’re bittersweet, or when we doubt our child’s choices? It broke my heart to part with some of those books. I desperately wanted to intervene, even though intervening would question his judgement (you’re getting rid of that one?) and undermine his generosity (what if I just hold onto these on my bookshelf?).

I didn’t intervene. He wanted to wish the books well on their journey to someone else. I was as proud of myself as I was of him. My ability to keep my mouth shut empowered him to make his own choice and stand behind it. He felt capable of solving a problem on his own, and I got out of his way. I trusted him. He gained confidence in himself.

This would be hard for anyone, but for someone with a clinically diagnosable deficiency in shutting up? Let’s just say, I never thought I’d see the day. I gave myself time to mourn the books, but after my son was asleep. Burdening him with my complicated emotions — at least in this context — wouldn’t benefit him at all.

Be quiet and leave space for others.

Sometimes, keeping quiet and leaving space for others in our relationships is the most supportive, loving thing we can do.

For adults — and especially parents — with ADHD, it’s also the hardest thing. Our emotions overwhelm us, our reptile brains take over, and we often stop to think long after we’ve already spoken.

But the rewards make it worth it to keep trying, and to take good care of myself and my brain. Because I owe it to my kid, who’s already a better person than I am.

Derailment, ADHD, & the Pit of Domestic Despair

Toward the end of March, my immune system sabotaged all my good habits. My son brought home a bug that hardly affected him, but — like the evil kid illness it was —  gave me 12 days of low-grade fever. I muddled through. Mostly. But I didn’t exercise, hardly set foot in my office, and got off track with my daily habits. Clutter piled up and projects stagnated. I lost sight of wellness and productivity and couldn’t imagine either being part of my life again.

I was headed straight for the Pit of Domestic Despair.

Fortunately, I’m aware of ADHD’s time blindness. Though it wasn’t deeply reassuring, I told myself I wouldn’t be sick forever.

I also repeated, over and over, “it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.”

Habits break, systems break, and it’s not the end of the world — or even the good habit.

Or, rather, it doesn’t have to be.

Derailment,ADHD,& thePit of Domestic Despair

“No, thanks” to self-loathing. “Yes, please” to equanimity.

ADHD does more than make it tough to stay on course. Through years of repeated failure, we teach ourselves that failure is inevitable. New habits and projects excite us, but only to a point. By adulthood, our cynicism always lurks in the shadows, reminding us that success is fleeting. Yes, we’re doing it, but only for now. Only until the next time everything falls apart.

I’ve spent years learning to stay organized and form intentional habits, but my most important lesson has been in accepting failure. Everyone gets off track sometimes. Even people without ADHD. The key isn’t staying on the wagon, it’s knowing how to climb back on.

When a habit breaks or a project stagnates or a deadline gets missed, it’s not a confirmation of all my self-doubt and self-criticism. Letting the house get messy one week doesn’t signal a return to my “real” (i.e. unhappy, unfocused, disorganized, unproductive) self. It means I messed up. Or I had a fever for 12 days. It’s just a thing that happened.

This brings me to my favorite word: equanimity. It means remaining neutral in the face of life’s gains and losses, and it’s a skill I’ll be honing for the rest of my life. In this case, it means looking at my messy house and my broken habits, saying, “okay,” and moving on without much fanfare.

There’s usually something beyond Right Now (even if we don’t believe it).

I eventually felt better — obviously. And for the first time, I didn’t spend my first day on the mend beating myself up or lamenting the impossible task in front of me. I just got up and kept going. Slowly.

With the energy I saved by not spinning myself up to a state of intense despair, overwhelm, and self-loathing, I started to dig out of the Pit of Domestic Despair. I (finally) changed the sheets on our bed. I spent a week chipping away at my overflowing inbox. I attacked the accumulated clutter, bit by bit. I refused to start on any projects until I’d gotten back to a workable baseline. I spent my energy getting to a place where I could feel good again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this. To learn, for example, that instead of sitting in the house and complaining about my bad attitude, I should put on my shoes and go for a run. ADHD is often a problem of inertia. Overcoming inertia, even if we only take one itty-bitty, tiny step, is half the battle.

Everyone gets stuck. The more gracefully we can accept this and move on, the better. ADHD tempts us to believe Right Now is all there is. That makes messy surroundings and broken habits feel overwhelming and permanent. The Pit of Domestic Despair becomes a black hole. It’s taken me almost 32 years, but I’ve finally taken a leap of faith. I don’t always believe something better is waiting around the bend. I’m  just willing to inch my way over there and find out.

Ditching video games: more than making time & space

Around the turn of the new year, something amazing happened in our house: we got rid of most of our video games. This means less clutter, and I’m excited about the benefits for our family’s energy and willpower.

Mind you, no one really played these games, but my husband wished he could play them. I call this psychic drag, and it’s one reason I love decluttering.

When we hold onto certain kinds of things we don’t use — books, musical instruments, craft supplies, even video games — we don’t just hold onto the thing itself. We hold onto the idea of the thing, and our expectations for how it should be used.

video games

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizing expert Marie Kondo illustrates how excess stuff hinders self-awareness: “We aren’t sure what would satisfy us or what we are looking for. As a result, we increase the number of unnecessary possessions, burying ourselves both physically and mentally in superfluous things.”

Video games usually harbor less emotional baggage than, say, once-cherished musical instruments or a box of old love letters. That makes them a great place to start. Letting go is a learned skill. As we practice (and start reaping the rewards), we get better. We gain confidence to say goodbye to more things, and figure out what we want to make space (and time and money) for.

As Kondo says, “the best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”

Leaving our willpower in the bank.

Removing temptation from our home — be it video games or candy — also sets us up for success with other challenges.

That’s because willpower is a finite resource, just like money in the bank. As Stanford University professor Kelly McGonigal writes in The Willpower Instinct, “people who use their willpower tend to run out of it.” Dozens of studies have confirmed this. “Trying to control your temper, stick to a budget, or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength,” explains McGonigal. “Because every act of willpower depletes willpower, using self-control can lead to losing control.”

Knowing this, I don’t bring cable television or candy into our house. Getting rid of the video games was another big step in the right direction.

Visible, easily-accessible temptations give us a choice. Choosing not to indulge spends a precious resource. I’d rather use that self-control elsewhere: not yelling at my kid, for example.

Everyone can benefit from learning about the science of willpower. I’m especially mindful because people with ADHD start with a lower balance in our willpower bank. We can thank the prefrontal cortex: the part of our brain responsible for “controlling what you pay attention to, what you think about, even how you feel.” In the end, it controls what you do.

This area of the brain — the home of our so-called executive functions — is also where ADHD wreaks its havoc.

The big takeaway for me: more than the average family, it’s critical for us to define our priorities, then systematically remove distractions. Remove the option of channel-surfing or using the television as background noise. Remove the option of playing video games instead of board games with friends. Make sugary snacks unavailable. Strive, as much as possible, for a minimalist lifestyle.

Remove temptation, but also clutter, noise, and distraction. Make choosing the right thing just a little easier.

Science, not edicts.

When it comes to managing our household — setting routines, creating the weekly menu, decorating, deciding which possessions may stay and which must go — I try to back up my decisions with brain science. It’s harder to argue with science than a declaration of “I don’t want you wasting time on video games.”

The video games felt like low-hanging fruit: removing temptations and clutter at the same time? That’s what I call making room for what matters. It’s a simple change with a nice payoff, not to mention extra cash in my pocket after I sell them.

How about you? What have you let go of lately? Is it time to say goodbye to something that siphons off your time, money, or willpower?

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

life changing magic book reviewEver since I made the uncluttered space – uncluttered mind connection in my home, I’ve loved tidying up and paring down.

It’s still the most overwhelming project ever.

If you feel the same way and you’re looking for a different angle, try Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpFor those who find typical minimalism or organizing self-help books off-putting, prepare for a breath of fresh air. Kondo helps readers deal with the guilt, emotional attachment, and indecision that prevents so many of us from cleaning up our homes.

That said, even though the author insists you not do this, I’m giving you permission to take this book with a small grain of salt. More on that later.

First, the good: Kondo anthropomorphizes pretty much everything, which — to our American sensibilities — can feel almost silly. This may strike a pleasant chord with quirky, abstract-thinking ADHD readers. It got me out of my rut and out of my head just enough to make some tough decisions about my stuff. It’s easy to think circles around your complicated relationship with an object, but what if you just asked the object? What if it had feelings? How does that affect your decision to keep it in your home out of a sense of guilt or obligation? You get the idea.

life changing magic review pull quote

Likewise, Kondo’s central question — does it spark joy? — provides a refreshingly simple barometer, especially for sentimental items. Kondo gives the reader permission to let go. Those old love letters will live on inside us forever, and we don’t need to cling to them in the present.

The book’s prescriptive nature may put off some readers. Many of Kondo’s instructions sound like a tall order for larger families and/or people with small children. Including more of these families in the anecdotes may have made the book more approachable. From Kondo’s descriptions, most of her clients seemed like single people living on their own.

I wouldn’t write off the possibility of adapting the strategies to larger families, but Kondo insists on making no modifications to her program. I understand why  — she wants to promise her KonMari method will work for you — but I ended up feeling inadequate for the task. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and people with ADHD must be especially creative with their solutions. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up promises to change your life, but only if you do things exactly as the author says. I’m not 100% sold on that.

For whatever reason — family, financial, or just because you have ADHD — you may not feel like you can achieve a flawless implementation of Kondo’s method. I think that’s okay. This book makes an excellent companion to other organizing books, including the more nitty-gritty, but also somewhat drier, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has, indeed, changed my life. It cleared some major roadblocks in my journey to a tidier home, and for that I’m quite grateful. It’s a fast and easy read, and well worth it for ADHD adults seeking a more tidy and tranquil home.

Home economics: small hacks make a big difference

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

If you feel like you’re working too hard to maintain order at home, there’s hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

When it comes to ADHD in the home, the key is to work with it, not against it. Let go of expectations and figure out what really works for you.

Most importantly, make it easy on yourself. When something’s not working, don’t beat yourself up, refine your process.

Here are a few tips for a more peaceful, organized home.

Create supports where you need them

If you or your family struggle with the same thing(s) every day — like picking out clothes in the morning — you need strategy and communication, not tough love.

Example: after reading a parenting book that told me a five-year-old should be able to pack his own lunch, I decided my husband should, too. Except he often didn’t. Instead of berating him or just continuing to do it myself, I put a dry erase board (pictured below) on the fridge. He uses it for lunches, but I actually appreciate it most on weekends and on nights when he gets home late. Instead of interrupting me to ask, “what can I eat?” or “what can I give R. for snack?” he can assemble something from the food categories on the list.

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Keep rags, cleaner, and an old toothbrush under your bathroom sink…

…and if you have young children, clean during bath time. Every ADHD parent has gotten bored during bath time, so why not fidget with something productive?

Even if you don’t have kids, keeping all the supplies within arm’s reach allows anyone to clean up when they see a mess. Often, ADHD’ers notice the toilet could use a quick swish with the brush, but we’ll forget by the time we open the bathroom door. Once you remove this barrier, you might be surprised at the cleaning help you receive!

Use a highlighter

A highlighter can help you slow down, mark things you need to remember (like deadlines or supply lists), and catch important details.

I learned about highlighters’ magic powers in college. It was senior year, and we were learning to write grant proposals in Business of Art. Our professor suggested color coding with highlighters: using a different color to call out phrases we should regurgitate in the proposal, documents we’d need to attach, important dates/deadlines, etc.

In the years since, I’ve used this strategy to win thousands of dollars in grant funding, file my tax return, complete complex banking documents, and bring all the required items to our orientation meeting with R.’s preschool teacher. It’s probably the most practical skill I learned in college. Go figure.

DSC_6067

Fill donation bags as you receive them in the mail

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never trust yourself to drop anything off at Goodwill. We live in the city, and we often receive printed plastic bags from charities seeking clothing and houseware donations.

The charities mailing out these bags will pick them up — full of distracting, unwanted clutter — right from your doorstep. The bags are preprinted with contact information to schedule your pickup. It doesn’t get any easier.

Every time you receive one of these bags in the mail, unpack it right away and look for things to put into it.

Contain clutter and distractions (literally)

Baskets can save an ADHD household. Whenever I see a clutter hotspot forming, I ask myself, “would a basket solve this?”

For example, my husband used to store a lot of clothes on the floor. His reason: he planned to wear them again, thus they belonged to neither the closet nor the hamper. I bought him a basket for his in-use clothes and the clothing-on-the-floor issue disappeared.

Baskets and other open-top containers also help with out of sight, out of mind issues. If your family resists putting something away, they may just want to be able to see it (i.e., remember it exists).

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

A less conventional idea: create a home for distracting objects to get them out of your hands. Smart phones can kill your focus, not to mention family dinners. Our cell phone bin invites anyone in our home to deposit their phone, reduce distractions, and enhance our time together. It has made a huge positive impact on my everyday life.

What about you? What small change has delivered huge benefits to your household?

Former art student seeks minimalist lifestyle; giant paintings intervene

Last week, I opened my Feedly to a fun surprise: my question was featured on the Unclutterer blog’s Ask Unclutterer column! As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a big advocate of minimalist lifestyles, especially for ADHD adults and families.

Having experienced the rewards of minimizing, it now brings its own little dopamine rush. It’s like a game! But for the past few months, I’ve been struggling with a big puzzle: what to do with my old drawings, paintings, and prints left over from art school.

Here’s my dilemma as described in Ask Unclutterer:

I have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Even though I graduated what seems like a lifetime ago, many of my old drawings, paintings, and prints lurk in a basement closet. I recently framed a pair of lithographs to hang over the couch, and they are a delight. However, I live in a relatively small house and have no desire to upsize any time soon, so even if everything felt worthy of public display, I wouldn’t have space for it. Some of my paintings are so big, I’m not sure I know anyone with a large enough home to accommodate them.

To my delight, the answer to my question, while not clean cut, included plenty of tips for storing, gifting, or creating a display rotation for my art. I highly recommend reading the original post. Much of the information applies to sentimental clutter in general, not just old drawing studio homework.

As for me, I’m still puzzling — for now. I’d love to hear your stories!

Do you have any sentimental items that you don’t use or display, but can’t seem to part with?

Toys in the ADHD home: why everyone’s happier with less

Chances are, if you have children, you’ve watched toys slowly take over your home. Many parents say, “we have too many toys,” but defend this choice in the same breath.

But stop and think for a moment: how does your child behave when he’s surrounded by a hoard of toys? Content? Calm? Focused? More likely to share?

A huge toy collection does more harm than good. Too many toys create distraction, stifle imagination, and leave kids wanting more, more, more.

Toys

Fewer toys = more attention

Have you ever felt your attention and focus bounce around when you try to focus in a cluttered, messy space? When R. was just a baby, I noticed he’d get more fussy and riled up if his entire toy collection lay scattered across the floor. I can totally relate because I react the same way.

An uncluttered environment begets an uncluttered mind. For ADHD families especially, reducing excess stimulation and distraction will create a more peaceful home.

Play isn’t their only job, and entertainment isn’t yours

My kid loves to play, and he does it often, but there are also days when he doesn’t touch his toys. We only do two organized activities — Music Together and an informal weekly playgroup — so it’s not like he’s out of the house nonstop.

He’s only two, but R. helps me a lot. He accompanies me on all my errands, helps change and wash the linens every week, and has recently begun setting the table before dinner.

I don’t make him do any of this. I invite him to participate, give him a spare cleaning rag, let him have a turn with the duster. When I noticed him acting out while I was making dinner, I started handing him napkins. “We need one of these on each placemat,” I told him. He ran back into the kitchen for more. I handed him forks. When he returned again, I gave him a glass: “this one goes on Daddy’s placemat.”

Our kids learn their role in the family from us. When they try to insert themselves into a situation, do we shoo them away to their toys or do we find a way to include them? Do they view themselves as a nuisance or as a person who helps get jobs done around the house? Do they view themselves as competent or incompetent?

If your kids are busy participating in the household, they won’t need as many toys to occupy their time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun with our children or let them play. I never demand R. put down a toy to do a job for me. But we also need to teach them the skills they’ll need for a successful, independent life. We need to teach them what it means to be valuable part of a family unit.

Engage imagination, not insatiability

In one study, researchers removed all the toys from a kindergarten classroom. The kids got bored at first, but soon invented games using only their surroundings and their imaginations.

Simply put, your kids’ brains will work harder when they’re not overwhelmed by toys and games. This is a good thing.

Not only that, reducing material possessions will lessen your child’s focus on them. He’ll direct his attention elsewhere instead of cultivating the insatiability toy companies (and advertisers) are hoping for. ADHD’ers know a thing or two about insatiability, anyway, so we especially need to be on guard.

In case I’ve given you the wrong idea, I’m not saying kids should live a bleak, austere existence and be put to work as soon as they can walk. I’m all for fun, educational toys and plenty of time to do their own thing.

However, we need to be honest with ourselves about why we’re filling our homes with all these toys. And then we need to learn how to let (most of) them go. Our kids will be happier for it.

Do your kids have too many toys? Too few? How do you make decisions about how many and what kind of toys to allow in your home?

Skip the donation bins & declutter without leaving your home

I don’t know about you, but for me, packing up those unwanted items for donation is only half the battle. Decluttering experts suggest several ways to make sure this stuff actually leaves your house: for example, keeping it in the car or dropping it off that very day.

For people with ADHD, it’s not that easy. After my son’s birthday party this year, I shoved six pizza boxes into my car to drop off at the sanitation yard “on my next errand.” I do a lot of errands and the sanitation yard is a five-minute drive from home. The boxes sat in my car for weeks.

When it comes to ADHD decluttering, I’ve found one thing that works: whether you’re throwing away or giving away, do it without leaving your home. Here’s how:

declutter without leaving home

Charity pickups

Many charities offer pickup services. After you schedule your pickup, you just need to put your items out on the appropriate day. Organizations with pickup services include:

If you live in a city, charities may even send you postcards with dates when their trucks will be in your neighborhood. Some charities include a large plastic bag with the postcard. Why not set a goal of filling these bags with clutter when they arrive and setting them out on the designated pickup date?

Freecycle

Freecycle is a grassroots network of communities dedicated to giving (and getting) stuff for free to keep usable items out of landfills.  The process is simple: post an offer on the site, receive emails from interested parties, choose someone who seems sincere, and coordinate a time for them to pick it up from your porch/front yard/etc.

Freecycle also makes it easy to declutter piece by piece. Rather than setting aside time to fill a big box for charity pickup, you can harness your impulsivity and rehome unused items one thing at a time. No matter what it is, there’s a good chance someone out there wants it.

A word of warning: be careful not to acquire items from Freecycle unless it’s already on a shopping list and it’s close to home. If you need to, unsubscribe from all email alerts except those in reply to your own offers. I once drove a half hour across town for a new set of shower curtain hooks I had no idea I needed — until I saw them advertised for free on the internet.

The bottom line: there are many ways to donate or give away unwanted items without leaving home. For people with ADHD, this is the way to go. Freecycle and charity pickups allow you to complete the decluttering process more gracefully, without adding an errand to your list or junk to your car.

When you’re decluttering, how do you make sure unwanted items actually get out the door?

The elephant in your basement: let’s organize that trouble spot

Despite last night’s ice storm, spring is on the way. I promise I can feel it! Before we leap into spring and all its expectations of cleanliness and renewal, let’s talk about the basement. Specifically, how to start digging out of a bad situation.

Let’s face it: basements are too easy to fill with junk. Ours has filled with trash and miscellany three times in the seven years we’ve owned our house. I’ve dedicated a full weekend, and sometimes even longer, to cleaning it out each time.

Now that we have a kid, this isn’t practical (not that it ever was). The basement stays under control — though it’s teetered on the edge a few times — because we need to keep it clean for guest quarters, but there’s a huge closet we haven’t cleaned out in a while.

By which I mean, we haven’t cleaned it out since buying the house. All the stuff that traveled with us to our previous apartment and never got unpacked there went into this closet on move-in day.

In all my attempts to empty and organize it, I’ve never gotten past opening the door.

Recently, I realized this just cannot be allowed to continue. I’m reclaiming the closet. Now, with less time and energy than ever, I need to be smart about the how.

Do you have a spot like this in your home? I know it’s embarrassing, but don’t beat yourself up. Most of us have at least one. As inevitable as it may seem right now, you’re not stuck with it forever.

One bite at a time.

Here’s where that old cliche about eating the elephant comes in: you have to tackle these projects one bite at a time. It’s tempting for us ADHD’ers to take one of two paths:

  1. View a problem as one huge, overwhelming jumble of stuff. Our brains turn into a muddle and we run for the hills.
  2. View it as a challenge to be tackled once and for all over the course of a weekend, wherein we will play loud music, stay up all night, consume staggering quantities of caffeine, and…crash. Once exhausted, we leave behind a bigger mess than when we started thanks to distractions, side projects, and disorganization.

When I feel myself getting excited for a project in the same way a boxer might get excited for a big match, I know it’s time to put on the brakes. I’ve torn down walls, nearly recycled a bin full of my husband’s important papers, and probably done much worse in fits of can-do-it-itis. As soon as I get tired and realize I don’t have a plan, I give up. I once left a spare bedroom torn down to bare studs for a year and a half because I led with the crowbar instead of the brain. Ooops.

If you want to succeed, take small bites. Even if you only toss one thing from the junk drawer tomorrow, it’ll be one more than you cleaned out today.

I know. Slow progress is boring. ADHD’ers find it more painful than most. But for most of us, it’s the only way out of our mess.

Create contained mini-projects.

When I resurrected my dreams of cleaning out the basement, I bought two plastic bins: one for my husband and one for me. I filled them with everything we could digitize and eventually discard. This allowed me to keep moving with my primary project (cleaning out the basement) without letting a new side project (scanning old notes and papers) get in the way.

My bin now lives under my desk and I try to scan one item per day. Some days I forget, but some days I get on a roll and scan several things. There’s no instant gratification here, but it’s better than shoving the bin into my black hole closet for the elusive “one day” when I can scan the whole tub at once.

Don’t let between-bite setbacks derail you.

When I pulled a stack of negatives from the aforementioned bin, I discovered I’d misplaced the negative holder for my flatbed scanner. This was especially frustrating because it belongs in a hanging file drawer directly under the scanner. When I pulled the folder out, it was empty. I spent at least 10 minutes pacing through the house, slamming drawers, and berating myself for losing yet another important possession.

While I did this, no other documents in my bin got scanned.

When we tackle a big organizational challenge, we can guarantee at least one discovery that will make us feel like epic failures. Anticipate it and don’t let it halt your progress. Stopping progress to trash-talk yourself won’t lessen your feelings of failure and inadequacy. Move on and try to find something you can do instead of focusing on the roadblock.

What are your biggest organizing weaknesses? Have you conquered any clutter or unfinished projects recently? Please share in the comments below!

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