Conquer Your Clutter Part 1 – WHY
(This is Part One of a 3-part series on clutter – check out parts 2 and 3 for more great stuff!)
“How do you LIVE like that?”
There it was again. That QUESTION. My parents used to ask it weekly (every time they opened my bedroom door and watched my stuff avalanche out of the room), but I hadn’t expected to KEEP hearing it now that I was a fully independent adult (whatever that means).
It was my second semester as a freshman in college. The roommate with whom I had started the year had switched colleges, leaving me to move in with a girl I knew from down the hall. She was an art major. I was a writer. Both of us were VERY into creative flow, and very NOT into boring tasks like tackling the piles of laundry and general clutter that began overtaking our tiny shared room within a few short weeks. It didn’t bother either of us, so we did nothing about it.
But after the third or fourth visitor to my “sacred space” uttered the above question, I started to wonder: How DID I live like that? How could I be “okay” with a dorm room that garnered shock, disgust, and the “Messiest Room in Goodnow Hall” award? (Not even joking about this one – I still have the trophy to prove it). I wasn’t sure what the answers were, but I vowed to change my ways. Or, at the very least, hide my piles of stuff from my friends.
Fast forward four years, and I discovered that whatever changes I THOUGHT I had made hadn’t been enough. I started hearing the dreaded question AGAIN, THIS time from my brand-new, incredibly frustrated husband. The poor guy was having his calm, responsible, “if-you-use-it-put-it-back” sensibilities tested to the MAX by dishes left in the sink, books strewn across the table, clothes scattered all over the floor, and NOTHING in its rightful place. EVER. To him, it seemed like I didn’t CARE enough pick things up. To me, it seemed like I literally couldn’t do what he was asking me to do.
It took us years of struggle and an eventual understanding of what was happening in my ADHD brain to figure it out, but today, my house is incredibly clean and well-organized, with the exception of a few places that are mine to do with as I wish. How did I finally manage to tame my scattered jungle of crap? Buckle up, Cupcakes. It was a process.
Most people, and especially ADHDers, are attracted to ACTION because it feels more “real” than THINKING. So when we are confronted with a problem (i.e. there is clutter all over my home/office/brain and I can’t take it anymore!) we immediately try to fix it.
“How do I fix clutter?” we ask ourselves. “Why, I clean it up!” we answer. Simple! Just do more cleaning! Clean, clean, clean!
Except that it’s not so simple. Because cleaning takes time. It’s boring. We don’t wanna. And all that clutter will most likely regenerate (like magic!) in, what – a couple of days? We have a FAR more complex problem to solve than how to handle THIS clutter at THIS time. Starting with ACTION is jumping the gun.
So where should we start? With the “WHY.”
Take a look at any heavily cluttered area of your home or office (so….ANY area.) Focus on individual items, or pairs of items used for the same function (pen and paper, hair products, groceries, homework, crafts, etc). Now ask yourself:
What, specifically, prompted you to leave this item or items HERE?
There are MANY possible answers to this question, and each one of them warrants a DIFFERENT solution. Here are some of the most common reasons for a cluttered space:
- The item in question doesn’t have a designated space in your home. When it doesn’t have a home, you can’t put it away. Frequent offenders in this category are bills (paid and unpaid), purses, outerwear, electronic devices, and ANYTHING YOU HAVE RECENTLY PURCHASED. Which, if you are like the pre-budget version of me, is, like….a LOT of stuff.
- You are using the item in question to remind you to finish a task or complete an action. This is a SUPER common reason that ADHDers leave things out – we are afraid that if we put them back where they belong, we will forget to ever finish them. That half-finished baby blanket we’re knitting, half-finished books or magazine articles we simply must read, cleaning supplies (to remind us we scrubbed the upstairs toilet, but “still need to get to” the one downstairs,) and so on. In THEORY, this tactic works, but only if we finish what we leave out BEFORE we start – and leave out – something ELSE that needs to be finished. And (obviously) we don’t do this very important second part.
- You got distracted in the middle of using the item and deserted it here. Similar to, but not exactly the same as number two. In this case you didn’t leave the item on purpose, as a reminder, you literally forgot it.
- It is more convenient to leave the item where it is than to put it away. My husband and I keep our gift wrap ALL THE WAY downstairs, at the BACK of our utility room, in a BOX, UNDERNEATH some other boxes. Guess who puts away the gift wrap every time I use it? Ding, ding! You got it – NOT ME. Check to see how many items you are leaving out simply because putting them away FEELS LIKE WORK. (And don’t judge yourself if moving the blender so you can slide the crock pot behind it falls into this category.)
- The item in question wouldn’t be a problem, except that it is buried by all the other clutter. Pretty self-explanatory. Solve all the other “why”s and you solve this one, too 🙂
If you’re serious about cutting down on or even eliminating the clutter in your life, don’t cut corners on this first step. Write down the items that fall into each category of “why.” And then, read Part 2 of this series, where we can start to take some of that action you’ve been waiting for.