Decluttering Tips: Do’s and Don’ts

Decluttering your home can be a big challenge, especially if you have executive dysfunction. But with a few simple decluttering tips, it doesn't have to be overwhelming! Here are some helpful do's and don'ts to get you started on the path to an organized and stress-free home.

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Why Decluttering Won’t Work

Decluttering can be incredibly beneficial and rewarding! Not only can it lead to a calmer, more organized life, but it's also a great way to gain insights and understanding into yourself. Of course, simply decluttering without taking the time to pause and reflect won't get you far – the progress you make will likely be undone unless you really think about it.

cluttered space - decluttering tips

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Decluttering doesn’t require introspection. 

If you want to keep your home clutter-free and your life organized, it's important to be mindful and thoughtful of the items you bring into your home. For instance, getting rid of things you haven't used in the past year and donating something for each new item you purchase can be great short-term strategies. But for long-term success, it's essential to examine why you're making decisions about your belongings and assess the statements these choices are making.

We’ve all heard Marie Kondo talk about keeping things that spark joy. And while this might sound silly at first, what she’s asking you to do is evaluate your why. This is an important step, especially if you have executive dysfunction because you might have stuff and not have a reason why. Keeping things because you might use them someday isn’t much of a reason.

Also, if you are a serial hobbyist, your clutter is likely out of control often. You hyper-focus on learning a new hobby, buy all the things, and then abandon it to move on to a new hobby. You keep the things because you truly believe that you’ll go back to the hobby.

Here’s the thing: you might. And that’s why when someone with ADHD hobby-hops, they might regret getting rid of stuff because their interest in the hobby might be renewed. It’s for this reason that I always suggest that when you’re starting a new hobby, start small. Look for the cheapest way to do things until you know whether it’s gonna stick.

It’s a different approach, but if you want to get rid of the clutter, you need a different approach. I won’t tell you to just choose a hobby and stick with it—that’s not how your brain works. You need to explore and experiment. I’m suggesting that instead of diving in, you wade in.

Decluttering won’t help you understand your attachment to possessions.

Take a few moments to think about why you have such a strong attachment to your possessions. Could it be because you don't want to be without them? Digging deeper, you may find that the reason you keep these things is because of the habits you developed during your childhood when you had less.

We are in a time where people are really acknowledging that childhood trauma has lasting effects. Yes, there are memes and videos making teasing jokes, but it is reality. If you have executive dysfunction, you might already be in therapy. Talking with your therapist about your clutter or collection of things might be worthwhile.

If you don’t have a therapist, you can think it through on your own, as long as you can be honest with yourself.

wallet filled with credit cards

Decluttering has no impact on your debt.

Decluttering can be a great way to turn your unwanted things into cash. But it's important to look at why you've collected so much stuff and how it fits into the bigger picture of your life. If you don't, you might just end up replacing the items you sold with new ones.

In addition, we also often look at that extra cash as a means to go buy something else. We don’t consider that we got rid of things because we didn’t need them and they don’t need to be replaced. Or we justify buying something new because we made the space so we can refill it.

You want to act intentionally and think about why you have things as well as why you’re getting rid of others. Do you use the things you’re keeping? Do they hold special meaning?

For the things you’re getting rid of, are you just offloading junk, or are you getting rid of usable items that can benefit others? Knowing you can improve the lives of other people make removing things easier.

Decluttering rarely leads to lifestyle changes.

Decluttering your space can be a great start to a positive change in your life, but don't forget the most important part: doing the internal work. Looking within and making meaningful changes is the key to creating a lasting and healthy transformation.

Evaluating what has caused your clutter and thinking about your lifestyle goals is a great way to make your home a calming and lasting place. Decluttering isn't enough, but adding mindfulness to the mix can really help you make progress!

Decluttering Tips: Do's and Don'ts - an image of an organized house

What Not to Do When Deciding to Declutter

For the majority of us, decluttering and organizing our homes is not our forte. We often try our best to get the job done, but then realize we might've gone about the process in the wrong way.

You may find the task of organizing your space is taking longer than anticipated, and that it's been a bit chaotic for a while now. We've all been there and it can be really tough to find the time to get back to it. That's why so many of us try to avoid this daunting chore. Nevertheless, understanding the importance of organizing your space can make it much easier to tackle!

These examples happen all the time to people who struggle with executive functioning. You might not be able to gauge how long something will take. Or how much energy it will require. You might wake up one day totally motivated to declutter and organize, so you pull out everything from cabinets and closets. You might get as far as throwing out trash. But then you run out of energy and motivation.

And you’re left staring at piles of everything. You have no idea what to do because it’s too much at once. This happens because you didn’t plan ahead—because you don’t know how. That is one of the skills you’re working on.

Here are some tips to help you go about decluttering in a better way:

Don’t Overdo It

It's important to stay level-headed when organizing your space. If you try to do it all in one day, it can be overwhelming and lead to you giving up entirely. To make it easier, try breaking it down into smaller chunks and setting aside a certain amount of time each day to work on it. This will help avoid burnout and make the task more manageable.

Start small. Don’t expect miracles. You didn’t collect the clutter overnight, so it’s not going to go away overnight.

Don’t Organize Before Purging

Organizing your home can be a fun and rewarding process, but it starts with getting rid of the things that are just taking up space. Once you've decluttered, you can start making it neat and tidy in a way that works for you.

Most people want to skip to the fun part—getting cute baskets and bins to have a cool-looking space. But if you don’t get rid of the crap first, you’ll waste time and money. You don’t know what you need until you’re down the stuff you’re keeping that needs to be organized.

Don’t Do Only Half the Job

Often, we make the mistake of setting aside items for donations or rummage sale contributions to be delivered at a later time. We may think that it's convenient to leave the bag of sweaters intended for a family member in the closet until we see her again. However, it's important to take these where they go right away. Otherwise, your project is unfinished.

Don’t Reward Yourself with More Stuff

As I mentioned, once we declutter, especially if we sold some items and made money, we use it as a way to justify getting more stuff. Tempting as it may be, avoid the urge to reward yourself with a new item. Instead, focus on breaking the bad habits that led to your clutter problem. An exception could be investing in a new armoire or other pieces of storage furniture – this could help you get organized and be more productive.

Once you steer clear of these typical decluttering mistakes, you'll be on your way to having an orderly, cozy space. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee or tea while you admire your fresh space.

Tiny Decluttering Steps You Can Take Today

Now that we’ve talked about why the usual decluttering doesn’t work and what not to do, let’s look at some easy ways to start. If you've been putting off a home decluttering project, it's likely because you feel overwhelmed or don't know where to begin. Those things can trip anyone up on the road to organization, but it goes double (maybe even triple) for those with executive dysfunction.

Taking on a decluttering project can be daunting, but taking even a single baby step toward your goal is still progress. Try one of these tiny decluttering tasks today to get you started. It will feel great to accomplish something, big or small.

Clear Just One Surface

Start by just tidying up the kitchen table or counter. If that sounds a bit too much, why not just focus on one spot on the counter? Make it a space you see every day and keep it clean.

Empty a shelf

Now that you have a spot to keep you motivated and in sight every day, why not tackle another mini-project? Start with just one shelf – and make sure to maintain what you’ve finished.

Create a paper zone

It's easy for paperwork to start piling up and get out of control, so why not create a special spot in your home where all papers can be stored? Use this space for mail, notices from school, and anything that gets piled up. However, you can’t just keep adding and adding and never dealing with it. Doing so will cause other problems, like your kid not being able to go on a field trip because you buried the permission slip.

Choose one day a week to go through the paper zone. Throw out the things you don’t need, and address the things that need to be handled—pay bills, sign forms, etc.—and put them away.

Find a home for 5 things

We all have things that are always lying around. Choose 5 and find a home for them. This might require some thought, so give it a few days. Look at what is always laying around. Is it something that is used daily? Or can it be tucked away?

Tucking things away can be a detriment for those with ADHD because for some, out of sight is not just out of mind, but gone for good. You want to be able to see the things you need to use.

If 5 feels like a lot, start with 3. Next week, you can do another 2-3. This is about the quick wins.

Donate 3 articles of clothing

Clothes are often the worst to declutter. Trying to organize a whole closet can be overwhelming. There’s just so much there. Instead of looking at all of it at once, choose just three pieces to give away each day while getting ready. Soon you’ll have a bag full.

It doesn’t have to be a big decision. As you reach for a shirt or a pair of pants, look at the others in the pile. Which ones do you tend to avoid? If they’re not a go-to item, consider getting rid of them.

Dump One Drawer

Pick just one drawer in your home to declutter and dump it out. This lets you see everything at a glance and makes the sorting process easier. It might not seem like much, but depending on how many junk drawers you have in your house, this can be a pretty big project.

If you totally clear out one drawer, getting rid of the junk and organizing what’s left, you’ll have more space as you tackle the next messy drawer. Remember, you’re keeping it small—only one drawer at a time.

Organize Your Medicines

Clean out your medicine cabinet. Toss any expired items, put all the bandages together, and check what you already have so you can avoid buying extras. Once you're done, you'll have a neat and orderly space for your health supplies.

Deliver donations

Once you have a few tiny tasks done, you’ll probably have a good amount of stuff to donate. If you donate to a charity nearby, take the bag or box out to your car to deliver. If it’s more of a trek to make a delivery, find one place in your house where you can gather all the donations to take at once. You don’t want to waste multiple trips, but you also don’t want to let bags of donations take over either.

Visualize the goal

Imagine how great your space will look once you just take the time to organize it. Visualizing the end result is a great way to stay motivated.

Decluttering is a tough task. It can easily overwhelm you without a plan. Taking baby steps is the key! Before you know it, you'll have accomplished a big transformation not only for your home but also for your life.

Once you've got a handle on the small steps, you're ready to handle bigger jobs. If you want some more guidance to tackle all of the decluttering, you might want to consider The Declutter Boot Camp. Full disclosure, this course is a friend's, but I think her step-by-step plan can be really useful for my audience (and it's super affordable at $27). Here's Samantha's course description:

When faced with the seemingly overwhelming task of cleaning out the clutter in your home, the last thing you want is some complicated system to reign it all in. The Declutter Boot Camp is designed to be simple to follow with powerful results!

After years of being asked to come over and help my friends and family get a handle on their home organization, I have put together this course with all the tips, tricks, and accountability to get you started!

Obviously this is not the same as me coming over and going through all of your things.  But, trust me, you'd rather go through your stuff because I'm not very sentimental…

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