a pile of mail on a counter

Handling Decluttering Overwhelm

As you work on trying to organize your life, you can easily slip into decluttering overwhelm. As someone with executive dysfunction, decluttering and organizing tap into many of the skills you struggle with. It all seems like SO MUCH. The process of lightening the load can be daunting, so let’s look at some ways to handle the overwhelm before diving into the steps to take to declutter.

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Ways to Keep Decluttering Overwhelm at Bay

Know your why

I’ve talked about this concept before when talking about making life changes. Just because something sounds amazing for other people doesn’t automatically make it right for you. If you want to stay on task for decluttering, you need to understand why you’re doing it. What’s your ultimate goal? Knowing that will help keep you on track, even when the job seems bigger than you can handle.

living room

Make time

It’s easy for me to tell you (as I always do) that everything is a process and it takes time. We’d very much like to snap our fingers and make magic happen, but that’s not reality. And given that you may not be good at estimating how long a task will take, it makes it difficult to judge how much time you need.

If this is you, instead of thinking you need 2 weeks to declutter, think about a certain amount of time each day or each week you will devote to it, and then it takes as many days or weeks as it takes. You aren’t working against a deadline you might not be able to meet.

Make a plan

Yes, I know that planning is not something people with executive dysfunction are good at. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need a plan. Going into a project like this without a plan is likely to set you up for failure. You will continue to be scattered, getting bits and pieces done, but not really seeing the benefit.

Sit down and do a brain dump of all the things you’d like to declutter and organize. Once you have that out of your head, you can start to prioritize. Choose the area that creates the most stress for you, and start there. Getting rid of a pain point will give you the win you need to stay motivated.

But don’t just choose an area and go. Break that down into manageable chunks. Chances are if the area brings you stress, it’s a pretty big task. If it were easy, it would’ve been done already. Think about all the little steps that need to happen to declutter and organize that space. Shoot for tasks that can be completed in 30 minutes or less.

Finally, create a schedule for all of those tasks. By having a schedule, you won’t have to feel bad about it not being done right away. You have a plan and as long as you stick to it, you will accomplish your goal.

Visualize success

One thing that will help you stay motivated to reach your goal is to visualize what your space will look and feel like once it’s done. Think back to your why. If you keep in mind why you’re doing this, and what you hope to accomplish, it will be easier to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. You can picture what your life will be like once it’s finished and that will help keep you going.

Decluttering Rules

Now that you have the plan to declutter your life, let’s talk about actually getting started. One of the biggest hurdles you will face is figuring out what to get rid of and how to keep it organized once you get it done. Here are some rules to help you live a clutter-free (ish) life.

1. Buy less

The most important rule to have in place for yourself before you even begin the process of decluttering is that you need to stop bringing more stuff into your house. Getting rid of a ton of crap is excellent, but not if you’re just going to fill that space with new crap. If clutter is overwhelming you, you need to bring in less.

kid's art project of a house

2. Digitize nostalgia

As moms, we collect so much stuff from our kids. First, you need to think about why you’re saving all of the art and certificates and report cards. Do you think they’re going to want this stuff when they get older? Probably not.

Maybe you’re holding onto those things because they make you happy. You can remember those tiny hands that make the handprints on the Valentine’s Day card. If you want to hold onto those memories, digitize them. You can scan certificates and artwork. If it’s a trophy or other object, you can take a picture of it.

Another option is to create a scrapbook for your kids and digitize some of it. Denise Albright has a cute scrapbook that has sections for each school year. This will allow you to save the best of everything, but minimize the clutter.

They also have an app where you can digitize and store keepsakes. It is a membership, but you can try it for free for 30 days to see if it suits you.

3. Start small

If you start with easy things, you will get a quick win. You’ll see progress and you’ll want to keep going. What are the easy things? The stuff you don’t have an emotional attachment to. If you look at something and wonder why you still have it? It’s time for it to go.

Packing up the stuff that’s in your way that you don’t really care about is going to be a relatively easy first step. Once you have that gone, you'll have more space to think and breathe.

See the list of easy items to start with at the end of this post.

handling decluttering overwhelm

4. Get rid of duplicates

This step might be a little difficult for many of you because you might not be aware of all of the duplicates you have. Often people who have executive dysfunction, especially those with ADHD, buy the same thing more than once. Why does this happen?

First, you’re disorganized, so you can’t always find what you have. You convince yourself that you already got rid of something, and now you need it, so you buy another.

Second, disorganization goes hand in hand with out-of-sight, out-of-mind. If you don’t see something, it’s not there. Again, you assume you no longer have it, so you buy another.

The hardest part of this step is going to be finding all of the duplicates that are hiding around your house.

5. Let go of the guilt

This is going to take some extra mindset work, especially if you find you carry guilt for the purchases you have. Once you start working on step 4, you might find that you have a lot of duplicates (and maybe even some triplicates). You might feel guilty about the money you’ve spent, so you don’t want to get rid of things.

If you buy things on impulse, you might feel guilty because you went on a late-night shopping spree and you haven’t used any of those items. Again, you don’t want to get rid of them because you already spent the money.

Lastly, if you’re holding onto gifts that don’t suit you because of who gave the gift, there’s no reason to feel guilty about letting it go.

All of these scenarios are about you feeling guilty unnecessarily. Letting go of something that doesn’t fit your life or that you don’t have a use for isn’t a reason for guilt. Holding onto something because you spent money on it isn’t going to bring that money back. But holding onto those extra items will continue to bring stress into your life.

Getting rid of excess items also helps you get rid of excess stress. Don’t replace it with guilt.

6. Give everything a home

This one is something I’m sure you’ve heard a million times. It’s important but it won’t happen all at once. It will take time to give everything its own home. However, once you are able to give something a place, you need to always put it away so that clutter doesn’t start to rebuild.

These 6 rules aren’t the be-all and end-all to effectively remove clutter from your life. I’m offering them as stepping stones to help make the process a little easier for you. Use the “rules” to give you a path and keep the decluttering overwhelm away.

a pile of mail sitting on a counter

40 items to get rid of quickly

Here is a list of easy items to get rid of immediately. Most of these are things you shouldn’t have to think about or feel guilty over tossing. However, don’t try to run through the whole list at once. They cover many different areas of the home and if you’re focusing on one small area, look for the easy items from the list that can be found in that space.

Return to the list whenever you start a new area of your home.

  1. Junk mail
  2. Broken or ugly jewelry
  3. Old calendars or planners
  4. Nearly empty perfume or lotion bottles
  5. Old makeup
  6. Toys or games that are broken, missing parts, or that kids have outgrown
  7. Holey socks (you’re not going to fix them or do a craft with them – trust me)
  8. Empty boxes from electronics or small appliances (there is NO use for them)
  9. Unused paint (even if you need it for touch-ups, chances are, it’ll be bad – take a pic of the name for future reference)
  10. Kids’ clothes that no longer fit
  11. Non-perishable food you haven’t eaten or that has expired
  12. Excess shopping bags
  13. Outdated, faded, or broken holiday decorations
  14. Broken laptops or devices you’ve been meaning to fix (if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not gonna)
  15. Unused blankets (no one needs 50 blankets – pick your favorite 2-3)
  16. Old trophies or memorabilia you no longer value
  17. The collection of buttons you never sewed back on (you probably don’t even remember what the buttons are for)
  18. Unnecessary receipts – scan the ones you think might be necessary for something
  19. Unused or expired spices
  20. Accessories for hobbies or crafts you no longer do/haven’t completed
  21. Expired frozen food
  22. Stretched-out or holey bras and underwear
  23. Vacation souvenirs you never look at
  24. Purses and bags that are out of style or that you don’t use
  25. Instruction manuals for things you no longer own – scan the ones for things you do own
  26. Pens and markers that don’t work
  27. Beauty products that you don’t use
  28. The junk at the bottom of your purse
  29. Gifts you never liked in the first place
  30. Pet supplies from animals that have long passed – save 1 memento like a collar or tag and put it in a frame
  31. Chipped dishware or cookware
  32. Earrings without a mate
  33. Books you’ve read once or will likely never read (unless you are keeping them as comfort reads)
  34. Expired medicines
  35. Electronics chargers without a device
  36. Excess or mismatched glassware
  37. Toys from fast-food children’s meals
  38. Videos you no longer watch (anything VHS not a collector’s item)
  39. Kitchen gadgets you don’t use (sandwich press, ice cream maker, etc.)
  40. Scraps of wrapping paper/ faded paper / ends of ribbon

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