Why Decluttering Systems Don’t Always Work

One important fact I’ve learned over the years from coaching folks with ADHD is this:

ADHD is a self-regulation issue with a working memory challenge.

Now, let’s look more closely at the word “memory.”

Many folks with ADHD find clutter distracting. They prefer clean and tidy work spaces to help them relax and think. Interestingly, these same folks wrestle with memory challenges and tend to hold onto things because of the memories they represent; thus creating clutter.

One of my clients was a gentleman who was moving into a smaller place and but couldn’t seem to get rid of anything. During one coaching session, we talked about what items were the hardest to eliminate. He used as an example a memento that reminded him of his sixth grade teacher, someone he looks up to. He feared that to get rid of it would be to lose the memory.

What was his Aha!? To him, things are reminders of good times, things to do, people who have left, and dreams still to live. It was hard to get rid of items because so much of his stuff was really symbolic. This was a huge discovery! His ADHD and sentimentality were a legitimate reason for why he had difficulty letting go. We came up with an idea of a museum in which to keep the history of his life!

This museum concept made it very simple for him to sort through all the items in his house, quickly choosing what to keep and what to throw away. He dedicated a room in his new house to the museum and lovingly displayed his memorabilia.

Once we unearthed his Aha!, other decluttering systems were now able to work.

Here’s another Aha! example of: “If the obvious solution isn’t working, chances are you’re paying attention to the wrong thing!”

4 thoughts on “Why Decluttering Systems Don’t Always Work

  1. Carolynne Ayoub says:

    My daughter, who has ADHD and I, who have inherited many photos and items from my parents, (now deceased for more than two years) loved this idea of a museum. I created a decoupaged table of memories for my daughter and she keeps certain clothing items of her grandmother’s and is selling the rest as vintage. Thanks for the creative idea.

  2. Thank you, Jeff. I have been sharing living space with one of my children, and was finding it more and more difficult to tolerate what I considered to be ‘just clutter, needless junk.’ I was desperate to understand the mentality which would create such chaos, but now I see that it is the result of emotional, sentimental attachment to the items. I have a basis, now for communicating about the problem and hope to see some change soon. Can’t thank you enough for your insights!


    1. Glenda, thrilled our insight struck a cord with you. Isn’t it interesting how often there are these invisible things that, once identified, can help make sense of things! Thanks for your post; glad it helped.

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