Part of the reason I have my YouTube channel ( Aim 4aCreativeLife ) is because YouTube was a big motivator in my decluttering journey, and I wanted to in turn motivate others with my journey. I would watch minimalism and decluttering videos to get in the zone and help me form better ways of thinking about possessions in order to get more organized. (If you’re curious, watch the beginning steps of my minimalism journey by clicking here.) Solving the problem of “too much” by decluttering doesn’t address the origins of the clutter though. I wanted to know WHY I struggled so much with clutter.
Well, in the past 4 years of really delving into decluttering and minimalism, I’ve uncovered a few contributing factors to my propensity for messiness. Before I address that, though, I think it’s helpful especially to those who do not struggle with clutter to debunk some assumptions about naturally cluttered folks.
- “Her mom must not have taught her how or made her clean up after herself.” Actually, my whole childhood, Mom always modeled organized and tidy behavior and expected the same from us kids. We also lived pretty minimalistically in my formative years by necessity because we moved every three years with the military. Packing and moving a bunch of clutter isn’t a great idea.
- “She must be really lazy.” Nope. Distractable, yes, but not lazy. It’s actually hard for me to make myself sit still.
- “She likes to collect things.” Well, collecting does seem to be a family trait, at least on my maternal grandmother’s side, because history is a really important thing and antiques or family memorabilia are particularly interesting to us. However, I mostly gave that up pretty shortly after we had our first child and had to move for my husband’s job.
- “Entertaining others in her home must not be very important to her or she would keep things nicer.” False. Especially those with military backgrounds who moved a lot know that building connection is a necessity for having a support system. Hospitality was a high value growing up.
- “Maybe she’s clutter blind and only notices it when she trips on stuff or it falls on her.” Hmm….well, that may have been the case 10 years ago, but having to move an entire household (4 locations in 4 years years) as the household manager, that clutter-blindness did not last. But somehow clutter kept coming back!
So why do I think many including me have struggled with clutter? Here are several reasons many people struggle with clutter, myself in particular. (Here’s a YouTube video about them, if you prefer to watch.)
1. Clutter hotspots grow where no function or home is assigned. We solved this problem in my home by turning a countertop into a hot drink station, and made the rule that nothing but the drink supplies can go on it. Then the kids’ art and such ended up on my DIY upholstered bench instead, so I created a magazine holder for the papers to go into when they’re cleared off the table for supper. The homeless art paper found a home, and the seat was restored to its intended seating purpose.
2. Clutter piles up when we think we’ll “save time” by putting them away later, especially sitting things on the stairs to take them up “on the way.” I have found I either pass the items without paying them any mind, or my hands are already full and I can’t take things up later. Clutter is delayed decisions! So now I need to apply the “flat surface rule” to my stairs, and take one to two minutes to deliver the items upstairs instead of waiting until later.
3. Clutter accumulates when we live in the fantasy land of thinking “I’ll read/accomplish that soon!” For me, this is a big issue with towering piles of books I am interested in, but don’t actually get around to reading. Weeks go by as the pile grows next to my couch, until the pile collapses onto the floor because a kid knocked into it. I need to accept the fact that I do better with audiobooks that I listen to while driving instead. (If you want to try Audiobooks out free for 30 days, here’s my affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3c9VVDZ .)
4. Clutter remains in our homes when we have sentimental attachments to many things. I used to get super hung up on keeping birthday cards and other memorabilia yet did not organize it well. Ok, I still do, but now I am more selective. I recommend reading Eve Schaub’s hilarious memoir, Year of No Clutter (I review it here), if you can relate to someone who has sentimental attachments to many things.
5. Lastly for today, something that heavily affects whether or not someone is naturally organized is brain wiring. Sounds like an excuse, but studies show that some people just think differently. In the ADHD mind, for instance, executive functioning, or making plans, prioritizing, and executing tasks, is glitchy. Sometimes I “freeze” with overwhelm, not knowing where to start. The more I practice decluttering skills like keeping flat surfaces clear, the easier it is for me to get unstuck, though.
Besides executive functioning issues for ADHD folks, there’s the inattention issue, so other things take our attention away from what we initially set out to do. Another interesting point that ADHD Rewired podcast host Eric Tivers made is that ADHDers don’t have the proper dopamine production to provide motivation or rewards when doing tasks that others feel satisfied to accomplish. However, don’t give up and say, “this is just the way I am!” There’s hope for us!
Organization and good housekeeping are skills that can be developed! Adding incentives for ourselves to tasks we don’t naturally gravitate toward is also a way we ADHDers and distractible creatives in general can take charge of our spaces. I am here to say from experience that no matter how cluttered you are, you can make progress and feel the peace that comes from a more decluttered space.
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