Decluttering My Desk: How Did the Mess Get Here?

Patient Expert

So, I was finally fed up with not being able to find anything on my desk. I keep throwing things on it that never leave, and since I have a very small desk area, it doesn't take much in the way of neglect to make it look like this (the bottom part is the keyboard shelf):

And there's also a pile on the floor next to my desk:


Welcome to adult ADHD. The funny thing is that my mother, who also has ADHD, has the neatest, cleanest house in history - except for her desk (and the floor around her desk), where there are numerous piles of papers. Making piles must just be an ADHD trait.

If you have ADHD, there's a good chance that these photos are very familiar. It may be partly due to our tendency to be more visual. I've heard adults with ADHD say that they feel more comfortable having everything out instead of put away for that reason. But unfortunately it just doesn't work, especially if you have a small desk like mine. I don't even have room to put a drink on my desk. I can't find anything that I need to find and it's impossible to dust. I'm allergic to dust, so if I let just a little dust build up, my face starts itching and I get contested.

Finally, a few weeks ago I decided enough is enough. I set about decluttering this mess...and figuring out why it happens in the first place.

There are some things that do get put away pretty frequently, like bottles of nail polish or my son's cell phone or the hand sanitizer, because they're easy to put away, and I know where they go. The nail polish I have a bin for in my bedroom, the phone goes in my son's room and the hand sanitizer goes in the car. Easy-peasy.

It's the other things that are going to be a problem, like the batteries, the VHS tape, the stack of DVDs, the bottle of liquid soap or the gaming manuals. The reason they're a problem is the same reason they've been sitting on my desk for a while. With these items, I either have to make a decision about where they go (like the batteries and gaming manuals) or I have to do something with them (like the liquid soap - which needs cherry fragrance added to it - or the DVDs - which I have to pop in my computer, one by one, and label, and then put away somewhere).   The VHS tape needs a decision as well, as it needs to get mailed out to be scanned.

There's also a notebook in which I wrote all my soapmaking recipes and notes during the two years I had my business. I lost the notebook for four years and the whole time was berated myself for not typing the recipes and notes up so they'd be safe in the computer. I found the notebook four months ago, and still haven't typed it up. Go figure.

So those things are gathering dust on my desk because I hate making decisions, I just don't get little things done and I get distracted.

And those three things are at the heart of many an ADHD mess.

  • We have trouble making decisions.
  • We're not great on follow-through, especially on a daily basis.
  • And oh yes, the distraction. (While I've been writing this I have meant to get my cup of tea three times, and I've forgotten all three times, because I've been distracted by something else).

And then there's perfectionism, which, in my unofficial survey of adults I know with ADHD, seems to be fairly common. You may wonder what the point is of cleaning up if you know you can't maintain it on a daily basis. Don't beat yourself up about not staying organized on a daily basis. Every week is good, every month is good, and even every six months is better than never. If you set your standard of upkeep too high, it's easier to become discouraged.

So now we have an idea of why this mess happens in the first place. Next we'll look at how we can avoid some of the pitfalls that we'll run into while decluttering.