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Decluttering or Clutter Acceptance?

In case you haven’t heard, decluttering is cool now.

It’s not just something you do when the pile of old books in your room becomes so dense it develops a gravitational field. It’s a way of life, maybe even a spiritual philosophy.

Empty Room
Bob contemplates the results of applying the Marie Kondo method to his life.

That’s partly thanks to Marie Kondo’s recently released Netflix series, where she helps people clean out their homes using her method of only holding onto possessions that “spark joy.”

Personally, I think that’s setting the bar a little high. In college, many of my textbooks decidedly did not spark joy, but I was probably better off not heaving them into the nearest dumpster. In life, we don’t limit out interactions only to people who spark joy in us, and we’re generally better off for it. I’ve read books and watched movies that didn’t spark joy in me but still expanded my worldview.

I do understand the appeal of minimalism. I’ve traveled for extended periods of time with only the possessions that fit into a large backpack, and it is liberating to not be weighed down by material objects. For people with ADHD, minimalism can be helpful because the less stuff we have to organize, the less burden we’re putting on our organizational skills.

But what I want to avoid is a culture where minimalism is expected – where having “clutter” is interpreted as a sign of inadequacy.

Dog in an Empty Room
After watching his owners methodically discard possessions failing to spark joy, Buster waits anxiously to see whether he will make the cut.

Here’s the thing: decluttering can be freeing, but trying to adhere to a strict no-clutter policy over an extended period of time can also be taxing. It takes time and ongoing effort. And trying to live up to an ideal of being constantly clutter-free can reinforce a sense of failure if, like many people with ADHD, you’re someone who isn’t naturally inclined to being a tidying-up dynamo.

Clutter isn’t a sign of failure. Sometimes it’s just a sign that you have better things to do than going through and assessing the merits of every possession you own one at a time. Or that doing so doesn’t sound like much fun.

To be clear, I’m certainly not saying minimalism is bad. I think it’s something worth experimenting with for anyone who has ADHD, because cutting back on material possessions can be liberating for people who struggle with organizational tasks. But it’s not the one true path to happiness. Minimalism is something to consider, and then to discard if it doesn’t spark joy.

Image 1: Flickr/jojomelons

Image 2: Flickr/Staffan Cederborg

Decluttering or Clutter Acceptance?

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Decluttering or Clutter Acceptance?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Feb 2019
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