Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Decluttering Tips for Movers With ADD

For financial and personal reasons, a Minnesota widow in her late 60s must downsize from the huge cedar-sided contemporary she and her late husband built more than two decades ago. But the idea of prepping the place for market fills her with angst.

The problem? Every room in the house is crammed with clutter. And confronting the monumental organizational tasks involved in decluttering feels especially overwhelming for the widow because she suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

For many with ADD, the process of preparing a home for sale and making a housing transition requires a support system to pursue the work systematically, says Linda Anderson, who heads a Pennsylvania-based firm that assists adults with ADD ( She doesn’t know the widow in this true story. But she’s worked with many clients attempting to cope in similar situations.

“Moving is a huge problem for those with ADD. It’s terribly important for them to connect and reconnect with people throughout the process,” says Anderson, who works as a life coach assisting adults trying to cope with ADD in their daily lives.

A life coach who is knowledgeable about ADD can help people with organizational issues to create a realistic timetable and a plan of action to help ensure a smooth housing transition.

Here are a few tips for would-be sellers with ADD:

-- Weigh the idea of hiring a professional organizer or “move manager.”

Judy Rough, a Colorado-based professional organizer who primarily advises seniors, says people with ADD should be careful whom they ask for help.

“It’s horrific to hire someone who is judgmental. We all remember how upsetting it was when we were kids and a teacher or counselor was critical. And it’s no different when you’re an adult,” says Rough, who’s affiliated with the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (

By visiting this association’s website, you can find an organizer in your area who’s skilled in assisting clients with ADD. Another way to locate help is by connecting with the National Association of Senior Move Managers ( This organization specializes in assisting older people who must downsize. But move managers can assist people of any age to take control of a housing transition.

Finding a personal assistant to help with any major project -- known in the organizational field as “body doubling” -- is especially important for people with ADD.

-- Remain laser-focused on your tasks to the extent possible.

Although people with ADD face many challenges in attempting to execute a home sale and move, Anderson says most can capitalize on their strengths to help ensure that the work gets done.

“My clients have many positive attributes, like creativity. And many are very energetic -- though their energy typically comes in spurts,” Anderson says.

But because her clients have so much difficulty staying focused and bringing a task to completion, she’s developed several time- and attention-management techniques to help them face the tasks involved in any major project.

To avoid burnout, she suggests that anyone involved in a major house project give themselves frequent (though brief) breaks from the laborious work.

“Boring, repetitive work puts the ADD brain to sleep. But short breaks can help keep momentum up,” Anderson says.

-- Try to gain traction through exercise.

One problem that often affects many people with ADD is gaining the momentum to launch into a new task.

Anderson recommends that those who find themselves in this conundrum start their day with some vigorous exercise -- like a fast-paced walk through their neighborhood.

“Exercise is a big help in stimulating the brain into action. Rhythmic music can also prove useful,” she says.

If you find yourself working alone and unable to stay on track, consider asking a neighbor or friend to step in, if only until you can get your work started.

-- Allow sufficient time for all your tasks.

In setting a schedule for the work involved in a housing transition, Anderson advises her clients to set reasonable deadlines and resist the temptation to cram too much into any given day.

In addition to the customary “to do list,” one tool Anderson favors is a “not to do list.” When you reduce the expectations you set for yourself, you also reduce your level of anxiety and get more done.

“Problems with anxiety often accompany ADD, and anxiety can interfere with your work,” she says.

How do you use a “not to do list?” On a day when you must paint a bathroom, for instance, it could be wise to place grocery shopping or oven cleaning on your “not to do list.” This will free your mind from the temptation to pack too much into your day.

Even those who normally enjoy an extraordinary capacity to resist distraction can find the extra work involved in a major housing transition taxing.

“Remember that if you’re feeling stressed by all the things you have to do to get moved, you’re not alone. Nowadays with so many demands on us ... most of us feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. And this is all the more so when we have to move,” Anderson says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at