Why Clearing Clutter Can Feel Impossible

“I came away from this idea that it had to be all or nothing and just started thinking about function” when it came to cleaning, she said. “When I think about ‘What do I need in the morning?’ all of the sudden I can get specific.” She makes sure she has enough clean dishes and counter space so that she can make breakfast, empties the trash and sweeps up any crumbs. “What feels like this big, unending task is actually just 20 minutes of my day,” she said.

For people who are really struggling, Ms. Davis emphasized that things can be unsightly but shouldn’t be unsanitary because everyone “deserves to be clean and comfortable.” If you don’t have the energy to wash all your dishes, clean just one or two for your next meal, or use paper plates. If laundry involves too many steps, don’t worry about folding; wrinkles never hurt anybody.

People who are neurodivergent, with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (A.D.H.D.), autism or other executive functioning issues, also often struggle with excess clutter. Like “depression rooms,” the term “doom piles” has become popular on social media to describe the random stuff that builds up and you don’t know what to do with. Nearly everyone has a junk drawer or two in their home, but these piles of clutter tend to be more ubiquitous for people who struggle with executive functioning.

Lenore Brooks is an interior designer who specializes in working with people who are neurodivergent. When her sister, who has A.D.H.D., lived with her for a brief time, Ms. Brooks discovered that there were lots of resources to help children with A.D.H.D. or autism stay organized but virtually none targeted at adults.

Much of Ms. Brooks’s work revolves around helping her clients deal with seemingly endless clutter; they feel like they’re constantly cleaning, but the clutter is always there. People with A.D.H.D. especially struggle with this because, she said, “it’s almost like decision fatigue all the time. ‘I can’t decide what to do with it, so I’m just not going to do anything with it.’”

The first step, Ms. Brooks said, is to really pay attention to the items that you’re frequently cleaning up. Then find better places for them to live. “What I talk to my clients about a lot is systems,” she said. “Figuring out why things are where they are, why clutter is building up where it is, and then changing the design or the organization around how people are actually using their home.”

These changes can be simple. For instance, if you find yourself constantly removing pens from your living-room couch cushions and coffee table, think about designating a spot to keep the pens in the room where you’re actually using them. For a client whose home office was always filled with dirty dishes, Ms. Brooks got her a tray that she could load her tea and snack paraphernalia onto and return to the kitchen at the end of every day.

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