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I hired someone to declutter my house – but it turns out my ADHD makes that harder than it sounds

If you come to my house and need an onion, it would not be completely ridiculous to look in the tool box. No amount of Marie Kondo’s advice can save me from the chaos

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 03 May 2019 16:55 BST
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Tidying Up with Marie Kondo - trailer

I’m finding the pressure to “declutter” my life, in order to reach peace and happiness, stressful. Everywhere I look there’s a programme, a poster, advert or book encouraging me to colour-code my clothes, ask my shoes if they are happy, and thank my old socks for their services before tossing them out.

Just this morning I was enjoying a chaotic soya latte at a cafe (it had a teaspoon AND a wooden stirrer in it – neither looked overjoyed) and I sat at a table strewn with flyers for local services. The first one that caught my eye was for a “Declutter Coach”. There is no escape.

I did actually hire someone of this job description, years ago when Marie Kondo (a decluttering guru with her own Netflix show in which she folds things and puts them away – honestly, with the amount she earns I don’t know why she doesn’t just get a cleaner now) was barely on the first draft of her bestselling book.

The person I hired wasn’t the right fit for me. They are not all the same. For every professional declutterer, there are those who imagine it’s just an easy way to make money. The woman came round with a cardboard box and wrote “Miscellaneous” on it and said “put miscellaneous things in this and I’ll come back next week with some more boxes”. Then she invoiced me for £40.

I struggled on in life with wardrobes full of clothes no longer worn and bank statements in my cutlery drawer. Chronic ADHD has been my companion for all my life so my messiness is not mere slovenliness. I, my friends, have a doctor’s note to prove my condition. It’s an easy thing to scoff at, I know this. Happily, age brings with it a liberating “don’t give a damn” attitude when it comes to other people not understanding why I have a flip-flop on the piano.

For most of my adult life, even I thought I was just messy and a daydreamer. When in my twenties I shared a flat with my best friend, she politely asked one day, “When I leave the house in the morning to go to work, do you just walk around the flat getting things out of cupboards and throwing them around?” Seems like I did, without having a clue how to tidy it all up.

The fact is that we aren’t meant to have as many belongings as we do. The Kalahari San bushmen never wandered around their huts, picking up objects and asking themselves if it “sparks joy”. They just had what they needed and spent the rest of the time hunting for food. How would a bushman even know if they had ADHD? “We were chasing a buffalo with Steve and I think he saw a butterfly and ran off in another direction! I expect he’ll be back before long, asking if anyone has seen his bow and arrow and we’ll be like, ‘It’s hanging on your shoulder you numpty!’”

We fill our lives with stuff, stuff and more stuff until eventually a multimillion-pound industry has to be created to get us to tidy up. My grandmother lived between the homes of three of her children, in three different countries and all her possessions fitted into her hand luggage. She was the most relaxed person I have ever known. She never hankered for a Mulberry handbag or for a wall-mountable singing fish. She was the tidiest person and always knew exactly where her tweezers were – before I borrowed them and lost them.

My attention disorder makes reading non-fiction a slog for me, but I got far enough in Marie Kondo’s book to sort out my wardrobe a bit. My knicker drawer has remained as neat as can be for four years now and my dresses have remained hanging in order of length and colour, which means that every time I open my wardrobe I can see exactly which of my dresses I have not worn in 15 years.

Life is better when you don’t need a JCB digger to find your can opener; but just because you have seen the light, it doesn’t mean you can walk towards it.

My best friend came to dinner recently and said, “There’s no soap in your bathroom.”

“Yes there is,” I told her. “By the sink.”

She looked again and said, “No there isn’t. There is just a potato.” It was a bar of handmade soap which admittedly looked a bit like a small potato.

The fact that she didn’t bat an eyelash at the idea that I might actually have left a small potato on my bathroom sink, instead of soap, is testament to how long she has suffered me.

If you come to my house and need an onion, it would not be completely ridiculous to look in the tool box. There are some things that no amount of decluttering will change.

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