Help Me Move: ADHD Version
December 14, 2017 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I am leaving my apartment in a week. There is clutter everywhere. Complicating factors: ADHD (which means limited focus), no car, work deadlines, limited storage. Help me prioritise and/or figure out a method for keeping my sanity.

Howdy, hive mind. I am facing down a work deadline of this Monday. I need to be out of my apartment by the end of next Wednesday. In the meantime, I also need to:

*Locate, consolidate, and pack all important documents (this is a huge job, and the hardest and most important part)
*Locate, consolidate, and remove everything I'm getting rid of
*Locate, consolidate, and pack everything I'm either storing or taking with me on a plane

I'm in a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment so I have a fair amount of stuff but no car, which makes donating and recycling a challenge.

Here's the biggest challenge: The visual overwhelm. Like, there is stuff fucking everywhere so it's exhausting just to look around, never mind figure out how to methodically go about my business.

I have hired a buddy who is helping with the patching/repair/clean up toward the end and can take things to the dump. Ideally, though, I'd like the good stuff to be donated rather than dumped.

Finally, I do not have the time nor attention span to sell things; I've tried to give things away on Next Door but that's not working.

If you have ADHD or wrestle with similar issues, how would you approach this problem? I'm willing to throw a smallish amount of money at it, and my main priority is dealing with the paper, which is the most challenging aspect because of all the other clutter.

I've put this into the Health & Fitness category because I feel like this is becoming a huge health issue for me. Thanks for any suggestions that can help me stay on track, manage the chaos, and provide methods for surviving the madness of moving.
posted by Bella Donna to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Can you use a Car2Go or ZipCar or even take a cab/Lyft/Uber? Also some donation places do pick ups.

Also try your neighborhood Buy Nothing group on Facebook. People will gladly take a lot of your stuff.


Go into a room and mentally divide it into sections and do 1 section at a time. Once one room is done, make that your space to put bring / store / donate / trash piles.

Also this could be something you could throw money at, if you can. Check TaskRabbit for helpers.
posted by k8t at 12:12 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry. I'm moving in 12 days. I don't have any attention-related diagnoses, but I have other ones, and the attention span of a fruit fly. I have half-packed boxes on every horizontal surface. I hate it. I hear you.

So, here's what I'd do if I were you:
- Do you have a friend who can come sit with you while you put things in boxes/trash? They don't have to do anything, just hang out, provide moral support, help you remember you're supposed to be moving.
- Focus on the keeper stuff first. Get that packed. Pretend you're packing for a really, really, really long trip if that helps.
- Salvation Army and similar will come pick your furniture donations up for you. No driving to them.
- I admire the desire to donate rather than trash, but if you have to trash it, do it. And this is also where money can help, because junk haulers are a thing.
- You can also totally hire people to pack for you. Movers can also do this. Yelp is your friend here.

Finally, most stuff is replaceable! If you get rid of something, you can probably get another one. You can do this! (Oh god moving sucks, I'm sorry.)
posted by bowtiesarecool at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mild ADHD here. You need to set aside areas for things. You can temporarily move around furniture, too. It will be OK! For example, you can assign a corner where all the packed boxes go. Label them and stack them. Assign another area for all the packing materials. It sounds like you have a decent sized apartment so you may want areas for packing materials in each room, but boxes can just be in one place, if possible. Own the chaos. Who cares if your living room isn't usable for more than a few people to watch TV. It's only temporary.

If you're in a city, set things out on the curb and post a curb alert on Nextdoor or Craiglist. Just a photo and brief description.
posted by ancient star at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2017 says they will help you find a place that will pick up your donation in the Bay Area. They also have a list of things that are not acceptable donations like TVs and stuffed animals, so be sure to check the list.
posted by soelo at 12:21 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

You say you have a buddy to help in some capacity, but do you have a Trusted Person who can just tell you what to do? Like a project manager for your move? It does require a lot of faith in that person, so it has to be someone you trust, but just give them the overall goals, and they can help you organize by basically being your drill instructor, keeping you on-task, and sometimes just making the decision when you dither?
posted by xingcat at 12:22 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I regularly use Junk King to haul the stuff I need to get rid of. They recycle and donate everything they can, so I can feel good about minimizing the amount getting trashed without having 3 different tasks.
posted by politikitty at 12:24 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have ADHD and have moved many times. It sucks, you have my sympathy. Here's what I do. I don't think it's the best way to pack, but it's what works for me best:

Start in the smallest room (probably the bathroom) and sort that room first. Have a garbage bag and a box. Stuff you're throwing away goes in the garbage bag. Stuff you're keeping goes in the box. Do that until you are completely done with that room. Finishing one room will give you a sense of accomplishment that will keep you going.

Then do the same thing with other rooms. You might have to do a few rounds each for larger/more complex rooms: I usually attack a room like the bedroom or the living room by categories: so in the bedroom, I'd do clothes, then papers, then bedlinens, etc.

THEN once you have packed up all the things you want to keep (save the things you need in the interim), you can go back through and gather up things to throw away. If you are able to do different bins for recycling vs. trash vs. Goodwill, great. But if you can't, don't be too hard on yourself. I work for an environmental organization and I give you permission to just throw things away if that makes things more manageable. :)

The big thing for me about this method is that I only focus on one thing at a time, and focus on that thing until it's done. Whether that's all the trash in one room, or all the books in my living room. This lessens the feeling of overwhelm and helps me plow on. TAKE BREAKS between categories too.

One other thing: if you have a ton of stuff you can't or don't want to take to your new place, you can hire guys to haul it away. It feels like a waste of money but it's so worth it.
posted by lunasol at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

xingcat's suggestion of a non-judgey Trusted Person has been super-helpful for me in the past, especially if they don't have attention disorders. They have a way of effectively and lovingly helping me make end-runs around the dilemmas and tangents I have encountered in past moves.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:34 PM on December 14, 2017

One thing that I learned many years ago is that it's a lot easier to sort through belongings for what to keep/donate/sell etc. AFTER you move than before. When you're packing house, you have a million things to do in a short span of time. After you move in, you have all the time you need to properly sort stuff, and make better decisions about it. If you have very strict freight limitations, this may not be possible, but if weight/number of boxes isn't a big issue, there's no question that this is the less-stress way of doing it.

Now, the trick is to making sure you actually do end up sorting through your stuff once you're moved in, rather than let all the stuff just sit around. My solution is to deal with it this way: As I unpack each box, if it's something I'm keeping, I put it away in its new home. If it's something I'm donating, it goes in a big 'DONATE' box. And if it's going in the trash, straight in the bin. This may mean that you have unfinished boxes sitting around for a while, which is totally OK. Just find a way to get to them eventually. Some people leave all the paperwork for last, but honestly, this is a sure-fire way to never ever go through it - a mountain of paperwork is just too daunting to take on and there will always be a million things you'd rather do. So I recommend doing a little at a time.

Good luck, and congrats on your new place!
posted by widdershins at 12:39 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Severe ADHD with horrific anxiety here.

Step one: Do not attempt to do this in a marathon. Set a timer for ten minutes. Take a break after the first ten minutes. Drink lots of water. Listen to soothing music, or upbeat music, depending on what you need. Do not do this while you're hungry, I promise hunger will make this harder. Get through half hour or an hour every day. If you have energy for more, great. If not, do not beat yourself up about it.

Step two: Get a big box and some big black contractor garbage bags. Everything that is paper you are keeping goes into the box. Everything that is garbage goes into the garbage. As soon as you have a full or half full garbage bag, it leaves the apartment. This is not the time to try to organize the papers. Just get them all in one box together. Label the box "PAPERS." Nothing but papers goes in this box.

Bonus steps: Mark a big box "DONATIONS" and get a laundry basket. Any laundry you find goes in the basket, and as soon as you have a full basket, put it in the washing machine. When it's dry, fold it and put it straight into a box. Seal the box and mark it "Clean clothes."Any clothes or other items for donating go straight into a box marked donations. These steps are more than I can handle when I'm doing things like this alone, but with someone who has ok executive functioning, I can be kept on task with these four things, and it helps me to only touch each item once.

For stacks of paper, just put them all in the papers box, sort later. Do not spend time deciding if a piece of paper is something you need to keep. If it's an empty envelope, then sure, pitch it, but don't sort stacks of paper while packing.

After you've gotten the paper/trash/some donating/laundry taken care of, a lot of the mess has subsided, and many remaining things can just be boxed up and unpacked at your destination.
posted by bilabial at 12:43 PM on December 14, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: 1. Pack your suitcase with toiletries for a two week trip.
2. Large black conntractor's garbage bags will shinny up about 3 sq feet of clothes hanging in a closet. Tie the bag under the hangers. Take the bag down, then the next one. Leave clothes in the dresser. If it is too heavy then take the drawers to your moving truck, move the empty dresser, put the drawers back in inside the truck. Turn the dresser to the wall. This is the last day.
3. Take your bed apart and put the hardware in a sandwich bag. Tape that to the bedframe. Use only your mattress for the last week. Keep out two towels all the rest of linen and bedding goes in contractor bags.
4. Get large, plastic packing boxes and put your kitchen in them. Go to a shipping place and.get a big stack of tissue paper to wrap fragile things.
5. One side of your apartment nearest the front door is the going with you place.
6. Other side of your living room is the going someplace else place.
7. Use white bags for garbage. The dumpster is your best friend. If you have a kindly neighbor, use their can too on garbage day. Figure out how many garbage days you have left and plan to maximally utilize that service.

Figure out what you want in your new space. If your space is far off keep in mind Penske will give you a truck for five days, unlimited mileage. If you are moving in town then you have time to make dump and thrift runs, before you make moving run. When it is time to finally load the bed and furniture to your new place, get or hire help.
posted by Oyéah at 12:47 PM on December 14, 2017

Best answer: Unfuck Your Habitat has a short article on moving, but I think you could also use the Emergency Cleaning link.

This has been the most critical tip for me from the first link:
"Work methodically. Start in one room, with one surface, shelf, or cabinet, and pack until the box is full and ready to be sealed and labeled. If you jump around a lot, you’re going to get frustrated and overwhelmed."
posted by Mouse Army at 12:56 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: ADHD myself, here is the approach that I use to push through stuff like this. I feel for you, it is the WORST, ugh.

-Do you take meds? If so, work on this WHILE YOUR MEDS ARE WORKING. My meds run out around the time I get home from work, so if I have house projects, they need to happen on the weekends.
-Get a really good night's sleep. Set an alarm to go to bed the night before if you have to (I usually have to because HYPERFOCUS).
-Use a timer technique with built in breaks like Unf*ck Your Habitat or Pomodoro. There are apps for this.
-Divide your space into sections. A section might be a whole bathroom, or a single drawer - whatever makes sense. Smaller sections are better because you can finish them faster and move to something else - ADHD brains love novelty.
-You will need a big trash bag and two boxes. One box is labelled KEEP and one DONATE.
-Make two spaces in your house. You will put the KEEP boxes in one spot and the DONATE boxes in another.
-Start your timer and go to a section. Pick up each item ONCE AND ONLY ONCE at this stage. When you pick it up, you will put it in the trash bag, the keep box, or the donate box. Do this FAST. If you can't decide if you want to keep or donate, put it in keep for now. If you fill a donate box, carry that box to the DONATE area and make a new DONATE box. If you fill a KEEP box, write on the box the name of the section (KEEP - top two desk drawers) and put it in the KEEP area and make a new KEEP box.
-When your timer dings, use your break time to do something that will help with stress. I suggest something like get up and walk around, or take a short dance break - if you are sitting there sorting your ADHD will start to poke you with the itch to MOVE, so do some moving.
-When the break is over, start a new timer. Look at your current section. If there is still more stuff, repeat steps 6 and 7 until the section is empty and everything that was in it is sorted. If it is done, start over on a different section.
-Every time the trash bag is full OR it is the end of your session of working on the house today, take it OUT OF THE HOUSE and put it in your trash receptacle at the street. This helps so much with visual clutter and its attendant stress.
-Variant to deal with papers: In addition to KEEP and DONATE, have a smaller box (like a file box) labelled PAPER. As you are going through, any paper that cannot immediately be identified as trash goes in the PAPER box, and you deal with the PAPER box similar to how you dealt with the KEEP box. Do not try to sort this yet.
-Arrange pickup/haulaway of the DONATE boxes. If you have to, you can throw them away and/or put them out on the curb with a "free" sign etc.
-Now everything you want to keep is in boxes! IF you have time and WANT to do some more sorting, you can. OR you can just seal it up, move, and then do the detailed sorting stuff AS YOU UNPACK, as widdershins suggested.
-It really helps if you can focus on finishing one small area first. I finished the bathroom first and it was so great. Sometimes I'd go sit in there just to look at all the CLEAN SPACE and remind myself I could get through it.

Extra bonus tips to help combat distractibility:
-If you are alone, set a couple of reminders/random timers/ etc to ping you and remind you something like "right now I am working on the top desk drawer."
-One thing that can REALLY help is what they call a "body double." This is a non-judgey friend who will come over and be there while you work. They might chit-chat with you if that helps, or they could just work quietly on something non-distracting (read a book, knit, etc.) Their presence will help reaffirm to your subconscious that it is Focus Time.
-If your body double is willing, it can be REALLY helpful if they can keep an eye for you to get distracted and remind you, "remember, right now your only job is to sort the top desk drawer." Then when you finish a section or a time segment of work they can tell you good job! They can also help by doing things like taking your full DONATE box to the DONATE corner, taking out the trash, etc.
-If you have someone you trust who REALLY wants to help and doesn't mind, you could let them project manage and just tell you what to do. My brother is great with logistics and when I was having to do something similar (with me it was unpacking but basically the same) he would just tell me "right now the only thing you are doing is putting away what is in this box. Okay, good job, now come pick where you want this shelf, and I will hang it while you do THIS box. Okay, now stack the boxes against this wall. Okay, now we will sweep the floor..." He was there for like three hours and we made VAST progress because I didn't have to keep DECIDING things.
posted by oblique red at 12:58 PM on December 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Make a conscious effort not to figure out the best way, most efficient way, etc. Those ways are for people who are good at organizing and probably haven't even accumulated much unnecessary stuff along the way. If you find yourself thinking, "I wish I could just throw all theses papers in one box and deal with it later," then ask yourself "Why not?" And you're not a bad person if you don't donate things you don't need. And as has already been mentioned, lots of decisions can be dealt with after you move.

You can use sticky dots or tape in different colors to indicate what's moving to the new place, and what's not. Just the writing required. While you're going around tagging items this way just use a third color if an item makes you pause more than a few seconds.
posted by wryly at 1:20 PM on December 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have helped an ADD friend move more than once. A wall-patching and truck-having friend is awesome, but a keeping-you-on-track-and-reducing-visual-clutter friend is also awesome. I did things like pack books and remove refrigerator magnets and secretly just throw things into slightly the wrong box so they were at least in a box while my friend dealt with clothes and private documents and things.
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:02 PM on December 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

First - do you *sort* of have an inkling as to where the important papers are? Can you think back to when you last handled them? Put yourself back in that particular memory and try to recall say the colour of the folder, and roughly where you were. Sometimes walking around (guided by a memory) will help place things. (Or you could try to guess where past you *might* have put something important. Eg for me, odds are past cds stuffed her passport into one of three particular drawers.)

So I would start with the small, finicky, annoying, or especially sentimental things that I *can* place. Jewelry, special books, etc. (Because as you get on in the process, you lose patience for fiddly things requiring discrimination and end up wanting to take or chuck everything :/) And yes to packing clothes needed for the week after your move (and a set of towels).

Then, I'd just tear through until I got to paper, and make quick judgments about whatever I touched along the way, going by category. So if I were in a bedroom facing a pile of clothes, I'd pick through the clothes and go "keep" or "chuck" for each. (Haven't touched it in a year? Doesn't *quite* fit but maybe someday? Out it goes.) I'd stick to clothes until "clothes" was done. Then I'd do the same for books, electronics, etc.

Then I'd take the 2-4 suitcases permitted by the airline, and judiciously fill them with a more refined selection of stuff in the keep piles (or boxes).

Be mostly ruthless, but let yourself keep a few unnecessary things that really move you (and don't take up too much precious space/weight).
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:45 PM on December 14, 2017

Maybe for this particular move, you relieve yourself of the obligation of donating anything?

You go to a store that sells moving boxes and get a few stacks of the most easily liftable size and a roll of packing tape. You pitch everything up that you don’t desperately need into boxes marked "throw away" and you take them to the dumpster in back of your building. Anything too big to go into the boxes, you leave it beside the dumpster.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:10 PM on December 14, 2017

Response by poster: Hey folks, thanks for the great advice! I am much calmer now, have made tons of progress with my helper, and I am especially grateful for the referral to Junk King (coming Monday morning!) and this suggestion: If you find yourself thinking, "I wish I could just throw all theses papers in one box and deal with it later," then ask yourself "Why not?"

I am so in love with MetaFilter and you guys.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:27 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I regularly use Junk King to haul the stuff I need to get rid of. They recycle and donate everything they can, so I can feel good about minimizing the amount getting trashed without having 3 different tasks.

Just a head's up that while I am thrilled to have Junk King here carrying away my stuff, it turns out that my local franchise, at least, does not donate nor recycle stuff. I was immediately charged an extra fee for my microwave and in that way discovered that everything goes straight to the dump. So I rushed around retrieving books and stuff I could donate so it didn't go to landfill.

One of the two guys told me he feels bad about the company bullshitting its clients but he can't do anything about it. So I thanked him sincerely for telling me the truth so I could make other arrangements for a quarter of my stuff. So I'm happy for the service but deeply disappointed about the misleading marketing.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:58 AM on December 18, 2017

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