Jaclyn's Reviews > Unclutter Your Life in One Week

Unclutter Your Life in One Week by Erin Rooney Doland
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Apr 22, 2012

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Read from April 22 to May 01, 2012

NOTE: this is a slightly abridged version from my own site, which focuses on creative and/or gifted adults with ADHD. You can read the full story and other reviews by clicking here.

If you’re looking for a good overview of uncluttering strategies and philosophies, Unclutter Your Life in One Week may be the book for you. Author Erin Doland comes from an organic place, articulating an uncluttering philosophy motivated by a desire to clear the path to our “remarkable life.” Any ancillary distractions create roadblocks that keep us from living the remarkable life we deserve.

Readers who don’t naturally crave structure and rules may find that philosophy helpful as they create new habits. Much like I won’t exercise for its own sake by taking a jog, but I will spend two hours working in the yard because it produces immediate visible results, we need to find a meaningful purpose for seeing our ofttimes-difficult uncluttering projects through to the end.

To gain the most benefit from this book, readers–especially those with ADHD–need to contextualize the program before beginning the first chapter. You will not complete this process in one week. You will not even complete it in one month. This program may be achievable in the stipulated timeline for a highly motivated adult who has cleared their work schedule and prepared significantly, but those adults are probably not the ones who need to read a book about uncluttering and organizing.

Rule #1 for adults with ADHD is setting reasonable, attainable goals. Learning your limits and breaking projects down into realistic pieces will enable you to achieve success more often, thus boosting your self-confidence and helping you stick with a long-term uncluttering and organizing strategy. The program in this book consists of several long, hard, focused days of work. ADHD adults need to contend with the issue of project fatigue, even with the help of medication, so I highly recommend using this book as a general guide and discarding the timeline and schedule Ms. Doland suggests. Trying to accomplish that much in so little time will likely lead to fatigue and a collapse of productive energy, which can be incredibly demoralizing to adults who are well-accustomed to trying and failing at new organizing strategies.

That said, Unclutter Your Life in One Week presents readers with some solid organizing philosophies, all rooted in the belief that we deserve a remarkable, satisfying life. I particularly liked Ms. Doland’s suggestion to prioritize the “firsts” in your life: the first place you see when you wake up in the morning, when you arrive at work, when you arrive home after work, etc. Ensuring these first impressions are a positive experience every single day sets the stage for productivity and satisfaction. It’s tempting to get a pesky lingering task off your list because you think you should get it out of the way first, but it’s best to start with improvements that directly impact your quality of life. The rest will follow.

Another fresh idea I loved was the instruction to create a blank slate before setting up new organizing systems: empty everything from your desk and into another room, scrub the surface clean, then start thinking about where things should sit.

However, there is a significant danger for adults with ADHD of beginning a project like this with great gusto, only to lose steam and leave behind a mess in the other room. ADHD adults should be extra careful to break projects down into smaller tasks so as not to overextend their focus.

Likewise, the author suggests sorting items into bags to donate to Goodwill and putting them in the garage to take later. I cannot tell you how many times we have had several large bags of items piled in the basement or the trunk of the car for months, waiting to be taken to the electronics recycling center or the donation bins. The author doesn’t mention a strategy for making sure these nicely sorted items actually leave the house, but ADHD adults should make sure to consider this before accumulating bags and boxes of items to donate.

The key to making this book work for ADHD adults, especially creative types who don’t always love schedule and structure, is breaking these projects down into manageable pieces. I suggest using paper folders and lists or a project management platform like Springpad or Wunderkit to outline each “day” in Doland’s week and create discrete sub-projects that can be completed in no more than 30 minutes (or 60 minutes with a short break): that includes gathering materials, completing the project, and cleaning up.

My only big disappointment came toward the end, in the chapter on assessing your hobbies and leisure activities. Ms. Doland provides a structure for assessing how you spend your time and rooting out hobbies that “you are just not that into.” This is, at its core, a great idea.

However, she goes on to suggest alleviating some guilt by letting go of a hobby if you don’t spend at least an hour a month on it, stating plainly that “if it were really important to you, you would pursue it.” This is a familiar refrain for too many ADHD adults. For people who are struggling and failing to do what they know they want to do, statements like “well, it must not mean that much to you” are judgmental and damaging. I will never forget how it feels to be told “lazy is as lazy does” by a loved one, and I would never advocate implying to ADHD adults that how they spend their time directly reflects the values they hold in their hearts.

I acknowledge this book is not directly targeted to ADHD adults, but people who have reached such a level of disorganization and clutter that they purchase a book on the subject likely land somewhere on the ADHD spectrum. I think the failure to address that directly at some point in the book is an unfortunate omission when paired with assumptions and judgements like those mentioned above.

Overall, however, I still recommend this book to anyone struggling with a claustrophobic level of clutter. Ms. Doland hits the nail on the head when she says you cannot possibly live your best life when you are drowning in clutter and distractions. Despite wishing more attention was paid to the specific challenges faced by ADHD adults, I agree wholeheartedly with the central thesis and can attest to the fact that an uncluttered life begets and uncluttered mind.
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