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Autism, ADHD, minimalism, and “stuff”

In this post, we explore the relationship between objects and Autism and ADHD and how having less can help with mood and sensory overwhelm.

Cleaning, organization, and maintance can be a challenge for Autistic/ADHD people. Hoarding disorder may be more associated with Autistic traits, but it is not a part of Autism or ADHD. The conditions most associated with hoarding disorder are depression and anxiety, which commonly occur with both Autism and ADHD. Hoarding is an OCD and anxiety disorder. Additionally, hoarding disorder is closely associated with trauma and PTSD.

Executive function and organization challenges are associated with both Autism and ADHD. These figure strongly into acquisition, order, cleaning, and maintaining a living space and objects.

Research shows that clutter has a negative impact on our mental health. One of the most obvious signs is the increase in the stress hormone cortisol. However, individual tolerance and comfort in clutter varies.


Minimalism is the intentional choice to acquire and live with less. People who elect to live a minimalist lifestyle do so for different reasons. They can include: financial, health and mental health, aesthetics, environmentalism and other reasons. Minimalism, like many things, exists on a continuum where some people cut their belongings by a third and others live out of one suitcase. There are factors that impact choices including family size, financial resources, real estate and housing options, disabilities and more. Minimalism isn't for everyone. There are many different methods for editing belongings and guidance for future acquisitions.

One popular method is the Konmari Method by Japanese declutterer Marie Kondo. Kondo's method is both much loved and not without imperfections. One positive about the method for Autistic and ADHD declutterers is it's focus on visuals. The decluttering process requires seeing every type of item and the resulting method of the edited items allows them to be easily seen. Kondo incorporates Shintoism into the practice, which some may find wonderful and other find distracting.

Another aspect of the KonMari Method Infind helpful for Autistics and ADHDers is that you do not have to be a true minimalist to get the benefits. The focus is on joy. You don't have to part with meaningful and large collections. Keep whatever sparks joy! Her method, like any, won't work for everyone.

If you aren't interested in decluttering and are just looking for some gentle cleaning coaching, I highly recommend KC Davis's book How to Keep House While Drowning and her podcast Strugglecare.

My personal relationship with stuff:

December 26th at 5 am, I started pulling down the decorations and returning them to their boxes. I've been overwhelmed by stuff for weeks. While I love the abundance of Christmas, it becomes too much for me every year.

I used to be a minimalist. It happened the second time I moved. It was the first time I moved out of my own place. I took three truck loads full of stuff to a charity shop. I couldn't believe everything I had accumulated in just 2 years in my first apartment. My boyfriend at the time said to me during one of our loads in his truck, "I want to be able to move everything I own in my truck." I did too.

For the next 12 years, I was thoughtful about the stuff in my life. I kept the amount of things we owned to a minimum. If something came in, something went out. Friends and family often commented on cleanliness and spareness of my home. One person told me my condo looked like a model. Most people thought it was pathological.

When we had a daughter, I intended to continue with this lifestyle, but that changed when she was two and diagnosed as Autistic. I believed I needed to enrich her environment to give her what she needed to thrive. That's when we began acquiring.

I find that a messy or cluttered environment impacts my mood and my functioning. I found that most of the toys I bought for my daughter gathered dust. She like gross motor activities and prefers to see some toys displayed and has no interest in most others.

Today, I'm revisiting editing and minimalism. I want to make room in my life for more advocacy, writing, events and time with family. Stuff gets in the way of that for me.

Here's my kitchen this morning. It's not clear surfaces, but it's a lot less than before.

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