Growing up as the inattentive ADHD child of a non-ADHD mother, I learned some important lessons about how NOT to do things in an ADHD house. But managing the ADHD clutter struggles with my mom did not happen overnight.
Though not much fun at the time, I now realize these lessons were a blessing in disguise. Learning what not to do shaped my approach to creating effective organizing systems for both my clients and myself.
Inattentive ADHD and a Cluttered Bedroom
Since I was an easy-going child, Mom and I usually got along pretty well. Sure my grades were always a problem, but that wasn’t our biggest issue. The major battleground between Mom and me was the enormous mess in my bedroom.
Piles of toys, books, and stuff heaped on every surface. The floor strewn with dirty clothes. I had no idea how to function any other way. I don’t even want to think about the dust and spiders. You know how hard it is to clean when you can’t find a surface.
My poor mother. I frustrated her to no end. We didn’t know about ADHD. Mom just tried to keep me organized in ways that had always worked for her focused brain. As you can imagine, they didn’t exactly work for my unfocused brain.
Giving Up a Life of Clutter
When I finally had my own home, I decided to give up my life of clutter and chaos and become an organized person. I still didn’t know about ADHD. Thankfully my instincts led me to create an ADHD-friendly approach to organizing!
The most important ADHD organizing principle I discovered, a method that lets people with ADHD float through their days with less clutter, chaos, and conflict, is to start by playing detective. First you investigate the clutter to figure out why it accumulates. Then, you invent creative, issue-specific, ADHD-friendly organizing solutions.
The Truth about ADHD – It’s Gotta Be Easy
Before you try to create any system, you need to accept the truth about ADHD: if something is too hard to do we will avoid doing it. We like the idea of complicated systems, but we won’t follow through on them consistently.
For organizing this means:
- Make it quick and easy to put something away, because if it is too hard to do, we’ll toss stuff in a pile or leave it on the nearest flat surface.
- Even more important: make the things that are used the most the easiest to put away.
(Of course, we all know that even when it’s easy to put something away it doesn’t always happen. But the chances will be better. And, when clutter starts clearing, it’ll go faster and be more likely to get done.)
Now, About your Investigation
Start by studying what’s tossed on the floor or left lying about, and see if you can figure out how to make it easier to put away. Use these questions to guide you during your clutter investigation:
- Are drawers hard to open?
- Do closet doors stick?
- Can your child reach the hangers?
- Is there a lid on the laundry hamper or the trash can?
- Do you have to walk to another room to put laundry in the hamper or to put away something that’s used often?
- Is it easy to tell where things go?
- Does everything have a place where it belongs?
- Are favorite toys in clear bins or open baskets?
- How can you make it easier to make the bed?
- Where can you use hooks for jackets, clothes, and towels instead of closets, hangers, and rods.
- Where can you use an open cup or jar to store pens, pencils, and scissors instead of keeping them in a drawer.
- How about pump bottles for toothpaste, shampoo, and lotion so the lids don’t get tossed aside.
- Do books fit on the shelf? Is it easier if you stack them?
Pay attention to the seemingly unimportant things that can have a big impact on the mess: a drawer too full to hold the clothes; hangers that tangle; a laundry hamper with a lid.
Set Reasonable Standards
There’s one more thing for you to investigate. Where are you part of the problem? Insisting on higher than necessary standards can make things harder to do, which makes clutter more likely.
- Do you expect beds to be made with military precision?
- Are hand towels folded in three sections?
- Are clothes folded to a department store standard? Or on hangers instead of hooks?
Getting clear on what’s good enough will reduce the ADHD clutter struggles around your house.
Focusing on making it easier for your ADHD family members to put things away does more than create a tidier house. It also reduces stress and frustration for everyone involved.
At the end of the day, that’s the REAL reason to get organized!