5 Tips For Dealing With Clutter When You Have ADHD (And Also When You Don’t)

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

The picture above is one of how my table looks at this very moment: pretty messy and cluttered. The last few weeks have been busy, and whenever my life gets hectic, my house starts looking the same. For some people that might be alright, but for me, it’s actually pretty stressful. On the one hand, I need a clean environment to function well, on the other hand, when my environment is not clean I can’t function well enough to get it clean.

Since I’ve been taking medication (I wrote about my experience with ADHD medication in this post), it has become easier to get myself up and going when it comes to tasks that don’t seem urgent or enjoyable. But there’s still the problem of how to get around doing those in the most effective way. Since I’ve spent quite a large part of my life already on research about how to get organized, I didn’t think there was anything new I could learn. Oh dear, how wrong I was. When I started researching organizing and cleaning tips by and for people with ADHD, a whole new world opened up (complete with flying carpet!)

The first thing I learned, right away, was that having a messy house is one of those things the majority of those with ADHD suffer from. I write ‘suffer’ because I read post after post with complaints about not being organized. See, I don’t really care if you worry about your house being messy or not. Either way is fine by me. But I need clean spaces to work in. If my workspace and kitchen start to look the way my brain feels, I’m overwhelmed in no time.

Of the other tips I’ve picked up, I’ve made a top 5 (because, you know, people like lists). I’ve read most of these tips in several different places, but the first one, and the best one, in my opinion, I took from K.C. Davis (from this interview). I haven’t read her book (yet) but am adding it to my Goodreads list now! (Aaaand…. done!)

So let me get started on that first great tip, and then throw in a few more:

1. There are only 5 kinds of clutter!

When you see a room full of stuff, it can be really overwhelming to try and get it all cleaned up. K.C. Davis found a way to keep her energy focused while tacking clutter: she says that there are only really 5 types of clutter: trash, dishes, laundry, stuff that has a home and stuff that doesn’t have a home. When you feel like cleaning an entire space is beyond your abilities at that particular moment, it can be helpful to decide to tackle just one of those things. Take a trash bag and find pick up trash lying around, or gather all the dishes. I sub-divide further into papers that go into recycling or clean versus dirty laundry. Having something to focus on makes it so much easier to see what goes where and to feel like you’re making progress.

2. Less stuff leads to less work

I’ve already been through several decluttering stages before, but somehow stuff keeps finding its way into my life (my passion for second-hand stores and markets might have something to do with this, as well as my lack of impulse control). With kids in the house (including a son who has a hard time parting with things like shiny candy wrappers and empty toy boxes), this hasn’t improved one iota. Yet I know that a minimalistic style would probably work better for me and give me more peace. In the meantime, I let go of stuff when I can and limit my impulse buying.

3. Use a timer

Using a timer works well for many things, including cleaning. If I’m not up for cleaning, I could set it for just 10 minutes to clear the table, or 5 to fill the dishwasher. Those little bits help too. The timer helps us stay focused.

I prefer using a visual timer (such as the Time Timer) because it really helps me gauge how much time I have left. The timer on my phone is the absolute worst possible one, for obvious reasons (Oh look! My mom played a Wordfeud word!)

4. Create a ‘dumping’ ground

This is one of the tips I haven’t tried out yet but I know I need: creating a place in your house where you can ‘dump’ things when you come in. I have a couple of these already, for my shoes, jacket and keys, but I need one for my kids’ schoolbags, my purse and the mail, too. Right now, those just end up wherever I decide to stop first when entering the house (or my kids decide to stop). This means that I often don’t know where I’ve left my stuff (I look for my phone at least 5 times a day. I wish I was exaggerating). It also means that spaces that should stay clear (bench, sofa, table, kitchen counter, etc) get cluttered quickly with stuff that doesn’t belong there.

Another kind of dumping zone that is really useful is a basket or box which holds items without a home (or with a place in another room). On the table in the picture above, many of the items don’t belong in my dining room at all. Yet, when I clear it, I won’t be walking around the house to put those all back right away (if I do, the chances of me getting stuck in another room are about 99%). So having a place where I can put all those things until I decide to put them away (another timer moment!) can be very useful.

5. Upgrade your experience

My brain doesn’t like cleaning, it doesn’t give me enough of a dopamine fix (though the medication helps with this). But do you know what my brain does like? Ted talks, podcasts and vlogs. As a Christmas present, my partner bought me some wonderful Bluetooth headphones and I now put them on whenever I do any kind of cleaning. Folding laundry is my Netflix moment, vacuuming is podcast time and youtube makes even cooking less of a drag.

I’ll never get excited about doing those chores, and that’s alright. If I can just find ways to make them bearable, that’s all I’m looking for. I still wish my house looked perfectly clean all the time, but I also know I wouldn’t choose the cleaning routine it would require for me to keep that up. I’ve got other stuff that matters more to me.

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