How to Get Organized with ADHD

Adult ADHD challenges focus, attention, and concentration, and when it’s not recognized it will cause frustration when organizing a home. ADHD folks (whether diagnosed or not) are often energetic, creative and enthusiastic people  — but they have different ways of processing information. It’s easy to feel discouraged and frustrated when the typical  organizational systems that look so pretty on Pinterest just don’t work. It’s a relief to know that those systems aren’t for everyone, and that there ARE ways to get and stay organized with ADHD — it just takes different techniques and strategies. 

Where’s all the stuff?

Organizing Strategies for ADHD 

Different methods and strategies for organizing are necessary for folks whose brains are wired differently. These techniques are described and outlined very well in the book, “Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD.” And while this book focuses on adults with ADHD, I find that many of the techniques are good for just about anybody. It’s a busy world, we all have more stuff than we need, and it’s easy to get distracted, especially with so many forces vying for our attention. Juggling schedules alone can require the expertise of a professional project manager, not to mention managing all the household tasks such as laundry, meals, self care, home maintenance, pets — the list goes on, and on. 

Fighting Distraction with ADHD

ADHD folks, who tend to vibrate on a higher frequency, are easily distracted with so much stimulus. Let’s take an example: the morning shower. You might grab a towel from the linen closet, and glance in the bedroom and see the dog’s brush, which you’d been looking for earlier, so you grab it to put it back in the doggy bin in the kitchen, when you see that the paper towel roll is empty and you’ll need those for packing lunch, so you run downstairs to grab an extra roll where you see a pile of laundry that needs to go in the washer, and then you’re taking a load of clothes out of the dryer… pretty soon it’s 20 minutes later and you’re still not showered!

In this example, we want to eliminate all unnecessary steps to make systems fast, simple and convenient. Keep that towel on a hook next to the tub, with shampoo, conditioner, razor, and anything else needed for a successful shower on open shelves. Open shelving allows you to see everything, which might mean you have “unsightly” shampoo and conditioner bottles on display, but such accommodations are necessary to help an ADHD person get through daily processes with ease and efficiency. The sacrifice of a “pretty” system is well worth the efficiency gained. 

A few more takeaways from Organizing for ADHD:

  1. Reduce inventory 
  2. Prioritize ease of stowage over ease of retrieval 
  3. Vertical storage is helpful 
  4. Store on wall or shelf, never the floor
  5. Only touch it once – do it then, don’t put it in a pile for later
  6. Eliminate duplicate items  
  7. Name your cabinets and shelves (plates, sock drawer, etc) 
  8. Make “rough storage” areas easy to access and well-lit and ensure there is “flex” room for long-term items and short-term needs 
  9. Make sure the item is conveniently located, easy to retrieve, and even easier to put away

More on Rule 1 for Organizing with ADHD (the Golden Rule)

 Inventory must conform to storage! 

Purging, getting rid of, or letting go of stuff is almost always necessary in order to make sure inventory fits in its designated spot. We live in a culture of stuff, and it’s easy to amass things even when we are not trying. The giveaways, the trinkets, the kitchen implement you bought on impulse at the grocery store that now sits unused in a drawer… we’re encouraged to buy more stuff, all the time. And it takes a mighty force of will and near constant vigilance to stem the tide. Particularly for those with ADHD, too much stuff can cause immense distraction and lead to feelings of overwhelm or even burnout.

The Brutal Purge 

In the book, the author calls it the “brutal purge,” meaning, relentless banishment of unnecessary stuff from your house. We’re not talking necessities or occasional luxuries — you obviously need a number of things to survive and you’re allowed to have luxuries too — particularly if they bring you joy. We’re talking about the stuff that finds its way into your house that doesn’t really need to be there, which has stayed because of inertia or a misplaced feeling of duty, guilt or obligation. I enjoy a good purge more than most people probably do, but it’s a particularly helpful, and I’d dare say essential, step for getting organized when you have ADHD. 

Sure, with any brutal purge you might let go of something and regret it later but, keeping the big picture in mind, that just means you’re doing it right. Don’t be afraid to let things go and remember that just about anything can be replaced if need be. 

Organizing Tip: Make it Easier to Put Away Than to Retrieve 

For ADHD folks, it’s easier to start things than to finish, which is why we make sure it’s easier to put things away than to retrieve them. This means you must have room for it where it belongs, which usually means you have to get rid of stuff to ensure there’s a proper place for everything (see Rule #1). Let’s say you have a few minutes and want to pick up the scarf you’re knitting for your niece’s birthday — the crochet supplies live in a basket in a closet which you can easily grab – and when you’re done it’s easy to throw stuff back in the basket, which at some point will be returned to the closet (and it will meantime will stay contained in the basket, not scattered all over the coffee table). 

Obvious Placement Means Everyone Can Help! 

You don’t want to keep an extra stash of anything down in the basement that you’ll forget about — or that only you know about. Don’t keep extras in some random drawer to be forgotten. Items should be stored where they’re used so they can be stowed in one single motion. In a family household, this allows everyone to help out because it’s obvious where things go, and cleanup is quick and easy. 

The “ideal” organized house that you see on The Home Edit isn’t a realistic goal for someone with ADHD or even most “regular” people. So let’s let go of that unrealistic goal, and  instead focus on the benefit of a system that works to simplify life, reduce stress, and allow for ease and efficiency with household tasks. 

There’s a greater goal at stake here too. Beating the “culture of stuff” — reducing intake and consumption —  is better for the environment, saves money, conserves the earth’s valuable resources, and helps us all move towards a more sustainable, happy, stress-free lifestyle. What’s not to like about that?

Ready to purge?

Find out where to donate your stuff responsibly here.

Need help getting started? Get in touch here and let’s get started!

How Marie Kondo’s Book changed me

Find More Space by Letting Go: Marie Kondo’s “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” 

This book has been around for a while but the wisdom and practice that Marie Kondo shares has been foundational for me with home organizing. Here are a few of my favorite takeaways from the book.  

  1. A dramatic reorg of the home causes dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. According to Kondo, tidying up is a one-time affair. You don’t want to be organizing and decluttering for the rest of your life. You do it big, everything within a fairly short amount of time (say, a few months or half a year). Make it transformational and you’ll be living a new life with fresh clarity and purpose. After that, you maintain.
  2.  The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house is in order. Visualize what you hope to gain through tidying. What’s your ideal lifestyle? One of her clients said, “A more feminine lifestyle,” which included more baths, essential oils, classical piano, yoga and tea. Identify WHY you want to live like that. Keep asking why until you get to the root (to be happy?). It’s easier to get rid of things when there is an obvious reason to do so. 
  1. Tidying starts with discarding. Sort by category, not by room! In this order: clothes, books/papers, komono (miscellany), mementos. Review all of your clothes, not just the stuff in your closet. Bring everything to the same place so you can really see what you have and identify redundancies. Next, books, and so on. 
  1. All you need to do is look at each item, one at a time, and decide whether or not to keep it and where to put it. It’s simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. 
  2. You are choosing what you want to KEEP, not focused solely on throwing things away. 
  3. Everything must have a place. Existence of an item without a home increases the chance for clutter. 
  4. Don’t get rid of other people’s things without their permission. You’ll lose their trust  when you get caught (speaking from experience — you will likely get caught!). The best way to deal with an untidy family member is to start with yourself. 
  5. People often hold onto unnecessary items because they’re afraid to let go of the past, or else have a fear of the future. 
  6. It’s easier to find things when you’re purposeful about what you own. You’ll know what you have and won’t have to dig through clutter to find it. 
  7. Things that are cherished shine. The things you keep should “spark joy” and make you feel happy. 

People might say Marie Kondo’s way is drastic, but that’s the point. If you have courage for such an undertaking, good things will happen in the process. Letting go of what’s not needed and keeping only what makes you happy can truly buy freedom, new perspective, and make space for what you really want to do. 

I convinced my husband to “Kondo” our clothes. He was reluctant, even dismissive at first, but he saw that I was doing it too, which was at least fair. And our office drawers reorg had gone fairly well. We got everything out from our regular closet plus the spare closets downstairs and laid it all out on the bedroom floor. Piece by piece, we decided if it deserved a place in our home. We both found clothes that we hadn’t seen in a long time, that we had missed, and have moved back into regular rotation. He kept some nice suits from his lobbying days, but we still managed to let go of about 10 bags of stuff!

Now our main closet holds nearly all of our clothes, and we have so much more room in the closets downstairs. It’s much nicer for  guests when they come to have a place to hang their belongings. It has also allowed some reallocation from the under stairs closet, which was jam packed. More breathing space, less dust, easier to find things. Win-win-win.