Organizing your home can provide many benefits. You’ll spend less time looking for things and more time using them. Your space will look nicer, and you’ll be more excited to spend time in it. You’ll also be less likely to create conflict with your roommate or partner.

Despite these benefits, many people are intimidated by the idea of organization. For adults with ADHD, this is especially true. They are often so overwhelmed by clutter that they nearly give up on the idea of organizing altogether.

If you have ADHD, executive function problems may be preventing you from keeping your living space clean and orderly. It’s not that you want your living space to be chaotic. You probably just find it more challenging to get organized than people who do not have ADHD.

Not to worry, though. With the right organization skills and the proper motivation, you can create a living space that is functional and pleasing to behold. In this blog post, we’ll explain how.

Organizing with intention

To guide your organizational efforts, we recommend visualizing how you want things organized before getting started. Ask yourself: What are your goals for each area in your home? How would you like to spend your time? For example, perhaps you would like to get into yoga. If so, you’ll want to designate some floor space for that before you begin.

For each room, visualize which activities you want to do and where. Sketch your plan on paper if it helps. This method of creating themed zones can also help you organize closets and other storage areas. Designate space for different categories of items (e.g., cleaning supplies, technology, hobbies) so you know where to put them.

Once you have a vision for a room, decide which part you will start organizing first. Pick an area you feel motivated to clean, perhaps because it seems like it would be easy or maybe because it’d have the biggest positive impact. For example, you might decide to clean your desk first because the disorganization is making it too hard to work efficiently.

Next, decide how much time you’d like to spend organizing this session. If the area you’ve chosen can’t be completed in that amount of time, choose a smaller section to focus on. For example, if you only have 20 minutes to work on your desk, you could select one stack of paper and sort it into categories: recycle/trash, need-to-process, and ready to file.

If you have a more significant chunk of time to devote to organizing on a given day, consider starting with one quadrant of your room. If it’s really messy, you might need to section it into even smaller parts. Some people find it helpful to visualize their room like a clock, starting with one pie-shaped slice.

Gather any materials you’ll need before digging in. For example, you might want to have a dust rag, trash bag, recycle bin, and donation box handy. We also recommend having a “this goes in another room” box, so you don’t waste time running back and forth more times than you need to. You could even create little piles designated for each room.

Once you’re set up, start organizing the area you’ve chosen by selecting a single item. Consider whether you want to keep it by considering the following factors: Do you use it often? Is it likely you’ll ever use it? If you get rid of it, would it be difficult or expensive to replace? Perhaps most importantly, in the words of expert organizer Marie Kondo, does it “spark joy”?

If you decide to keep the item, find a home for it that makes sense based on your planned activity zones. For example, your sunglasses and purse/wallet might make the most sense in a bin by the front door. Being thoughtful about where you place things will save time in the long run since you will always know where to find them and put them away in the future without thinking about it. Continue this process for every item in the area you’re cleaning.

Once you’re done with that area, take an “after” picture. Eventually, you’ll know where everything goes by heart, but in the meantime, having an image can help you get used to your new system. Choose a new area and repeat this process as often as you can until your entire home is organized. It may take many sessions to complete, and that’s fine! Just keep chipping away at it.

Finding the motivation for organization with ADHD

The concept of organization can be daunting with ADHD. Here’s how to stop being overwhelmed by clutter and find the determination to get started (and keep going!).

– Think about why organization is important to you. Maybe you want to avoid the stress of losing things, avoid fights with your roommate, or enhance your enjoyment of your personal space. Imagine what it will look and feel like when you’re done and get excited about it!

– Plan a reward for yourself. Allow yourself to have it after you’ve organized for the planned amount of time, even if the area you wanted to tidy up isn’t finished yet.

– If you tend to procrastinate, set aside time slots for organization. Record these appointments on your phone, ADHD planner, or whatever reminder system you prefer.

– If the thought of cleaning for an hour or more is too daunting, just commit to 15 minutes. Set a timer so you’ll know when it’s over, then ask yourself if you can commit to another 15 minutes. Many people find that once they start, it’s easy to keep going. If not, that’s okay. Try again some other time when you have more energy.

– Entertain yourself by listening to a podcast or favorite TV show. If that’s too distracting, switch to music or white noise. The trick is to find just the right level of stimulation so that you’re not too bored and not too distracted. Experiment to find out what works for you.

– Create an organizational system that appeals to you. It might be brightly colored, have cute little chalkboard labels, or be made of a material that matches your décor. If it makes you happy when you look at it, you’re probably on the right track.

Avoiding common mistakes

As you practice the organization skills outlined above, it’s essential to avoid common pitfalls. Here are a few to look out for—and how to avoid them:

Trying to do everything all at once

Cleaning your entire house in one go might sound great on paper, but it isn’t practical for most people. It took you an entire lifetime to accumulate all this stuff, so you can’t expect to fix it overnight. Be patient with yourself and recognize that keeping a house clean is a lifetime effort. Sometimes it will be clean, and sometimes it will be messy.

Saving everything until later

Sometimes you have no choice but to put off cleaning things, such as leaving the breakfast dishes in the sink when you’re running late for work. However, this mindset can become habitual. Try to get into the habit of putting things away right after you’ve used them.

Insisting on perfection

Most of us will never achieve the level of aesthetic perfection we see on social media, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be fun to arrange things aesthetically, but what matters more is the functionality of your living space. That means doing what makes sense for you. If you absolutely hate folding socks, don’t force yourself! Toss them into a drawer and be done with it.

Accumulating too much stuff

Before you bring a new item into your life, ask yourself whether you really need and want it. Perhaps you already have something similar buried at the bottom of your closet. If you take the time to organize your space, you’ll rediscover the beautiful items you already have, and you’ll be less likely to make unnecessary purchases. Curbing impulse purchases by forcing yourself to wait 24 hours before clicking “buy” can save you a lot of grief in the long run.

Clinging to useless or sentimental items

When you come across things you’re not sure about, your indecision can stall the organization process. Instead of dwelling on these items, put them into an “I’m not sure” box. Put it into the back of your closet for six months. If you still haven’t used an item after all that time, do you genuinely need it? This method also allows you to gather sentimental items into a single place, making it easier to identify the things you cherish most (so you can get rid of the rest).

Allowing distractions to sidetrack you

Put your phone on airplane mode while you’re working and turn off all notifications. If the program you’re listening to is distracting you, turn it off. If you come across an item that needs attention before it can be put away, such as a bill that needs paying, set it aside and add a note to your to-do list.

Get Organized with the Support of an ADHD Specialist

As ADHD specialists, we avoid the common ableist suggestions to get organized. We work with you to problem-solve and implement targeted strategies uniquely tailored to you. Send us a message to see how we can help or book a free 20 minute consultation call with one of our psychologists: Dr. Lee, Dr. Abbene, Dr. Barajas, or Dr. Goldman.