Reader Shannon submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Do you have any tips for people with ADHD that go beyond the stuff you see or hear all the time in other publications? Work is pretty okay except for the whole “getting started” part, but my home is the tough area. I am one of those people who has to see something to remember I have it but that keeps things cluttered.
Based on the information you provided in your email, it is very likely that you’re a visual processor. I’m one, so I empathize with your need to see your belongings.
After years of working with students who have different forms and ranges of severity of ADHD, I’ve come to realize that there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution for staying organized. This is true for the non-ADHD afflicted as well, but for some reason unknown to me, it’s much more widely accepted in the general population than for those with ADHD. So, I’m going to provide a number of different strategies and I suggest you try the ones that speak to you. These same strategies might also work for other visual processors, with or without ADHD.
- Less is best. Too much stuff in a space likely bothers you immensely. If a drawer or closet gets too full, you may stop opening it and decide to ignore its existence. The fewer items you have in your home competing for your attention, the less you’ll feel overwhelmed by all of the visual stimuli. Just because you can own 25 shirts doesn’t mean you should own 25 shirts. (I own about 20 shirts, but 8 of them are the exact same shirt, just in a different color.) The first step to finding sanity is to get rid of as much clutter as possible — you don’t have to be a minimalist, but a minimalist-influenced space will work well for you. Remember: It is hard to be messy when you don’t have a lot of stuff to get messy.
- Think outside the closet. A traditional hanging rod for clothes might be a great idea for people who are auditory processors, but they’re likely a bad idea for you. Consider getting an Expedit bookshelf (or something similar) for your closet where you can group outfits together in cubbies. Then, hang a picture of yourself in each outfit on the lip of the cubby hole so you can “see yourself” in the outfit when making decisions about what to wear. (This also helps when returning clothes to your closet.) If cubbies aren’t for you, consider installing valet rods so your clothes can face you. Give your clothes as much room as possible so you can see each item well.
- Use an accountability partner. I mentioned this earlier in the week, and I think it’s ideal for someone with ADHD. Have a friend come over and sit on the couch and keep you company while you unclutter and organize. The person doesn’t need to lift a finger, his or her presence is usually enough to help keep you on track.
- Consider duplicates. Although I just suggested you have as few things as possible, it will probably work to your advantage to have duplicates of the things you do use. For example, keep a pair of scissors in the same container as your wrapping paper and another pair in your kitchen and another pair in your desk drawer. The scissors are much more likely to be returned to the wrapping paper storage container after you finish wrapping a present then they are to be returned to your desk drawer in the other room. I have multiple battery rechargers in the house because I don’t remember to recharge batteries otherwise.
- Shelves are better than drawers. Whenever possible, use shelving for storage instead of cabinets with doors. In your kitchen, consider removing your cabinet doors or having glass doors installed. It’s a lot easier to find things when you can see them. This is true for bookshelves, too. You may prefer to use shelves with outward facing books instead of traditional spine-only displays.
- Routines, routines, routines. You probably operate very productively when running on auto-pilot. As a result, try to create routines for the repetitive actions of your life — load and unload the dishwasher every Monday and Thursday, do laundry every Tuesday night, take out the trash every Wednesday, etc. It probably takes three or four months for things to become routine for you, so don’t be too hard on yourself as you’re establishing these routines. If you’re consistent, they’ll eventually stop being things you have to remember and become things you just do.
- Label simply. If you need to make it out the door every morning with your briefcase, car keys, and phone, mark these objects with the letters A, B, and C. Put a luggage tag with the letter A on it on your briefcase. Put a keychain on your keys with the letter B. Adhere a sticker to your cell phone or get a decorative cell phone case with a big letter C on it. Then, every time you leave your house or leave work you only have to remember A, B, and C. You can do a quick check to make sure you have those things, and be on your way. These simple labeling strategies are great for using with kids, too.
- Use beautiful things. Plain things may feel invisible to you. I can only use manilla file folders for archived papers (like tax returns) because I can’t “see” the files. For active files, I use ones with designs on them — birds, patterns, funny sayings — because the designs help me to remember what is inside them. My desk calendar is designed by Jonathan Adler with bright colors and little designs throughout it. If it’s not pretty, I’ll lose it or forget it. If I like looking at it, chances are I won’t forget about it. If you don’t own many things (see the first “Less is best” point), these beautiful things stand out in your space and tempt you to use them.
Thank you, Shannon, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Please be sure to check the comments for even more suggestions from our ADHD and visual processing readers. Good luck on your uncluttering and organizing journey!
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.