About 8 million adults in the U.S. have ADHD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and a significant percentage of them struggle with getting and staying organized.
“Attention deficit can be a useful tool when it comes to creativity and ingenuity, but if we’re not careful, we can stifle our own creativity and ingenuity with disorganization and procrastination,” said Chester Goad, a university administrator in the Nashville, TN, area who has attention deficit.
When to-do lists and clutter accumulate, someone with ADHD can become overwhelmed. “Things can not only get lost in the shuffle, they can get just plain lost,” Goad said.
Creating a strategy to manage your household makes it easier to find what you need, when you need it. Here, experts offer seven tips on getting organized if you, or someone you know, has ADHD.
1. Break It Up.
“ADHD is a disorder of intention, not attention,” said Gerald Nissley, a clinical psychologist in Marshall, TX, who specializes in ADHD. While it might be easy to concentrate on something highly interesting and stimulating, it can be tough to change the focus.
“Thus, it’s important to structure the organizing process in a way that allows it to be less daunting,” Nissley said.
One way to do this: Divide the project into manageable parts. If you’re going to put a room in order, start by standing in the middle of the space. Mark off grids, or sections, to be organized.
A couple of other ways to split up a project:
- Make a list of what needs to be done in the room. When you complete a task, cross it off.
- Draw a picture of the room and make notes to guide you through each step.
2. Set Up a Room Strategically.
“People with ADHD need frequent change, and by setting different spots for different activities, you’ll get a change of scenery,” said Judi Cineas, a psychotherapist in Palm Beach, FL.
If you have a desk in a room, consider adding a chair or window seat for reading in a different spot.
When arranging items, “set a place for everything in relation to where you will be using them,” Cineas suggested. Store keys by the door, reading glasses by a reading chair and bills in the place where you’ll sit down to pay them.
3. Schedule Your Sessions.
Instead of trying to organize for an entire day or weekend, aim for small, short sessions. You might mark on your calendar that you plan to work for 30 minutes and then take a break.
To track time, set a timer or a music playlist, Nissley said. When the music ends or the timer rings, take a break and then start again.
4. Bring in a Partner.
Ask a friend, family member or professional organizer to help. “The social aspect can be stimulating, which is important for intention for folks who experience ADHD,” Nissley said.
Your organizing companion also can help you decide what to keep and what to toss, or carry out bags of donated items.
5. Know What You Like.
It can be easy to read organizing magazines and come up with ideas that items have to be arranged a certain way. Avoid that tendency, said Debbie Lillard, a professional organizer in the Philadelphia, PA, area who has worked with clients who have attention deficit.
Instead, go with what works best for you. If you like visual clues, try color coding, Lillard said. You might keep medical records in blue file folders, financial paperwork in green folders and school-related documents in red ones.
6. Line Up Rewards.
To stay motivated, schedule a reward after each organizing session, or when the project is complete.
Align the reward with the organized space. “If you clean out the closet, buy yourself something new that you need,” Lillard said. Or plan a party and invite friends to enjoy your tidied-up living room.
7. Move Things With You.
“Set a rule that every time you move in your house, something else moves with you,” Goad said.
If you’re headed to the kitchen from the living room, grab a glass and take it along. Do the same with laundry, sports gear and papers.