ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was once only recognised in cheeky young boys. In recent years the definition has expanded and a link between ADHD and tidying up (or lack thereof) has become clearer.
ADHD is now more broadly understood. It is seen as an underperformance of brain activity that influences attention and self-control. It affects all genders, not just boys.
In ADHD brains, key aspects of the dopamine reward system are sluggish, which means executive function is poorly executed.
Since executive function helps you plan, organise, and complete tasks, ADHD brains find it challenging to get stuff done. They may know what outcome they want but struggle to plan or execute the steps to get there.
Belongings are often not put away, rather are left out as visual cues, or put away poorly due to lack of focus. This can create a vicious circle of mental load and mess.
ADHD brains can be selective, and a sufferer might excel at concentrating on topics they love. “Isn’t that like all of us”, I hear you ask. Yes except most of us can buckle down on less engaging topics if we need to. The ADHD brain finds it almost impossible.
ADHD and tidying up – a case study
Unsurprisingly the home of an ADHD person can be a bit chaotic. Picture Sam, who would love to be more functional. She wants to make her apartment neater but doesn’t know how to achieve that or where to start. Procrastination is inevitable. Sometimes she starts to tidy but is always distracted along the way and just makes more of a mess. Then it’s bedtime because she has misjudged how long it will take. Oh and she totally forgot to feed the cats and wash her clothes for tomorrow, so there goes another hour. Tiredness and self-loathing are added into the loop, and sometimes anxiety and depression.
ADHD and tidying up – where to from here?
Stimulant medication helps to rouse the inactive dopamine to crack the whip on executive function. Exercise can have a similar effect.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT helps sufferers understand and correct their thought patterns.
Strategies can focus on impulse control and stress management. They can also deal with the anxiety and mental health issues which often accompany ADHD.
Lastly, they can impart behavioural skills to minimise chaos. In other words, putting habits in place which can help make up for the underperforming executive function. I have listed some of them below. Non ADHD brains may also find them useful.
- Set time limits, or use the Pomodoro Technique for task time management.
- Make brief to-do lists. Reward yourself for each completion, with a treat, a rest, etc.
- Keep sticky notes handy. If you think of something, jot it down. If you are interrupted, write down what you were doing. Take the load off your brain and get it on paper.
Speaking of paper, label things. Label your pantry, your storage boxes, your cables, your leftovers in the fridge. Your future self will thank you.
- Use technology. Set reminders in your phone and alerts in your calendar. Turn on the repeat function if they are regular necessities.
- Set an alarm to finish a task, to combat hyper focus and prevent going down rabbit-holes. Use your phone, your computer, even the oven timer.
- Use the Do Not Disturb function on your device when trying to get something done, to remove distraction.
- Build organisation into your day. Lay out your clothes before you go to bed, make your lunch for tomorrow straight after dinner today. Good habits are helpful, they make life easier by reducing cognitive load and decision fatigue. A go zone is a good idea.
- Declutter frequently-accessed areas and work zones, to reduce distraction and overwhelm.
- Buy experiences rather than objects, to keep clutter at a minimum.
- Use an accountability buddy. For exercising, for eating well and for doing mundane tasks. Your buddy can be with you while you run your errands or organise your pantry, to keep you on track. If you have the budget to pay for someone, feel free to reach out.
- Stay tidy and establish habits to support that. Clean as you go, assign tidy time, put the rubbish out, donate items regularly, etc. Have a place for everything and ensure belongings go back there.
- Reduce mail by cancelling subscriptions and receiving bills online where possible.
- If this ADHD and tidying up list is overwhelming, don’t implement all of it now. Set a reminder now to tackle one item a week. Even if only a couple of them work for you long term, it will be a huge improvement.
- Get help. Contact the Decluttering Co to get the wheels in motion, help motivate you and give you an organised system to work from. We are a great cheer squad.