Cleaning up, the ADHD way


In keeping with my ongoing attempt to infuse more openness and honesty into my blog posts, I have to confess something:

I’m messy.

If you were to set foot in my bedroom at this very moment, you’d find yourself stepping on a panoply of books, magazines, makeup, pens, unused tampons, throw blankets, clothes, shoes, broken earrings, water bottles, boxes, torn paper bags, Luna bar wrappers, and I don’t even know what else. 

This is something I’ve tried to keep secret for as long as I can remember.

My secret shame

In the middle of my sophomore year of college, I decided to move my TV from my living room to my bedroom so I could watch reruns in bed. My bedroom was an absolute pigsty, but it was my pigsty, and I loved every inch of it. Unfortunately, having my TV in my room meant that when I invited friends over, they’d need to cross the threshold of the disaster zone as well. So whenever I planned to have company, I’d get down on my hands and knees and push the detritus dotting my bedroom floor into my walk-in closet, creating the illusion that I was just like everybody else, i.e., that I had my shit together. I can still remember the night during my senior year of college when I was sitting on my bed watching “Downton Abbey” with a friend while silently willing my swollen closet door not to burst open and reveal the avalanche within.

To this day, I live in a constant state of fear that one of my friends will come over to my house, ask to see my room, and immediately upon entering, judge me harshly, or worse, end our friendship entirely owing to the fact that it looks like I sleep in the path of a tornado.

Trying something new

It’s not that I like being messy. Far from it. I try to practice self-acceptance, sure; but the truth is, I’d give just about anything to be a normal (read: tidy) gal. 

For that reason, last March, I checked out “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Sure enough, reading it changed my life…temporarily. I managed to get my bedroom to the point that I wouldn’t be ashamed to invite a new friend inside. It was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate that in addition to cleaning my room, equally challenging would be keeping it clean. Within weeks, the mess had returned in earnest. And there it has remained for months and months.

Facing the facts

It may appear that I’m just making excuses for a lazy disinterest in being tidy, but trust me, cleaning, for an ADHDer, is much easier said than done. Gazing upon a sea of possessions and trash and attempting to do something about it is actually physically painful for me. I’m given to understand that I’m not alone; apparently, this, like so many of my problems, is symptomatic of my ADHD.

Sometimes, I just want to scream, the mess seems that impenetrable, that permanent. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to make any significant headway on the cleaning front again, and even if I somehow do, it won’t last. And it’s not as though I can live this way sans impact. I’ve become intimately acquainted with the feeling you get upon realizing you’ve lost something or immediately after breaking something. Too many times in my life, I’ve felt the *CRUNCH* of something crushing under my feet, and thought to myself, ‘Well, I hope that wasn’t something important.’

Sometimes, I just want to scream, the mess seems that impenetrable, that permanent. I feel as though I'll never be able to make any significant headway on the cleaning front again, and even if I somehow do, it won't last. Click To Tweet

The truth is it’s wishful thinking for me to hope someday to be capable of cleaning like non-ADHDers. You know: tackling one type of clutter at a time, sorting it all into piles, and then attacking the piles individually. Finally, at age 28, I’ve come to accept that I’ll never be that organized — or rather, I’ll never be organized in that way.

Doing it my way

After years of losing papers and stepping on favorite earrings, I’ve finally discovered and implemented an organizational system that works for me and all my ADHD-ness.

Kondo advises readers, “Rather than buying something to make do for now, wait until you have completed the entire process and then take your time looking for storage items that you really like.” 

I, however, have never been one to wait to buy something. And in this case, that turned out to be a good thing: All the storage items I invested in (listed below) proved essential in my tidying process:

  1. Three — count ’em, three — hanging shoe racks
  2. A purse hanger
  3. Lots of storage cubbies
  4. A desktop organizer
  5. A wall-mounted jewelry organizer
  6. Clear plastic peel-and-stick containers

Lastly — and this is key — I put a huge plastic bin in my room. I then gathered the heaps of junk on my floor in armfuls and dropped in all of it. This enabled me to vacuum on an empty surface. Now, I can sit down, reach into the bin, and sort through items one by one when I have spare time. It makes the task of cleaning my room feel much more manageable. Even I can tackle a single, contained pile. 

It’s a stopgap, sure; but ADHD people deserve to have a clean space to live and work just like our neurotypical counterparts do — even if we have to break a few rules in the process. 

…Just don’t tell Marie Kondo I said so!

What are YOUR go-to cleaning strategies?



  1. lavenderandlevity January 29, 2018 at 1:41 pm PST

    Haha – oh that feeling of wondering what you stepped on and whether it was important. I know it well.

  2. Meli February 3, 2018 at 3:52 pm PST

    I bought Rachel Hoffman’s Unfuck Your Habitat for Lucy for Christmas, and it seems to be working well for her. I particularly like that it acknowledges extenuating circumstances like jobs, roommates, disabilities, and mental illness. I think there’s a blog, too, although I haven’t looked at that. I would recommend it.


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