Tips to Organize Your Home With ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 13, 2022
6 min read

It’s no secret that adults with ADHD often struggle with keeping their homes organized. Some thrive in messy surroundings. But if piles of papers or clothes keep you from finding things you need or clutter makes you feel stressed and overwhelmed, your ADHD symptoms can be even harder to deal with. That’s when home organization strategies can help.

Poor organizational skills and cluttering are common for people with ADHD. Sometimes, the mess is an effort to compensate for ADHD-related memory or time-management problems. You might leave a stack of bills on the kitchen counter or unfolded laundry on the sofa to remind you to follow up.

That may work in the short run. But creating an effective organizational system can help in many ways, such as:

  • Keep you from wasting time looking for things
  • Help you be more productive
  • Make you feel less anxious
  • Reduce conflicts with others in your household

Sometimes, the hardest thing about organizing is taking the first step. It might seem daunting to straighten out the garage, your bedroom closet, or even the “junk drawer.” The best approach to projects like these is to break them into small, doable steps. Don’t try to organize your entire home or even one whole room all at once. Make a list of achievable tasks for each day, set a timer, and focus on just one task at a time.

Plan it out. An effective plan can include steps like:

  • Select areas in your home you want to organize.
  • Rank each from easiest to hardest.
  • Starting with the easiest job, make a list of tasks you’ll need to do to organize the space.
  • Break these tasks down into 15- to 60-minute segments, depending on how easily you get stressed or bored.
  • On your phone or a calendar, schedule time over a few days or weeks as needed to finish the job.
  • Gradually move on to the more difficult, time-consuming areas.

Reward yourself. Before you get started, build in motivation by planning rewards for each task you complete. Don’t wait for major milestones to celebrate your progress. You might take a break for a few minutes to check your phone, watch TV, play a video game, or have a snack. When you finish a major project, give yourself a bigger reward – maybe dinner at a restaurant, a favorite movie, or even a day off from organizing.

Categorize items. During your organization sessions, you’ll come across lots of items you need to make decisions about. Separate them into things you want to:

  • Keep
  • Move to another room
  • Toss or recycle
  • Donate or sell

Sort them into piles, bins, or boxes. If you have a hard time deciding what to do with certain things, put them in a “decide later” container. Label it and set a deadline on your phone or calendar to make a decision.

Create zones. When organizing a room, think about breaking up the space into different zones based on things you do there.

For example, if you use your living room couch to answer emails and pay bills as well as to watch TV, read, and relax, you might be less productive. That’s because you’re more likely to get distracted. So arrange furniture and other items to create sections like:

  • A work area with a desk and filing cabinet or bulletin board
  • A relaxing area with your couch, TV, and some cozy pillows and throws
  • A reading zone with a good lamp and comfy chair

Deal with paper. Loose papers such as mail, bills, and receipts tend to pile up over time. Not only does this add to clutter, but it can lead to late payments and missed appointments. Here’s what you can do to keep paperwork organized:

  • Create a filing system for papers you need to keep. Sort them by type or function, like tax documents or medical records. Use dividers, labels, or color codes to help you keep track of them. File cabinets aren't for you? Use magazine holders or storage pockets mounted on the wall. Or store your papers in boxes on a bookcase with open shelves.
  • Designate a spot to organize your mail on a daily basis, perhaps next to your recycling bin. As soon as the mail comes in, either act on it, recycle it, or put it in your files.

Smart storage. These storage strategies can help you find things when you need them:

  • Instead of leaving items out to remind you to deal with them, store them in clear containers. This looks neater and saves the time you’d have spent searching for them.
  • Over-the-door hanging shelves or organizers save space and keep things visible. Use them in the pantry; to store shoes, jewelry, or handbags in your closet; or to organize craft supplies.
  • Under-the-bed boxes with lids provide hidden, handy storage for shoes, extra clothes, or blankets.

While you’re cleaning and organizing, switch on the TV, listen to a podcast, or play music to make the time go by faster. Or ask a family member or friend to help out and keep you company. You’ll be less likely to lose interest before you get to the finish line.

Once you’ve organized a space, the trick is to keep it that way. Here are a few tips to help you keep things in order:

Create a landing area. Designate a safe, handy spot for important items you use every day, like your phone, keys, and wallet. It could be a shelf or a basket on a table near the door you use most often. Put them there each time you get home so you don’t have to search when you’re trying to get out the door.

Stop the paper pileup. Choose electronic bills, receipts, and reminders whenever possible. Take photos of receipts, recipes, and other papers you want to save but don’t need originals of. Opt out of mailing lists that send you paper catalogs, coupons, or junk mail. Check the retailer’s website or look for digital coupons instead.

Buy less stuff. The easiest way to avoid clutter is not to add new items to your space. Make a rule for yourself that you must get rid of something whenever you bring in anything. So before you pick up the latest copy of a magazine, recycle the issue sitting on your coffee table. When you order a new pair of shoes, throw a worn pair away.

A place for out-of-place items. Keep an attractive box or basket in each room where things tend to pile up where they don’t belong. When you clean a room, or whenever you notice an item that should be somewhere else, put it into the container. It won’t get lost, and you’ll have an easy way to transport it to where it’s supposed to be.

Tidy as you go. The best way to keep a space neat is to clean whenever you use it. So after you eat dinner, put the dishes in the dishwasher right away. You’ll wake up to a clean dining area the next day and have one less chore to do. Apply the same tactic for anything you see out of place. Whenever you see an open drawer, close it as you go by. A full trash can? Empty it on the spot.

Do a daily 10-minute pickup. Each night, schedule 10 minutes to walk around your home doing a quick pick-up. Carry a laundry basket with you and grab any abandoned toys, dirty socks, or food wrappers you find lying around. Then trash them or put them back where they belong. Other family members can join in the fun.

Clean in 15-minute bursts. If you routinely put off straightening up because you don’t have time, tackle chores a few minutes at a time. Set a timer, and for 15 minutes do nothing but fold laundry, for example. If you want to keep going when the time’s up, do another 15-minute burst. If not, shoot for another 15 minutes later on.