Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Organizing With ADHD: Book Review & My Top 5 Tips

Happy Tuesday, intrepid explorers of the interior realms!

(That's my new name for people cleaning out their closets.)

So I don't have ADHD, but most of my friends I help with organizing do. Organizing is a passion of mine, so for years I've barreled through various friends' homes, trying to make the systems I use work for them. And for years, far too often, I've watched those systems fail.

Listen, I love a good mess. The bigger the piles in the smaller the space, the more excited I get. Even so, I reached a string of projects where nothing I did seemed to be working anymore. My neatly labeled containers were quickly buried in mountains of clutter. I'd leave a space pristine, only to come back and find empty counters filled again, neatly hung clothing strewn in piles, stacks of bins unstacked and scattered ... in short, my organizing efforts felt like a band-aid on a tidal wave. I knew I was doing something wrong, but what?

Then I realized the one common denominator: everyone I was working for at the time had ADHD. A-ha! And since ADHD brains see and process things differently, it makes sense that they organize differently, too.

So I got to work. I did as much online research as I could, but quickly became frustrated. So many click-bait videos and articles, so little help.

Then I went old-school, and bought an actual book. This book:

Organizing Solutions For People With ADHD

It has rave reviews and multiple re-prints, so I was beyond excited to inhale the whole thing. Finally. Answers!

Within a few pages I realized this book is for people with ADHD, not for people trying to help people with ADHD. The advice it gives is brutal and matter-of-fact, with zero allowance for things like mental health, retail therapy, collections, etc. And because it's not aimed at the helpers, it also doesn't give any advice on how to start conversations about, say, purging. It just tells you to purge.

In fact the #1 tool in author Susan Pinsky's arsenal is purging. In many cases it is the only tool she offers, instructing the reader to purge as much as 80% of a given space. Listen, if you only have 4 pots in an entire kitchen cabinet, then you don't need an organizing strategy:
... which of course is her whole point.

 The book is filled with before-and-afters, each one with the "inventory" reduced to comically Spartan levels:

C'mon. No one is going to do this.

[Correction: from the comments I've learned some people DO do this, and love it. So don't let my disbelief stop you!]

With that said - and admitting I argued OUT LOUD with this book in every single chapter - Organizing Solutions did open my eyes to what I was doing wrong. It clearly explains why and how organizing is difficult for people with ADHD, and that perspective shift alone was worth the price.

With this new understanding came a whole new way of looking at organizing. Now I see why my methods won't work for an ADHD brain. I don't have all the solutions yet, but at least I can see the puzzle more clearly.

And with that loooong intro, let me share my 5 Top Take-Aways from Organizing Solutions For People With ADHD.

First, the easiest and most effective tip you can implement in 2 seconds:
1) Take The Lid Off Your Trash Can

Yes, really. Lids are barriers to the ADHD brain, an added step to throwing something away. I didn't fully believe this 'til I watched a friend carry a piece of trash across the room and absent-mindedly set it on the counter beside the trash can instead of throwing it away. All because there was a lid.

This explains why many of my ADHD friends have obvious trash scattered on surfaces around the house, plus in every box, bin, and bag. Without a trash can in easy throwing distance, that trash is gonna sit where it sits 'til they "get to it later." Their minds have already moved on to the next task.

 It's also a good idea to replace tiny trash cans with full-size ones, add MORE - at least one per room - and have them out in the open, not hidden inside cabinets. The goal is to make them visual reminders, and to make it as easy as possible to throw things away, with a minimal of upkeep emptying bags.

This principle works for anything with added barriers to access, by the way, so also take the lids off your storage bins or boxes.

"Hang on," you're thinking, "Jen, without lids, how am I supposed to stack the bins?"

Ah. See, about that...

2) Don't Stack ANYTHING

Let's be real, this one hurts. I see bins as the building blocks of organizing, but unfortunately stacking bins will not work for ADHD households. Stacks are the ultimate barriers: too hard to access, and even harder to put away again. If you want something to go back in a bin or box, then that bin must be lid-less, easy to reach, and have nothing stacked on top.

The only acceptable form of stacking is on a shelving unit like this, which allows you to slide out the bins individually like drawers:

But again, NO LIDS. Stash the lids underneath.

The no-stacking rule also goes for kitchen storage: never nest mixing bowls, pans, or anything else you need to access. (Plates are OK because you use the one on top.)

I realize how impossible and unrealistic this sounds, so remember we're aiming for better, not perfect. The more you can strive for no stacks, the more you'll be accommodating the ADHD way of organizing.

3) Don't HIDE Anything

If you have or love someone with ADHD then you know "out of sight, out of mind" is an immovable truth. A hidden object can quite literally cease to exist in the ADHD brain. They must see what they own to remember they have it. Otherwise they'll go buy another one... and another.

Again, this practice is painful for interior designers, but to the best of our ability, we should make everything visible. I'm talking clear containers and open shelving galore, y'all.

I also like these rotating makeup organizers for the bathroom counter.

Now, will that look cluttered?

Yes, yes it will.

Which leads me to my 4th take-away:

4) Embrace Function Over Form - Even When It Makes Your Inner Decorator Cringe

As someone who loves design as much as I love organizing, the hardest thing to swallow in Pinsky's book was how often her "after" looked worse than the "before." All my instincts tell me to hide the toothpaste, deodorant, and hair gel, not leave them out on the counter.

But for the ADHD brain, leaving them on the counter is usually the better solution.

Pinsky's method of putting medicine cabinet clutter on the back of the door makes me cringe harder than Scott's Tots, but it's easy to see and use, and therefore ideal for someone with ADHD.

Another example: I want every piece of clothing on a hanger, but that's unrealistic with ADHD. Hangers are huge barriers - ergo the massive clothing piles all over the bedroom. A better option are open bins and/or large drawers that you can toss clothes in straight from the dryer. Even if they don't get folded, piles in drawers are better than piles on the floor - and more organized!

Wall hooks and over-the-door hooks are also great for keeping jackets and accessories off the furniture and floor - so put those everywhere.

5) Make Things Easier To Put Away Than They Are To Get Out Again.
This is the opposite of how I approach organizing, and why my system won't work for folks with ADHD. I'm fine spending extra time putting something away to make it easier to find in the future, but with ADHD, the opposite is true. My friends will happily spend an extra few minutes digging through a drawer to find the right shirt, but would never spend that much time putting the shirt away again.

So for ADHD, the priority is making things easiest to put away, not to find again. Toss all the socks in a drawer unmatched, pile the silverware together in one drawer, use giant (open!) bins to corral loose categories of items. It's easy, it's fast, it's a little chaotic, and y'all, I hate it. But this isn't for me, and in order to help my friends, I'm going to keep working to see the world more like they do.

An example of open bin sorting for clothes - but don't get me started on the author claiming this is someone's entire wardrobe.  ::eye twitch:: Again, if you can purge that much, awesome; just don't despair thinking you HAVE to.

So there you have it, my 5 top take-aways from Organizing Solutions for People With ADHD. If I've piqued your interest then I do recommend buying the book, but be prepared to yell at some of the advice it gives. A lot.

Oh, and you may have noticed none of my 5 tips include purging, because that's the obvious one. Obvious, but FREAKING HARD. The cruel irony is that folks with ADHD tend to have diminished impulse control when it comes to shopping, and so have the MOST need to purge... while also having a lessened ability to keep that much excess organized. Pinsky recommends having 20% free space in an ADHD home, meaning it should only contain 80% of the possessions in a non-ADHD home. 

I'll be honest, the thought of getting any of my friends - ADHD or no - to purge that much feels flatly impossible. But this is about making things better, not perfect. So as discouraging as it is to look at mountains of clutter and read "just purge 'til it fits," I'm still glad to have read Organizing Solutions. I'll be brainstorming solutions differently from now on, with more empathy, and hopefully have more effective options for my loved ones.

If you're trying to purge your own clutter mountains, then I find it helps to remember what Kathryn from Do It On A Dime says:

"Less is peace."

I repeat that to myself a lot, and I've always found it to be true. The less we have to sort and clean and store, the more peace we'll have. Every time I bring a bag of new craft supplies or other things into the house I get a pang of anxiety, trying to imagine where I'm going to fit it all. Getting rid of a bag of things has the opposite effect: a sweet feeling of relief. Ahhh.

Speaking of Kathryn, her friend Cassandra of Clutterbug is one of the most famous organizers on Youtube, and worth a look. Of her 4 "clutterbug" styles, I'm guessing many of you with ADHD will identify as "butterflies," and she has advice for that style on her channel. Here's an intro:

In fact I'll leave you with that rabbit hole for now. :)

I hope you found some of this helpful! If you have ADHD then I'd love to know your favorite organizing tips and tricks, plus anything else you want us helpers to know. What works? What doesn't? What's the best thing a loved one can do or say when the clutter gets out of control?

Also I love y'all SO MUCH, thanks for sticking through my excited ramblings today. I love learning new things and passing it on, hope you do, too.


P.S. Have you entered April's Squeegineer give-away yet? Winners get to choose their prizes from the increasingly random things I find in my office closet, woot woot!

Everyone who donates any amount via Paypal is automatically entered in the give-away each month, or you can enter for free by e-mail. Check out the details and prize galleries here.


  1. OMG this makes so much sense to me! My mother recently tried 'cleaning' for me while I was out (i.e. put things away off counters), and I spent 3 days trying to find things again. I have a decent organization system, developed after years of trying to 'be normal', but clutter is a law of my existence and I cannot for the life of me convince my mother to just leave things be. Thank you for learning and trying to understand your neuro-atypical friends, and working to meet them where they are. It makes others, like me, feel seen and heard.

  2. Wow, this is amazing! I've always thought I had some ADHD-ish issues, and I resonate with this so much. When I redid my kitchen and they proposed putting cabinet doors on my food shelves I just couldn't understand why anyone would want that. Of course lids on garbage cans make it less likely things will get thrown away! Why wouldn't you have all your regularly used toiletries in a basket on the counter? You've explained to me why my preferences are not everyone's preferences, and helped me see how I can help my ADHD child create a system that works for him. So insightful!

  3. OMG! This is what I needed to know to try and help my daughter not drown in stuff.

  4. OMG, I need more than 4 pans lol. But seriously, we are going through a purge right now in my house. We just got back from vacation feeling energetic and it's the 1st time I've been able to emotionally purge since I move across the country and needed to out of necessity. It's nice so far, I can see the living room floor again.
    I don't so much have the lid issue with the trash can, it keeps the stink down in the kitchen but the out of sight, out of mind thing is real. A strategy I have heard for purging is if you haven't opened the bin in a year, you don't need any of that stuff anyway, just get rid of it.
    Anyway, I've probably rambled enough, thanks for posting this.

    1. That is terrible advice to just get rid of bin you haven't opened in a year. My SS card and birth certificate are in a bin... people do this and realize they threw away important documents...

  5. This was reaaaallly interesting Jen. And I’m not even sure if I have any friends with ADHD! But it still fascinating and a good reminder that home organization needs to work for whoever lives there. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I get where you’re coming from, but your utter disdain for the concept of purging this much and only owning a few things is a little condescending.

    I have ADHD, and before I had access to medication the only way I was able to cope was by doing exactly what you said is impossible to do—I became a minimalist. I literally had one frying pan, one stock pot, and two sauce pans in my kitchen, just like her photo! ��

    But having fewer things freed me from dysfunction when nothing else was working and I didn’t have medication as an option. It was the only way I could live a functional life; it was liberating! Less stuff means less to manage, less to clean, less to put away, less to repair, less to get lost and have to find, etc. Even though I take meds now and my symptoms aren’t as severe, I still love being a minimalist because of this! It saves me so much time and effort.

    Purging was very hard, I’ll admit. Very very hard. But body doubling (having someone with me while I worked), an external deadline I didn’t set and couldn’t delay, and a step by step plan to follow made it doable (the KonMari method was at its peak then, so I followed her order of what categories to purge when, plus a list of specific items within the vague “komono” category downloaded from a random blogger at the time).

    ADHD presents differently for different people (hyperactive, inattentive, or combined) AND they’re each on a spectrum of severity, so this book’s advice to focus on purging may not work for everyone with ADHD—I’ll agree with you there. But I think it would work for more people than you’re assuming, hence all the glowing reviews. �� The biggest hurdle to purging at this scale is managing the executive function we’re weak in but is necessary to take on such a big project. That’s why structure and accountability is necessary to make it happen, and without them it won’t happen.

    I hope in the future you’ll be more open minded toward possibilities that help those of us whose brains function differently than yours! ❤️ Even as this post stands, I’m glad you’re trying hard to help your friends and share tips online. You’re usually such a kind and empathetic person, which is why I felt the need to call you out this time. I’m sure you didn’t mean to come across condescending since that’s not typical of you. Keep up the great work making the internet and your community a better place! ���� (<- pretend that’s Epbot ��)

    1. Hmm, my emojis didn't come through, which I was relying on to convey tone. Oops!

      First ?? after "her photo" is the laugh-cry emoji.
      Second ?? after "glowing reviews" is a :)
      The ??s at the end are a flower, robot, and then a :)

    2. Oh goodness, definitely not trying to be condescending regarding purging: I know that's the ideal way! Because I've never known anyone to purge anywhere near that much, my reaction was more incredulous - and obviously a poor attempt at being funny. I'm also trying to give grace to folks who *can't* give up that much, so they don't feel like they're failing.

      I love that you were able to make minimalism work for you, and I promise I'm the ultimate cheering squad if/when I have a friend willing to give up that much. I've just had so much tension and conflict over the years that I've learned I can only push friends so far 'til they feel judged and defensive, so now I walk very gingerly around the subject.

    3. Wow, you found words to explain some of the organizing tools I’ve been trying to build: more garbage cans around the house, open bins for clean laundry, why stacked bins aren’t working to put things away… now to go see if I can use some of these tools to improve some areas of my house. In the lol department, only 2 garbage cans at home have lids, and those are both to discourage one of our trash panda cats for pulling things out to chew on. 😄

    4. Jen: I didn't find it funny because it doesn't feel good to be told my only way of coping was "comically Spartan." I know you didn't mean it that way, but it sounds like you're saying my coping strategies—my lifelines—are comical, which makes me feel inferior. :(

      Then phrases like, "don't get me started on the author claiming this is someone's entire wardrobe ::eye twitch::" as if she would lie or suggest an illogical course of action, and "No one is going to do this" and "I realize how impossible and unrealistic this sounds" makes me feel alone and like an oddball. Because my entire wardrobe IS that size and downsizing was necessary for me to function well. It also belittles the great effort I put into downsizing and keeping it at that level, a feat in itself, never mind the organizing that comes after.

      Laundry was my arch nemesis as I could never stay on top of it, so when we ran out of clean clothes there'd be mountains to wash, which was overwhelming and would paralyze me. And running multiple loads of laundry at a time was HARD because you repeatedly have to remember to come back to do the next step much later, and if you forgot and it mildewed you had to start all over by washing it again, as well as deal with the panic and shame of STILL not having clean clothes to wear. Timers/alarms only worked sometimes because if it beeped while I happened to be busy, by the time I finished that task, I'd have forgotten about the alarm/the laundry.

      Downsizing my wardrobe to 1.5 weeks worth of clothes solved the problem for me. Every week I have only ONE load to keep track of through all the steps of wash, dry, and put away. Doing it weekly also makes it part of my routine, so it's easier to remember (Friday is my laundry day). And the half week of extra outfits accommodates my forgetfulness if my laundry day accidentally passes me by (wait, it's Friday today???). But even if I forget, 1.5 weeks worth of outfits doesn't allow the laundry to pile up too big and overwhelm me, and when I run out of clean clothes, it still all fits in one load, which feels manageable.

      As for making things visible, "this practice is painful for interior designers" and "Embrace Function Over Form - Even When It Makes Your Inner Decorator Cringe" (plus the implication that our afters can only look worse, not better) tells me again that my coping strategies are inferior and that I won't be able to function unless my home is ugly. :(

      I love pretty organization too! I love interior design and making my home beautiful too! And though you might not know yet because you're just getting into ADHD organization, there ARE ways to make ADHD-friendly organization beautiful as well. It's just that instead of prioritizing function OVER form, we have to prioritize function BEFORE form.

      (continued in the comment below)

    5. For example, I do need to keep my bathroom and kitchen items visible, like you said. So I intentionally purchase products in pretty, if possible uniform packaging. Or I remove the stickers/labels from the bottles and containers, adding my own neater labels to know what's inside. That way the things that are visible still look nice.

      I can't do it with everything (too many steps gets in the way of my ADHD sometimes), but decanting products into nicer containers helps too—in the case of cereal, decanting it into clear containers helps me SEE if there's enough left or if I need to buy more (function) AND gets rid of the loud, ugly boxes (form). A row of decanted cereals looks pretty in my pantry too! :)

      So function BEFORE form still allows for beauty while still working with our need to see our stuff. It's not our organizational needs—the keeping things visible and out—that's inherently cringey. It's the loud packaging that's driven by capitalist marketing that's cringey. I presume you'll agree because I can guess that that's why you prefer to hide them out of sight. :)

      Despite all of my complaining (which I promise I didn't write to hurt you, but rather to explain why some of your word choices hurt my feelings), I *am* glad you wrote this article! The tips you gave are true/effective and can help a lot of people, whether they have ADHD or are supporting someone with ADHD.

      I truly hope my comments won't dissuade you from posting on this topic again. It's so refreshing to see people going out of their way to educate themselves on how to understand and help others who are different from them. And I sincerely appreciate that despite the things I pointed out above, you didn't blame ADHD as the problem, but rather the organizational methods. It's really encouraging to be treated as equal but different, rather than broken. We're treated as broken by so many, which may be why I was so sensitive to some of your word choices.

    6. I know I've already written a lot, but I also want to respond to this comment you replied to me with:

      "I love that you were able to make minimalism work for you, and I promise I'm the ultimate cheering squad if/when I have a friend willing to give up that much. I've just had so much tension and conflict over the years that I've learned I can only push friends so far 'til they feel judged and defensive, so now I walk very gingerly around the subject."

      You're right, no one can make someone become a minimalist, or even make them just declutter—even if they don't downsize to this level and are only asked to edit out SOME things. That's why my husband and kids aren't minimalists even though I am! I can't make them become minimalists. :) A person has to choose for themselves to purge their belongings, whether it's only a little or to the extreme of that Susan Pinsky suggests. Not to mention if something (in this case decluttering) is presented as the "better" way, it implies the current way is worse or bad; that's hard to accept if they haven't come to that conclusion themselves. It can cause feelings of shame, which doesn't help motivate anyone.

      I do think even those who DO NOT want to purge AT ALL will find things to edit out though, regardless of ADHD, as long as they're willing to pull out every item from a space (even just a drawer) and sort through every item before putting it all back in, vs just glancing at the space's contents as they are/without touching any of it and then deciding it all should be kept. We all have at least one thing that we don't like or is broken, but it's still there because we're used to it.

    7. I think the key is how the idea of decluttering/purging is presented. Pushing doesn't work, but empathetic coaching often does. Forcing them doesn't, but giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves does.

      - It's not "this space is a mess; you have to purge to make it better," it's "I hear you saying the clutter bothers you; would you like my help sorting through it?"
      - It's not "you should get rid of all this," it's "let's check to see what you want to keep."
      - It's not "you have too much so let's get rid of some of it," it's "won't it feel good to know everything you've kept is only what you really want to have?"
      - It's not "you don't need this 'maybe' item; c'mon, let it go," it's "you don't have to get rid of anything you don't want to; I'll help you go through it one by one so you can be sure everything here is what you truly want to keep, even if you don't get rid of anything. If you're not sure about something we can set it aside in your garage/attic until you feel confident in your choice." (For ADHDers who might forget about 'maybe' items out of sight, schedule an appointment on their calendar X months out to go back to that storage box and review the items in it, with a note as to where the box is stashed in case they forget where. Upon review, items that are still 'maybe' can stay in there and they can make a new appointment to check again later. The rest of the items in there can be donated or kept/brought back into the house as they choose.)

      Even wording it this way won't necessarily make the other person willing to participate. But when they don't feel defensive about their stuff or that their personal autonomy is being threatened, it'll be easier for them to be honest with themselves about their belongings. It helps them trust it's safe to let things go when they know whether their things stay or go is totally within their control and that their choices are morally neutral/free from pressure or shame.

      Having said all of that, it's totally understandable that if your friends have placed a boundary around the topic of purging that you're choosing to respect that. Respecting boundaries is one of the ways healthy friendships work, and I'm glad to see you know that! :) You're a good friend to them, Jen. I love your generous, playful, and kind heart. I don't follow this blog just for the content... I follow it because YOU are worth spending time with. ❤️

      (Okay, my "TED talk" is done! Thanks for sticking with me through all of that!)

    8. April, I found your "TED talk" super helpful. Thank you for taking the time to express all of that! I've had to go with the mantra of if it's visible, I will see it, use it, or make a decision about it but if it's invisible, I may well forget about it and learn to live with some spaces that aren't pretty but are functional. Maybe I'll get to the pretty-post-function one of these years!

  7. Another perspective on purging/minimalism: there's a socio-economic factor at play here, too. In my family history, we don't throw anything away. Granted, we also have a family tendency to ADHD, but I think I'd be much happier to "purge" if I knew that I could afford to buy things if I needed them again.

    1. Yes, you're right, under a certain financial threshold full-on minimalism isn't possible because it relies on being able to buy or borrow what you need when you need it instead of storing it in case you need it someday.

      But essentialism, which is part of minimalism, is still possible—to keep only that which makes sense to keep according to your current priorities and needs, and letting go of what doesn't.

      When we used to be broke we had to keep more things than we did after we got on our feet financially, because when we were still broke we couldn't afford to replace things if we needed them again. It made sense according to our priorities then to keep them (they were the "essential" from "essentialism"). But we still could get rid of broken/worn out things, or things that didn't serve us any longer (like baby clothes when we were done having kids) instead of holding on to them just in case, because they no longer aligned with our priorities or potential needs.

      I think that line of thinking is still helpful, even if it isn't possible or practical to live a strict minimalist life. :)

  8. Every room in my house has an open trashcan and a wire mesh can next to it for recycling. In the "office" room there is a pair of cans under each desk. Only the kitchen trashcan has a lid (for stinky stuff). We use open bookshelves for most things, and several laundry baskets since there must always be a laundry basket in each bedroom, even when others have traveled to the laundry room with their contents (It might take a few days before the baskets return to the bedrooms !

  9. I definitely prefer to leave my everyday items out--I have much more on my counters than other people. But I fold my laundry and hang up my clothes, so it's definitely personal preferences and variations there. Purging does feel good, but I have to do it when I can hyperfocus on it. I can't just clean up on some sort of regular schedule. If I can get into routines, that helps a lot. There are a lot of great ADHD people on Twitter and YouTube with a lot of great insight.

    Mostly, just be really positive, because we already get a lot of negative feedback. My husband once took a box of my stuff and put it in the garage because he was tired of looking at it. But I knew that I would never open it again if it was in the garage because I would never remember it. It's just hard to explain to other people what is going on in my brain and how hard it is to keep it all straight.

  10. You will no doubt find this said over and over: I WISH I had known about this 30 years go.
    Maureen S

  11. Ok, a lot of that rang WAY too true. I have been living in the same house for 18 years, the longest anywhere in my life and I have gathered SO many things. The phrase Less is Peace is gonna be my mantra this weekend (I have a professional organizer coming to help for 3 hours on Saturday, the best part is she is taking anything that can be donated with her so I don't have to figure out how to do it.

    for ND brains, I also really like https://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/ - she understands mental and physical illness and how it impacts having a cleaner house and it was magical for me, esp her 20/10 method. Also that things need a home and it may take some time to find it, but once you do it seems easier to put thing back because you know where it goes and the decision of where to put it has already been made

    1. also this book comes out on April 26 and I already have it on preorder - How to Keep House While Drowning : : a Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing

    2. Yes unfuck your habitat and domestic blisters on TikTok who wrote how to keep house while drowning are the best I love the weekend challenges for Ufyh

  12. Hmmm, I don't think I have ADHD, but maybe I have some ADHD tendencies? Over the years, I've stumbled onto some of these revelations, and they are indeed that--revelations. We struggled for a very long time, but at some point, I started to pay attention to exactly which things we had trouble with. Trash was a big one, so now we not only have a trash can in every room, but we have one on each end of the sofa and on each side of our bed, so we each can immediately throw away junk mail, empty food wrappers, kleenex, empty pill bottles, etc. I also have 2 trash cans in the craft room, as I'm often working in two different areas at once (e.g. cutting here and gluing there), so I need one within reach of both places. The public area trash cans all *have* lids, that can go on when we have guests over, but they mostly stay off (the kitchen can is a step-open).

    Another thing for me is certain tools/supplies that come out and never go back, and then I can't find them again because I've absent-mindedly set them down someplace odd--things like scissors, pens, notepads, nail files and clippers, lens cloths, tweezers, and such. It eventually dawned on me that I just need to have duplicates of those things, stationed literally everywhere that I use them. I keep a desk organizer on my sofa end table holding all of those things. I also have a set of all of those things in both bathrooms, the bedroom, and even the car. And I have a travel bag of all of those things that lives in my carry on bag. Now I don't have to spend an hour trying to find something that I use regularly, and I'm not constantly buying replacements when I can't find it.

    I also figured out when organizing my craft room that my brain really wants pretty much all the necessary tools and supplies together in one box. So, if I want to do some paper quilling, for example, I can grab one box and have all my paper, templates, glue, scissors, and quilling tools ready to go. I don't have to go grab glue from the glue box, and scissors from the papercrafting box. And when it's time to put stuff away, I can pile it all back into a single box, and not have to redistribute some tools back to their homes. This is an ongoing project. As I craft, and find things lacking, I'll be adding duplicate tools and supplies into the box. Because I've "lost" and replaced so many of these things over the years doing it the old way, I don't think I'll even have to buy anything new to accomplish this!

    The last thing we've done to stay better organized is to get rid of unnecessary horizontal surfaces, like the coffee table. It just attracted piles of forgotten stuff, and then wasn't even useful as a coffee table. Having one wide open space where that table used to be in our little house is also very good for our mental health. We still do the 'pile organization' thing, but fewer surfaces means we're forced to deal with those piles a little more often, which is a good thing for us.

    And hangers are the devil. Luckily, my husband doesn't think so, and is willing to hang up my clothes that actually really need to be hung for me. :-)

    Thank you for being open to and embracing different ideas of what being organized means. It's so hard when your family looks at you and says for the millionth time, "Why can't you just put stuff away?! It's not like it's hard. Just put it where it belongs, for crying out loud!" I frustrated the heck out of my mom growing up, and even have some friends now that just can't even comprehend why I can't do it the "normal" way. I'm sure you're familiar with the Holderness Family--they have quite a few blog entries, podcasts, and videos about how they deal with Penn having ADHD, while Kim is neurotypical. There might be some more nuggets of wisdom for you there. They have a very positive outtake on ADHD. Penn even calls it his superpower!

    1. ...Are you me? Are you in my brain? Because holy cow, these are the exact same coping strategies I've developed! I even have duplicate tools between the basement shop and the garage, and a tape measure in every room. And garbage bins all over (but with lids, because cats). So glad to know I'm not the only one who does these things!

    2. Yes to duplicate tools! We call it "scissor parity," because that was the tool we figured it out with first - if you keep scissors in all the places you will normally use scissors, they don't wander around and you can always find some when you need them. Thus: scissors in the silverware drawer (for food packaging), in my desk, in my kid's desk, in with the craft stuff, in a jar with pens near the door, in the bedroom, etc.

    3. I'm right with you on the boxes that hold everything you need for a craft! This is how I'm getting so many cross stitch projects done - when I start a new one, everything I need for it - floss, scissors, needles, threaders, pattern, hoop, etc. - goes into one of those magnetic gift boxes at Joann's and Michael's. (I know they're not clear, but they're pretty and I don't keep anything else in them so I know they're a project. YBMV (your brain may vary! :))) I have working piles as I'm stitching, but if I need to clean it up quickly, I toss it all in the box, and it's all right there waiting for me.

  13. Duplicates have been a lifesaver for me too. Scissors, chapstick, pens, stuff like that, all get multiples in all the different places I might need them. Trash cans and laundry baskets too. I put a dedicated "sock bucket" in the living room because I was always taking my socks off and leaving them on the floor. Now they are easy to clean up when I'm doing laundry and I can hide the bin if I have company.

    I actually find hangers easier to deal with than drawers. That's partly because I hang dry almost everything, so most stuff goes on a hanger as it comes out of the washing machine. So taking them off the hanger would be the barrier for me!

    I might have to try the "fewer surfaces" thing that texpenguin mentioned! Goodness knows any horizontal surface gets covered soon enough.

  14. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  15. I feel so SEEN! My husband and I also came up with many of these strategies over the years, especially the open bins used as drawers, what I call the "pile" system of filing (just put the papers in the correct folder, yes it'll take more time if you need them later, but at least you'll know where they are), and keep duplicate items where they are used most.

    BTW, we also use a "pile" method as our purging strategy: we have several bags and boxes in the busier areas of the house, so when we find something that we decide needs to go for whatever reason, it gets tossed immediately in the nearest "donation bin". When the bags or boxes are full, they go to the "donation pile" in the garage. When that gets big enough that it's actively annoying to us, we put it all in the back of the car and take it to a nearby thrift store. It actually works reasonably well as judged by the size of the piles we've donated.

  16. Cass of Clutterbug is SO phenomenal! I also highly, HIGHLY recommend Dana K. White who has a YouTube channel and a few books (A Slob Comes Clean, Organizing For The Rest of Us) for those with ADHD.

  17. clear boxes - only put things one layer thick (like oil) it spreads to one molecule. throw away and buy new (paintbrushes etc) otherwise they just accumulate - use the tool shop as your tool store.

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  19. I had posted all about looking up Cas of Clutterbug fame (who now even has a TV show: "Hot Mess House"!!) if you want to learn about ADHD organizing--and then I went back to finish reading the article and you had her linked! lol *sigh* So much wasted typing and gushing! lol
    I've been following her for years, and she truly gets that there are different styles that work for different brains (and she herself has ADHD). I have ADHD and under Cas's system I am a Butterfly. You are definitely describing Butterfly systems above. Cas is a Ladybug though, so not every ADHDer will be a Butterfly, but I bet most of us would be one of those two, because those are the two bug systems that do the macro sorting (easier and faster to put away).
    Anyway--I recommend looking into Clutterbug FOR SURE to anyone at all that wants to be more organized, but I have never found anyone who addresses how my brain needs to organize better than Cas does. Highest recommendation ever to other ADHD peeps.
    Thanks for helping people be more organized! And keep up the good work learning what helps us ADHD people function better in our homes.

    1. Oh! and here is the wonderful Clutterbug channel on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/OrganizedClutterbug
      Seriously--go devour more Clutterbug content!

  20. As someone who is "blessed" both with Autism and ADHD, I totally second the purging of as much as you can. The kitchen cabinets on the photos? That's just about as much stuff I have in my cabinets. I do not allow myself to have more stuff than that. And I DON'T NEED MORE THAN THAT. I hate cooking anyway so for my needs that's totally enough. Same with clothing. I purged as much as I could so now I have somewhat of a capsule wardrobe where I can mix and match so I don't get bored with the same outfits. My autism demands that clothes are to be folded neatly so I invested in a folding board that makes my ADHD comply with that. I do not rotate between summer and winter, I have everything available at any times (unless it's in the washing). Yes, my mum freaks out whenever she sees my closet because there are so few clothes in there (she shares the Autism but not the ADHD).

    I also read somewhere that clear boxes are recommended for ADHD but for me that creates visual overload (autistic issue) so I can't do that. The no-lid thing works but throw the lids away or store them somewhere where they do not get in the way. Putting them under the bin will drive you nuts whenever you move the bin, pull it out to take something out of the bin, try to put the bin back,... (might be an autistic problem as well) Seriously, put them somewhere else entirely. Some dark closet that you never look in anyway...

    Also I want to say THANK YOU for having the insight that your way of approaching the organising might be the problem - not the ADHD. You have no idea what that means to someone who was told that they are wrong and useless their entire life. I totally get that some of the concepts must sound very strange for you. It's just the way for us when somebody without ADHD tells us to "just get organised" ;) But you took the effort find a solution that works for them instead of you and for that I can't tell you enough how grateful I am.

    1. Oh, and one tip for the trash can: Keep the roll of trash bags at the bottom of the trash can. When you take the trash bag out replacement is right there.

    2. I agree, I appreciate that the blame was on the wrong organization methods, not on the ADHD!

  21. The pots and pans thing....definitely! I already did that. However, clothes, I have no problem putting away clothes that aren't in my every day rotation (out of season or dressy). What I need is a solution for a dump zone for every day clothes, because right now my best solution is an a toss up between an open closet for my shirts, and the end of my bed for pants.

    1. Also, the trash can situation. Mine has one of those foot pedals that opens the lid. It works, but when it's full I always end up with a cracker box or cereal box next to it that I put stuff in until it gets emptied.

      My best suggestion for organizing for this is, it like pathing in a game. Things out of sight are ignored by the npc.

    2. I forgot my silverware! It's all in a (pretty) ice bucket. The handles between spoons, forks and knives are all slightly different, and it lives in a cabinet. My drawers are not used for daily items.

  22. I FEEL SEEN! It is so hard to explain to someone what it's like when you have ADHD and they don't. It's not lazyness, it's not that we don't care/want to keep things tidy. The adhd brain just works differently and I can see how frustrating it can be to someone who doesn't struggle with that condition. Thanks Jen for bringing this subject up to discussion.

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I have never thought of myself as having ADHD – but I fit every one of your 5 tips. My husband is very much like you, and can’t understand why I can’t follow his organizational rules – I mean suggestions. I feel so validated and empowered. I feel like I can make things better! Thank you!

  24. Purging is heaven. We moved recently after nearly 20 years in the same house. We got rid of 90% of our stuff. We fit our household into a 13x8x9 space in the truck. Yes, we had to rebuy a few things when we got here, but just the enormous relief of seeing how much less stuff I needed to deal with on the unpacking side was so worth it. We unpacked our entire house in less than a day. Purging my wardrobe was worth it too. I am rebuilding now with items I'm not tired of and that actually fit. (I changed sizes over the last year and was trying to just make the too big stuff work.)

  25. Jen, one comment. Stacks are fine, if they're the same thing and used interchangeably, so stack of identical cereal bowls is ok. Also, bins on a bookshelf work super well for cheap.

  26. My spouse and I are both ADHD, and we have used some of these tips, but if you're looking at them and thinking they're not quite right for you, here are some variations that work for us.

    1.) We have small stacks of bins, but the bins have to be a) small, b) labeled, and c) CLEAR. You can group like things together, use your stellar pattern-matching brain to find the category you need, and pull it out without risking pulling an entire stack down on your head. Then, since the bin is small (about shoebox size works best for us), you can leave the bin out as a reminder to put the thing away. When you're done, thing goes back in bin, bin goes back on shelf, voila. And if you forget, two days later you look at the counter and go "hey, why is the sticky things bin out," then you realize that you used the masking tape and didn't put it away and it's right there where you left it, and it's super easy to put away.

    We also do the duplicate tools in multiple places thing - scissors and nail clippers and pens in particular - having a tool WHERE YOU WILL NEED IT is the easiest way to make sure you will find one when you do. For example, we have a bin of picture hanging supplies that includes a small hammer because I can't tell you the number of times I have scraped together the spoons to hang art and been thwarted by not being able to find a hammer.

    I personally find clothes to be easier to navigate when they're hung up, and for the things that don't work well on hangers we use Marie Kondo's folding method where everything is folded but also VISIBLE, so you don't have to dig through stacks of leggings or socks or whatever. To avoid the "clothes on the floor" problem I got one of those hanging racks from Ikea you usually see in the kitchen area, with the hooks, and I hang my worn-once-but-not-dirty-yet clothes there. (Something like this.)

    Related: our family includes a small human, and we maintain a family closet so that clean laundry can be brought into one room and put away immediately rather than sitting in a pile that will inevitably get knocked over while it waits for kidbot to come put it in her own room. I expect that she will eventually decide she doesn't want to come into our room for her clothes, but she's almost 8 and it's worked really well thus far. We have a closet organizer and she has the lowest bar (the one that's usually for pants) and small open bins for socks, underwear, leggings, and specialty clothes (leotards, basketball uniform, etc) on one shelf.

    I think the key is to figure out the best way for your brain/spoons/time and embrace that regardless of how well it aligns with what other people think is appropriate. Is our foyer cluttered with jackets on hooks and baskets full of gloves and hats? Yep. Do I care what other people think about this? No, because it means I, and Esteemed Spouse, and Kidbot can all FIND A COAT (and a hat! and mittens!) when we're rushing out the door.

  27. My adult daughter who lives with me! Thank you so much for giving me an idea of how she probably sees her living space. To me she seems to live like a hoarder but she isn't, she just thinks very differently than I do. Btw, she's an awesome artist, very creative, very funny and very sweet, just no organization (from my point of view). Love this!!!

  28. My ADHD brain won't let me fold clothes or even put laundry away except for once every six months or so. My method of managing is having multiple laundry baskets. One for clean clothes from the dryer, one for worn-but-still-clean stuff that I'll wear multiple times, like jeans or sweatshirts, and one for dirty clothes, and then an extra one that is used for overflow from any of the above. Not ideal for sure, but it keeps me from having to move piles of clothes between my bed and office chair every day like I did for years before I got diagnosed.

    Another tip that I haven't tried yet, but friends have recommended, is using a bookshelf laying flat on the floor like a laundry organizer. Takes up a ton of floor space, but if the instinct is to dump clothes on the floor, it just takes slightly more effort to dump it into each section of the shelf. Similar idea would be fabric storage cubes just sitting on the floor.

    Definitely not the prettiest solution, but it works! I line everything up underneath the window in my bedroom so it's somewhat out of the way, but still accessible and visible.

  29. And this would be why I built an open closet system in my bedroom. I can see everything and it's super easy to put everything away. I actually prefer hanging clothes to folding so the majority of my stuff is hung up. I have a shoe hangar over my door for toiletries and bathroom stuff that keeps me organized too.

  30. I have not been diagnosen with ADHD but I'm pretty sure that's what I have. And it's things like this. I LOVE systems but the only ones I can keep to are like you say, open bind. Easter to put away than get out. And the one that really got me. Trash. Yeah on the kitchen bench and sink because I have to open a cabinet door to access it. And worse with recycling have to leave the room because ei have a tiny kitchen. Only time I'm better at it is when my bin is full and I'm delaying emptying it by hanging the next trashbag on the cabinet door. Then I usually toss stuff directly. And if I start cooking by getting the food scraps bin out on the counter it all goes in there, if I don't get it out it all satt on the counter. The food scraps bin usually ends up on the counter for days because I have moved on and forgotten to put it back... I will never get diag owed because no-one will say the saw symptoms in childhood which is a criteria...

  31. I'm pretty sure I don't have ADHD, but I do have depressive tendencies and removing hurdles is huge. So is making cleaning fun-- I like the old standby from childhood of pretending I'm on a cleaning tv show, explaining my method. I also like generating lore, like that the dish fairies need clean mugs to sleep in so I better wash them now.
    Re:purging, I've found it helpful to imagine that my stuff isn't mine, and instead I'm shopping for stuff and deciding what to get. I'm pretty uncomfortable spending money, so this method works for me, but your mileage may vary!

  32. Retail therapy is a thing of the devil, which is true for every one, but especially ADD people. I have not read this book, but she is right not to leave ANY space for retail therapy (or even the idea of buying something new). I have an ex husband and a daughter with ADD and buying sh*t is a sure fire way to make everything worse for them. They crash and burn and end up in a hoarder-like space.
    Also, the picture of four pots in separate shelves? That's how I organise kiddos toys, more or less. I asked her straight up "which toys are a MUST when you move to the new room?" and I moved ONLY her top-two categories. I think that might be useful for you too, actually, especially with purging? The Add person is impulse, so the first thing out of their mind will probably be the foremost/most important thing. So maybe ask which clothes are a must - and they will probably name ALL of their clothes, but pay attention to the order and just pick the first 4-5 items to keep.

    PS. I keep my entire wardrobe in a 55litre ikea bin

  33. How to ADHD has some good tips too: https://youtu.be/posZhu_YIl0

    I use empty Temptations containers so I have mini trash/recycling/compost bins all over - compost gets bio bag liner (dog poop bags are just the right size), yeah gets empty bags like from chips or cereal (reuse) and recycle doesn't need a liner. I have ASD, ADHD and more. This explains why I like leaving cabinet doors open. I also do lots of trays -move the whole thing into an empty cabinet or another room for guests, or carry it with me when I move through the house.

  34. I know uncovered bins out in the open would help me throw things away, but we have a large, 1 year old puppy who will try to eat/destroy everything, so pedal bins in the kitchen closet it is. This does mean that last week, I was tidying up before guests arrivee, and needed to dispose of a soda bottle on my desk. The thought of carrying it downstairs, into the closet, and opening the bin was too much, so I shoved it in my desk drawer. It's, ah, still there.

  35. Holy moly! This is what I have been looking for! THanks.

  36. Brilliant, thank you so much! I will do this with my son!

  37. As someone with severe ADHD and who's also on the autistic spectrum?

    I can't express how much I love that you took the time to not only read a book like that AND put up an entire post about it but how much I love you experiencing how a different type of brain functions.

    ADHD is such a blessing and a curse.

    It makes my eyes water in the best way when someone as amazing as you shows a level of empathy and understanding and takes the time and incentive to discover that there other people with very different ways of functioning in this world trying to cope with something that's a relentless barrier to us...

    A world that, until fairly recently, made us feel like we didn't have a place in it.

    I've always admired and respected you and John as two of the most amazing humans I've ever been fortunate enough to meet in my life...

    And while your post might not seem like much to you?

    Read all the comments down here about being "seen".

    It might be hard for you to know just how much it means that you took the time to "look" at those of us dealing with the sometimes crippling monster that ADHD can be.

    You two are amazing.

    1. Tony, you always know just how to build me up right when I need it most. Thank you, my friend.

  38. I've come to realize over the past few months that I have ADHD. Now I'm one of those ADHDers where the purging part is the most difficult. I get so overwhelmed trying to decide if it's something I want to keep. Then either nothing gets purged or I end up just throwing out everything because I no longer want to deal with it and I end up thowing out something important.

    I highly identify with this part, "If you have or love someone with ADHD then you know "out of sight, out of mind" is an immovable truth. A hidden object can quite literally cease to exist in the ADHD brain. They must see what they own to remember they have it." I'll buy a pack of Oreos and mom will store them in a container or cookie jar. I will totally forget about them until I buy a new pack and my mom will go, "There are Oreos in the container on the counter." By that time, they are stale and icky anyway. Now we have clear containers and it has made all the difference.

  39. Thank you for this, and for the empathy you show to your friends as you work to help them get organized! We have friends who helped us clean out our garage (which was wall to wall STUFF) to create a gaming space for D&D and just make it more functional. I cannot begin to explain what an incredible gift that was to us, and how much that has helped our lives as a family of ADHD folks.

    Purging to minimalist levels will never work for me - I crave variety in my wardrobe, my books, my decorations, and my husband needs exactly the right tool/pot/spice for his cooking. The other thing for me is the emotional connection to some of my stuff. I tried to do the thing where I took pictures of things and then gave them away, but instead I felt so much loss and grief over things being gone forever that I couldn't keep going with that plan. There's something about holding the physical item that helps me stay connected to the memories in ways that the photographs just can't do. I hear the advice all the time "the memory is not in the thing, but in what the thing represents", and that just doesn't work for me. Sometimes I can't remember until I'm holding a physical item, and I've already forgotten so much and don't want to lose more of those memories.

    But one thing that has worked more and more for us is to ask 1. Is this something I will use in the next (x) months? (depending on the object - i.e. summer use only vs year round), and 2. If I'm not sure if I will use it, can I replace it for less than $20 if I do need it later? Question #2 helps me purge my craft supplies, and helps DH clean out his tools. Certainly when money is tight, the dollar amount drops to accommodate our budget. Before we were married, I spent about 10 years relying on food pantries and other assistance to get by, so there were times where spending any amount of money to replace something would have been impossible. Now things are stable, I try to regularly remind myself that I can let go of some of these things because I can replace them if I need to.

  40. Butterfly, here. The Pinsky book was helpful in that it focuses on FUNCTION instead of making things LOOK organized. Clutterbug Cas helped me get rid of my dressers and put (LIDLESS!) baskets on a closet shelf unit that is easily accessible. I use my closets for storage, not anything everyday--because that's not happening. If you haven't checked out Dana K. White (whom I found via Cas) she is THE missing link to purging and decluttering. She makes it SO EASY. The key to "organization" IS decluttering. She's on YouTube, her website is A Slob Comes Clean and she has a podcast, too. She has 3 books, the latest ORGANIZING FOR THE REST OF US. I think your friends with ADHD will appreciate her simple, non-judgey approach:

    1. Start with TRASH (big black trash bag). There's ALWAYS trash and/or recycling.
    2. DONATE. Look for stuff you don't want and put it in a cardboard or otherwise donatable box.
    3. If it doesn't belong in that room or area, TAKE IT TO WHERE IT BELONGS NOW. NOW!  Don't start a "Keep" box. THAT principle was life-changing. It seems counterintuitive, but it  REALLY works.

    1. Put things where you would look for them first--not where they "should" go.
    2. If it didn't occur to you that you had a doo-dad you just found, get rid of it.
    3. Do a 5-minute pick-up everyday: Set the timer and do 5 minutes. It's not about tricking yourself. It really is only 5 minutes.

    The goal is always BETTER. If you get interrupted or have to stop, her method guarantees that it's not going to look worse--which is often the case with traditional organizing methods. There is SO much more I could say, but check her out, especially if you're helping people with ADHD. 

  41. I think you broke my brain Jen! Wow, wow, wow! Here I've been thinking I'm "just" a hoarder, but now... Maby there's hope for me yet. So, THANK YOU!

  42. NOTHING makes me more irrationally enraged than not being able to lay hand to something when I NEED IT. I try to stay organized, even if it's still piles of stuff, I know what's in it!

    Earlier today, when I first got up, I decided I would watch some "Bob's Burgers" while I drank coffee/smoked bowls, worked on some jewellery projects, and generally woke the hell up. I knew I had 'sponsibilities in the kitchen awaiting me, and I was in no rush, but ready to go to work afterwards. The BB episode ends, and those snarky jerkasses at Adult Swim that think they're funnier than they are put up a bumper that said "THOSE DISHES AREN'T GOING TO WASH THEMSELVES, YOU KNOW", and I was like... dude... eat a bag of dicks. My contrary Taurus ass wanted to just sit there and burn another one to spite them, but then I realized I was only screwing myself and got up and did it. But DUDE, I was and still am both salty and resentful.

    Your Pal,

    Storm the Klingon

  43. This was so eye opening for me in regards to my husband! I’ve since gone hunting for adhd garage organization ideas but have come up empty (his area that is always a disaster). Maybe y’all could document one to fill the gap. We’re close if you need one to work on ;)

  44. I'm adhd, and I have that book. Reading it was so frustrating I cried and hid in my bed for several days. Literally. Because I can't purge. I WANT to purge. So badly. But just thinking about it sends me into a tailspin. Or I jump in headfirst, get rid of a whole lot of stuff, and then burnout while I still have all the mess I created in piles around me and never finish. The next week I realize I got rid of stuff I shouldn't and end up replacing it. Flylady has helped me a bit, the timer is my lifeline. But it's not enough, and I live in a 1500 square foot house with my husband and 8 of my children. So I'm drowning. Maybe something mentioned here in the comments will help.
    But thanks for addressing this. My parents' don't believe ADHD is a thing, so you can imagine the baggage I have from growing up like that.

  45. Our daughter has always struggled with her "stuff" and has been recently diagnosed with adult ADHD. I shared your post with her and she called (not texted, actually called me) and said, "Mom, that's me!" I cannot thank you enough for opening my eyes but also to giving validation and support to her. This has been an Aha! moment for both of us and gives us direction in creating her home in a way that works for her. Life changing!!

  46. My daughter has been asking for bins for her clothes and I've been fighting her over it because - what's the point of having a huge dresser if you're not going to use it? - but this post has given me so much to think about along those lines! My husband has a bit of adhd too - we're always joking about how he buys special foods and treats and then forgets they exist because they are hidden in a container or drawer in the fridge. And they both tend to leave their drink cans/bottles all over the house because they have to rinse before they recycle and that adds that barrier you mentioned. I'm going to be looking at things a bit differently for both of them and see what changes we can make to help!


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