Stop Feeling Bad About Clutter!

Most ADHD adults don't realize how effective their dis-organization strategies really are.

Organization Strategies for Adults with ADD ADHD Edward Koren // The New York Times

Order can be profane and life-diminishing. Life is messy.

Irwin Kula, author of "Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life"

The Secret Order of Disorder

Researchers have identified five types of messiness:

1. MINI MESS: A contained, clearly delineated pocket of mess within a larger area, as on a counter, in a closet or a drawer, or on a bulletin board or a refrigerator.

2. CYCLICAL MESS: A mess that waxes and wanes in cycles. Some messes grow during the week (or the winter), only to be pruned back on weekends (or in the spring). Other cycles may be dictated by work, mood, or the pressures of parenting.

3. VERTICAL MESS: Anything looks neat when it’s in a pile, even unlikely objects, such as CD cases, magazines, mail, and receipts.

4. HEAPED MESS: A large heap of items stuffed under a bed, a desk, or even a couch. Oft-retrieved items do not sit around long enough to become deeply embedded, while rarely needed items become entombed at such deep levels that it can be fun to excavate them later.

5. SATELLITE MESS: There are 1.5 billion square feet worth of self-storage units available for rent in the U.S. The money saved on a professional organizer could pay for a year’s worth of storage.

Adapted from A Perfect Mess (Little, Brown & Company) by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.


It is a truism of American life that we’re too darn messy and disorganized, or we think we are, and we feel bad about it. Our desks and dining room tables are awash in paper. Our closets are bursting with clothes and sports equipment and old files. Our laundry areas boil. Our basements and garages seethe. And so do our partners — or our parents, if we happen to be teenagers.

This is why sales of home-organizing products, like accordion files and labelmakers and plastic tubs, will zoom from $5.9 billion in 2005 to a projected $7.6 billion by 2009. Companies that make closet organizing systems pull in $3 billion a year, according to Closets magazine.

But contrarian voices are heard in the wilderness. An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your attention deficit disorder (ADHD).

Studies show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents, and nicer and cooler, than their tidier counterparts. This thinking confirms what you knew, deep down, all along: Really neat people are not avatars of the good life. They are humorless and inflexible prigs with way too much time on their hands.

The inevitability of disorder

“It’s chasing an illusion to think that any organization — whether it’s a family unit or a corporation — can be completely free of disorder on a consistent basis,” says Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives. “Even if you could [control disorder], should you? Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life. I live in a world of total clutter, advising on cases where you’d think, from all the paper, it’s the F.B.I. files on the Unabomber,” when, in fact, he says, it’s only “a person with a stiff neck.”

“My wife has threatened divorce over all the piles,” continues Dr. Pollak, who also has an office at home. “If we had kids, the health department would have to be alerted. But what can I do?” Stop feeling bad, say the mess apologists. There are more urgent things to worry about. Irwin Kula is a rabbi in New York City, and the author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (Hyperion). “Order can be profane and life-diminishing,” he says. “It’s a flippant remark, but, if you’ve never had a messy kitchen, you’ve probably never made a home-cooked meal. Life is very messy, but we need models to show us how that messiness works.”

His favorite example? His 15-year-old daughter Talia’s bedroom, which he calls a picture of utter disorder—and individuality.

“One day, I’m standing in front of her bedroom door,” he says, “and it’s out of control. My wife, Dana, is freaking out. Suddenly I see, amidst the piles, the dress she wore to her first dance and an earring she wore to her bat mitzvah. She’s so trusting, her journal is wide open on the floor, and there are photo-booth pictures of her friends strewn everywhere. I said, ‘Omigod, her cup overflows!’ And we started to laugh.” The room was an invitation, he says, to search for deeper meaning under the scurf.

Trying to buy neatness

Recently, David H. Freedman, another amiable mess analyst (and science journalist), stood bemused in front of a stack of collapsible storage boxes with clear panels at The Container Store in Natick, Massachusetts. He couldn’t help thinking, the main thing most people’s closets are brimming with is unused organizing equipment. “This is another wonderful trend,” Freedman says dryly, referring to the boxes’ clear panels. “We can’t hide clutter even after we put it away. Inside your storage box, you’d better look organized.”

This article comes from the April/May 2007 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, purchase the back issue and SUBSCRIBE NOW to ensure you don't miss a single issue.

page   1   2   3   next »

TAGS: Organization Tips for ADD Adults, Cleaning Up Clutter

Share your comments, find support and solutions on ADDConnect!
ADDitude's free community site offers free support groups for adults with ADHD, plus medication reviews and much more. Check it out today.

Copyright © 1998 - 2016 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. See additional information.
New Hope Media, 108 West 39th Street, Suite 805, New York, NY 10018