How I Knocked Out Clutter

When her messy home had her on the ropes, this ADHD boxer fought back — thanks to a coach who helped her put clutter down for the count.

How adults with ADHD can clean clutter from their home and work Mari Latozas

Was I lazy, immoral, incompetent? I felt like a misfit.

Anne Knight Weber, ADD adult

Once in my long struggle to get organized with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), I consulted FlyLady, an online organizing guru who used to tie flies. She had helped many of my friends stranded in what she calls CHAOS — Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.

FlyLady’s daily e-mail imperatives included: Wear lace-up shoes, and keep your sink shiny clean. Despite my best efforts, I found myself wearing slippers while a banana-bread pan soaked in my sink. I removed myself from FlyLady’s e-mail list.

A few months after she and I parted ways, I broke up with a guy who may have loved me, but who, I was sure, could never tolerate my disorganized house. On the rebound, I wondered how to break up with my messy rooms. I knew I would be more alluring if I could find two matching socks. It was around this time that I was diagnosed with ADD, and was encouraged, by my doctor, to hire a professional organizer. I went on medication, but it didn’t have much effect on my scattered life. My sessions with the doctor cost $125 an hour.

Hiring an organizer, at much less an hour, made sense, but I did some soul-searching. I felt ridiculous needing a professional to help me sort through my stuff. Was I lazy, immoral, incompetent? I felt like a misfit. I had rationalized not getting organized: After losing my keys, mismatching my socks, and forgetting to add baking soda to the cake batter countless times, I didn’t want to try — and fail — again. Maybe cleaning is bourgeois, I decided. Neatness is a neurosis. I would rather read a book than maintain an orderly home.

I also told myself that impulsive, playful types, like me, don’t make good housekeepers. I threw myself into learning a new sport — boxing — and trained hard to master uppercuts and jabs. My boxing mantra was “Never tired, never scared,” but my heart sank at the idea of getting organized.

Making the Move—Finally

Imagine how surprised I was, then, to feel empowered by Betty Huotari, an organizer I found on the Internet. During a phone interview, I found out that she had coached other ADD clients to organize their flotsam and jetsam. Betty cautioned me not to do anything until our first appointment. I didn’t have to pretend to be organized before she arrived to work her magic.

As soon as I saw her, I knew I had made the right choice. She was an elegant blonde, wearing high-heeled black boots, which she changed for flats once inside. Her appearance alone let me know that she could impose order on my scattered life.

Betty was unfazed by my chaos: a hall closet with no room for her coat, tables covered with sports books, tennis balls, and bills, chairs thick with dog hair and cast-off clothing. She told me that she had seen worse and didn’t judge me.

Our first task was to dig out the telephone table — a small desk, built into a corner of the kitchen, with a drawer and a cupboard underneath. From this command post, I answered the phone and scheduled my appointments, and it was a mess. We cleared everything off the tabletop and out of the drawer and cupboard. We found a paperback, Animal Crackers boxes, a broken vase, medicines, tissues, artwork, the rudder to my windsurfer, coupons, and twine.

I confess that I didn’t stay on task, dividing my attention between cleaning up and my dog’s pleas to be let out. Eventually, I returned to our project, embarrassed to see that Betty was still working on a job that was supposed to be a joint effort.

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This article comes from the Fall issue of ADDitude.

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