Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Can I Stop Life from Piling Up Around Me?

Is your home filled with piles of mail, homework, and receipts? Are you overwhelmed by the paper clutter? Learn specific, ADHD-friendly paper management systems that will make sense to your (or your family’s) brain.

Q: “As a family, we have a difficult time dealing with items or tasks in a timely manner. Therefore things and papers start to pile up around us. Homework gets forgotten, bills are put off until a second notice comes in the mail, and toys are left everywhere! I wish we could live in a home that helps us to feel calm and connected, but in actuality we live in a home that makes us all feel on edge and frustrated.” —MessylnMN

Q: “I can organize others’ spaces, but not mine. How do I make it not so overwhelming when I can’t filter? All I can see is the big picture.” —The Whole Family

Q: “My house is always full of clutter. I feel like I try to organize all day long but the results are nothing.” —Shiroi9mo

Hi MessyInMN, The Whole Family, and Shiroi9mo:

Your questions are among the most common — and commonly frustrating — when it comes to organization. It’s not only difficult to find organizing systems that work for ADHD brains; it’s nearly impossible to find the time to maintain the ones you have. Here a few of my general rules of thumb.

[Self-Test: Is Your Clutter and Disorganization Out of Control?]

1. Everything needs a home!

This is my #1 answer to almost every organizing question! Whether you are organizing all day and getting nowhere, or feeling like you can never get started, knowing where everything lives in your home is the first place to start. Simply put, you’re more apt to let things sit wherever they land if you haven’t designated specific “homes” for all your belongings. And make sure your areas are clearly labeled. When you’re tired after a long day, visual reminders make cleaning up that much easier.

2. Use my “Triple S” system — short, simple & specific — to set daily goals.

Try to organize everything in one day, and you’ll end up overwhelmed and frustrated. Specific daily intentions work better. “Thursday night we’re going to put away the clean folded laundry.” “Sunday night we’ll review homework and activity schedules for the week.” “Saturday morning we’ll tackle the weekly mail.” In other words, break down your tasks into manageable parts to feel more in control.

[Free Download: 22 Clutter-Busting Strategies for Adults with ADD]

3. Pair up to pare down!

Grab your children and work together! Sometimes “body doubling” (being in an environment where others are doing what you’re doing) helps us to initiate and stay on task. Plus, hard work goes faster when we do it with someone else.

4. Try the “black table cloth effect.”

Yes, it’s a thing and it’s one of my favorite tricks to help my clients feel less overwhelmed when organizing. If you walk into a room and all you see is clutter, you are most likely going to feel overwhelmed and not know how to start. So try draping black tablecloths over the areas of your home you are working on decluttering and organizing. Only expose a small amount at a time so you stay focused, on track, and most importantly, less overwhelmed. In this instance, out of sight will help you NOT be out of your mind!

[The Ultimate Room-by-Room Organization Guide]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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