Chores & Cleaning Up

Put A Stop to Household Clutter Once and For All

Four easy tips that will help your child with ADHD (and the rest of your family!) declutter and get organized. From setting ground rules to creating an ADHD-friendly closet, these expert tips will turn your messy child into a neatnik.

Room of child with ADHD filled with toys and clutter
Room of child with ADHD filled with toys and clutter

If you live with a child who has attention deficit disorder (ADHD), you know too well that they need organization help.

Clutter comes with the territory: books on the stairs… backpacks in the hall… pizza boxes on the floor… a coat draped over every chair.

Are you the one who straightens up? Stop right now. Your child with ADHD must learn to clean up his own messes. After all, clutter control is a skill kids must master if they are ever to live successfully on their own.

First, a word about why kids with ADHD are so good at creating clutter. It’s not that they’re inconsiderate. It’s not that they are defiant or disrespectful. It’s the way they’re wired. They get so focused on tasks that they fail to notice the mess they’ve created. If the mess is pointed out, they may be clueless as to how to clean it up — or may start cleaning up at once, only to stop before finishing.

Establish a set of ground rules about cleaning up, and make it clear that that every family member must follow them. Four rules are especially helpful:

1. Hang it up!

Let’s say, your daughter has a habit of dropping her coat on the floor when she comes home. You’ve reminded her to use the coat closet, and yet… there’s that darn coat again. What to do?

If you can’t bring her to the closet, bring the closet to her. Install coat hooks or place a coat tree near the door. Hang a coat on one of the hooks as a visual reminder that this is where coats go. At first you may have to yell “Use the hook” each time you hear the front door open. But soon your daughter will be using the hook as a matter of habit, without any reminders.

2. Throw it away!

Are certain rooms in your home perpetually littered with food wrappers, school papers, old newspapers, and other bits of paper? Look closely at each problem room. Does it have a wastebasket? Is the wastebasket big enough? Is it in plain view? Remember, for the brain with ADHD, out of sight is truly out of mind. Ideally, each room will have its own brightly colored, appropriately sized wastebasket. Don’t worry about what guests might think. Better to have lots of wastebaskets than lots of littered rooms.

3. Pick it up!

Does your child leave clothing on the bedroom floor? If placing a hamper in the bathroom doesn’t work, create an ADHD-friendly closet: one with a laundry basket for dirty clothes and two milk crates — one for shoes, one for pajamas. Help your child develop the habit of undressing in front of the open closet. All your child needs to do when getting ready for bed is take off his clothes, toss them in the laundry basket, and grab the pajamas that live in the crate.

4. Put it away!

Your home contains hundreds of items that must be put away, but let’s focus on items that are handled at least twice each day: the cap on the toothpaste and the toothbrush. The cap is easy! Just switch to a toothpaste that has a hinged cap. Have each child store his toothbrush in his own brightly colored, plastic drinking glass (which is left on a bathroom shelf). Kids who have trouble using a toothbrush holder will have no trouble getting their toothbrushes into the glass.

Don’t expect perfect compliance with the ground rules. After all, nobody’s perfect. And be sure to praise even “baby steps.”

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