Ask the Experts

Creative Alternatives to Piling Up Your Paper and Bills

For ADHD minds, out of sight means out of mind, which means forgotten assignments, late bills, and frustration. But piles of paper don’t work, either. Here are some alternative ideas for keeping paper visible but also organized.

Q: “We need major help with paper-piling tendencies in our son and in my spouse. Our 10-year-old son seems oblivious to the piles he creates, whereas my spouse will state that he functions fine with the piles when, in fact, they add to his anxiety. Both are resistant to all manner of ideas for systems to improve the problem. They both have difficulty finding things and meeting important deadlines due to the disorganized habits. What strategies help people like this?” – Strugglingmom


Hi StrugglingMom:

I don’t know why your husband or son are resistant to improving the problem, so I’m going to begin by offering my thoughts on why the piles may work for them.

Many individuals with ADHD need to place their “things” right in their eye line so that they can remember them. In other words, if they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. So, although your husband and son might experience some anxiety when they struggle to find what they need or miss a deadline, the thought of their papers being out-of-site, out-of-mind, might be an even larger stressor.

In addition, your husband may think that the only solution available to him for his paperwork is a filing cabinet with hanging folders. Or your son might only be familiar with traditional big bulky binders and opaque file folders. Perhaps, if they are introduced to systems that work for their way of organizing, they may be more apt to use them.

My general rule of thumb for those that need to see their piles is to make papers as “visible” as possible. Here are two ideas to try.

[Read: How Can I Keep On Top of All These Piles?]

  1. Try using clear, transparent folders, bins, plastic sleeves or even magazine files for organizing papers. And don’t forget to label each one. Clear containers offer a natural and simple visual reminder of where their papers live.
  2. Use their airspace. It’s literally my favorite way to organize papers. Hang magazine holders or wire files on the wall to organize mail and other important documents in an efficient manner. Using your airspace helps to keep important papers visible and top-of-mind, but not piled up on every surface. Label the hanging files to make organization fast and simple. You can also use magnetic, cork, or clip boards to hold papers they need to access quickly and in sight.

Lastly, don’t be an enabler. But don’t nag either. Just quietly and calmly share with your husband and son some of these solutions. Perhaps if they see them in “action” they might be more amenable to implementing some of them.

Good luck!

Disorganized Piles of Paper: Next Steps


ADHD Family Coach 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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Updated on October 15, 2020

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