Manage Your House

Shortcuts to a Cleaner, Less Cluttered House

Life is too short to stress over laundry, bathrooms, and kitchens. Free yourself from the burden of overwhelming housework by following these practical, ADHD-friendly tips for living cleaner and more organized every day.

If it’s hard to concentrate on one task, such as folding laundry or washing dishes, all the way to completion, try doing it in increments. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and stay on task until it goes off. If you think you can do more, reset the timer.
If it’s hard to concentrate on one task, such as folding laundry or washing dishes, all the way to completion, try doing it in increments. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and stay on task until it goes off. If you think you can do more, reset the timer.

Should it be called “housekeeping” or “house arrest”? It’s not easy to tell the two apart, especially for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As Erma Bombeck put it: “Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion, with stop-offs at tedium and counter-productivity.”

There ought to be a better way — and there is. In my 16 years as a professional organizer, I’ve helped hundreds of adults get organized with ADHD and stay on top of their housework. Here are the house cleaning tips my clients with ADHD swear by. Feel free to modify them to suit your needs.

Straightening Up

Many people with ADHD like to keep their stuff in full view because they find that seeing a thing helps them remember to repair it, return it, remove it, or replace it. Unfortunately, clutter is unattractive and distracting. I wish there were a painless way to get rid of clutter. Alas, it takes a bit of work. But it will go more smoothly if you do things systematically.

To keep stuff out of sight but not out of mind, use labeled, see-through containers, bins, and baskets. Once you fill a container, that’s your cue to go through it and toss what’s not needed.

Start in one room, and then move to the room to your immediate right. Repeat, until you have circled back to where you started. Carry a plastic bag as you move from room to room. Anything you want to discard goes into the bag. Toss out old magazines and junk mail, but do not waste time going through loose papers. Just put them in a neat pile and move on. Come back to go through them when you have more time.

When you’ve cleared a desk, table, or another surface enough to shift, shift stuff left and dust, then right and dust.


Laundry Room? Check. Kitchen? Check.


Pay special attention to chairs and sofas. As I tell my clients, “You deserve to not share your chair with anything but your derrière.”

If you encounter something in one room that belongs in another, toss it toward the door. Pick it up on the way out of the room, take it to the appropriate room, and then return to your rightward circle.

Doing Laundry

Get one giant basket for darks, another for whites. Get rid of hampers, and have family members deposit their soiled clothes directly into these two communal baskets.

When the baskets are full, load the clothes into the washer and — to make sure you follow through — set two timers. Leave one atop the washer and take the other with you as you move through the house doing additional laundry-related chores. These include making beds (comforters save time because they double as blankets and bedspreads), matching socks, folding linens, ironing, and so on. When each load is finished, put it in the dryer, reset your alarms, and do more laundry-related things.

Doing the laundry will take at least three blocks of 40 minutes, or two hours, once a week.

Cleaning the Kitchen

If the sink is full of dirty dishes and the backsplash is grimy, your kitchen can be made of marble and gold and it still won’t look good.

To reduce the number of dishes you do, use disposable plates and utensils. If that seems like cheating, at least get some paper cups and cereal bowls for your children to use in the mornings.

To keep track of when to run the dishwasher, use a “clean/dirty” sign. After dinner, rinse the dinner dishes, load them into the dishwasher, and turn it on. Next morning, unload the clean dishes. Rinse and load the breakfast dishes — but hold off on running the dishwasher. After dinner, rinse the dinner dishes, load them into the dishwasher, and turn it on. Repeat this routine every day.

Each time you open the refrigerator, take a whiff and toss anything that smells iffy. Once a month, give the fridge a thorough cleaning. Sponges quickly get covered in germs, so I recommend paper towels instead. Lots of paper towels. To clean up spilled liquids, use a dry paper towel. If something is dry (crumbs, for example), use a wet paper towel.

If you insist on using a sponge, use it for no more than seven days, then wash it in the dishwasher and use for another seven days. Then throw it away.

Don’t use furniture spray on wood surfaces. It only attracts dust. Wipe with a slightly damp cloth instead.

Mop the floors and clean the countertops at least once a week (and any time you create a mess). Simply shift everything on the counters to the left and clean, then shift everything to the right and clean again. If there’s so much stuff on the countertops that shifting is impossible, it’s time to de-clutter.

Cleaning Bathrooms

Once a week, close the bathroom door and run the hottest water possible in your shower. The steam will give you a head start on cleaning.

Spritz the mirrors with glass cleaner and the counters with non-glass cleaner. Wipe with paper towels. Mop the floor on your way out.

Not in the mood to clean? Put on a favorite CD, drink a cappuccino, sing, whatever. (Don’t turn on the TV — it’s too distracting.) Wear a pedometer (like the ones sold at OregonScientific.com), and make it a game to see how much exercise you can get. Away you go!

Don’t fret if housekeeping chores don’t get done exactly the way you want them done. What matters is that the chores get done on schedule.

Your home should be clean enough to satisfy an imaginary visit from, say, a bachelor brother. Unless your mother really is visiting, there’s no need for your home to be clean enough to satisfy her.

3 comments

  1. This is potentially very useful for anybody to help keep their home clean.

    However, disposable dishes and cutlery is a terrible idea. Not only is it an added expense it’s horrible for the environment. We need to be creating less garbage, not more.

    For me, it mostly isn’t a helpful strategy for my ADD related housework battles. I don’t have it entirely figured out but I find it helpful to break things up into very small steps. For example, doing laundry is a big task for me. I would never do it if I had to spend a big block of time doing it. My schedule is to do a load one day, fold it the next and put it away on the third day. Because I only have to do a bit at a time it isn’t overwhelming and I’m more likely to start the process than put it off.

  2. I think this is wonderful! I have heard some of this before and we use the thin white paper plates that you’ve seen everywhere. This cuts a tremendous amount of time! Then they go in the recycling bin. Not regular paper but it can be recycled. I am feeling like the moving right strategy is going to be especially helpful!

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