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When a Professional Organizer Has a Child with ADHD

As a young girl, I tidied my friends’ rooms for fun. Orderly systems are my passion. I also have a daughter with ADHD, for whom ‘messy’ is a wild understatement. Here are the five organization rules we’ve devised that work with her ADHD brain — and mine, too.

Parenthood is one of life’s biggest blessings. It’s infinitely rewarding and challenging all at once. It’s also confounding. There is no conclusive “Parenting Manual,” though plenty of experts and books offer contradictory and sometimes unfounded theories.

You learn quickly to trust your intuition for best results, and how to drown out unsolicited advice. That happened for me when our daughter turned two, and I began to see that something didn’t seem right. Plenty of people said I was overreacting, but four years later we got the diagnosis: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD).

The warning signs were clear, at least to me: She wasn’t able to sit still at all. Her leg would swing endlessly under the dinner table. Often, she would sit on one leg folded over and we would have to remind her almost every night to sit on her bottom completely.

Motivation was another red flag. She started off the school with enthusiasm and energy, but come January of 2019 she had zero desire to go anymore. She didn’t even want to pick out her clothes for school, which was something she loved to do. At first, I thought there could be an issue at school like bullying or a teacher disconnect, but that wasn’t it.

The final puzzle piece was the disorganization. The level of chaos in my daughter’s room (and life) absolutely blew my mind. On multiple occasions I was left speechless, wondering how in the world she could be so disorganized. It felt unnatural.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

You see, organizing is my passion. As a kid, I would go over to a friend’s house and organize her room for fun. My room was always spotless. While I understand this is highly unusual, I also know our daughter’s disorganization was at a level far beyond normal.

As everyday things became more and more difficult, I reached out to my daughter’s teacher to see how things were going at school. I told her how her behavior was regressing at home, she was becoming more emotional, and she was listening less. Her teacher shared that her focus needed to be redirected often and she was easily distracted. That was when I requested the evaluation for ADHD.

When we got the pediatrician’s diagnosis, I felt relief. After years of trying out different parenting techniques — and facing failure time and time again, not to mention the comments and judgment from other parents, family, and teachers — I needed to know I wasn’t a bad parent. It was hard and lonely. Being judged is not fun, especially when you are trying your hardest.

Finally, I understood why my daughter kept losing and breaking things. Now it was time to figure out how to make organizing work for her. It wasn’t about me and how I wanted it to look and function. It was about finding ways that work best for her. What I have learned is this: It’s the little things that make it easier.

[The ADHD Library for Parents]

1. Use Labels

Labels teach your child where things need to go. They are essential when organizing any project, and make clean up very straightforward and simple.

Tips on labeling:

  • Use a label maker for a clear, consistent font. It’s easy to read and provides consistency, which is extremely helpful for a child with ADHD.
  • Use one word per label. Simple is better.
  • Have your child help you label bins and drawers so she knows where things belong.

    2. Simplify Containers

    Use one storage bin per category instead of trying to combine categories. For example, our daughter’s underwear and socks were combined in one drawer. I moved them into drawers of their own to eliminate clutter and confusion.

    Similarly, her shoes were all stored in one bin, however one shoe was always missing (something I couldn’t comprehend). I changed out the shoe bin for an individual shoe organizer that organized one shoe pair per slot. It was a game changer because she has to put the pair away together and could easily identify the pair she needed.

    Tips on simplifying:

    • Use consistent bins for a uniform look and feel. It eliminates the clutter and confusion.
    • Keep only what your child uses.
    • If you’re questioning whether you need it, get rid of it. Less is more.

    3. Color Code

    Organizing items by color is not only aesthetically appealing, it makes it easier to find what you need.

    Kids love rainbows; they’re pretty to look at and colors are some of the first things they learn when they are toddlers. Use this to your advantage.

    Things to color code:

    • Clothes: This will help for smoother mornings because your child will be able to find what they are looking for quickly.
    • Books: Organizing books with this technique will make it easier for your child to find the book they want and be able to put them away.
    • Toys: Depending on the toys, using this technique can be extremely useful. LEGOs are begging to be color coded.

    4. Minimize Locations used

    Your child’s bedroom is the best location to keep everything. Teach them this space is their “apartment” and it’s their job to keep organized and tidy so they can have visitors. This creates the independence that many kids crave.

    While the bedroom is the ideal place to keep everything organized, it isn’t always the most practical. For example, shoes: Keep those by the door or entryway.

    We have a minivan and two other children who sit in the second row. Our daughter sits in the third row, which was becoming a garbage dump. Regardless of how many times we told her to bring in her garbage, it wasn’t working. I tried adding organizers and trash bags, but nothing stuck. Finally, we put down half of the back seat, minimizing the amount of space she had access to, and it was a complete game changer.

    Tips on storage locations:

    • Figure out where things are currently being stored and how you can reduce them. Cut out at least one location.
    • Make it easy. The location of where things are organized matters because if it’s not easy to access, it’s not going to be used.

    5. Use Divided Turntables & Clear Bins When Possible

    When it comes to getting organized, using the right containers matters. Divided turntables and clear bins are extremely effective for kids with ADHD because they teach them to organize multiple items into separate compartments. The fluid spin of the turntable and open top make it extremely easy to access. Clear storage bins make it easy to see what’s inside while also keeping items neatly contained.

    Things to organize with divided turntables:

    • Craft supplies: crayons, markers, glue, beads, etc.
    • Hair accessories: hair ties, clips, headbands, brushes, etc.
    • Small toys: LEGOs, Hatchimals, cars, etc.

    Things to organize with clear storage bins:

    • Larger toys: blocks, dress up clothes, figurines, etc.
    • Clothes: shirts, shorts, pants, etc.
    • School items: backpack, lunchbox, etc.

    Organizing is a big struggle for our scattered kids with ADHD. Putting things back where they belong is like piecing together a puzzle. It’s taking small steps to finish the project, but persistence and creativity will get you to a place of less mess and less stress.

    [Less Messy in 30 Days!]

Updated on August 28, 2019

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