Ask the Experts

Q: “My Son’s Messy Bedroom Overwhelms Both of Us”

A messy bedroom is an overwhelming problem for a child with ADHD who doesn’t know how or where to begin, or even what ‘clean’ looks like. Here, learn how to chunk up the task to actually get it done.

Q: “Help! My son is 8 and I have no idea where to begin when it comes to helping him organize his room. I tell him to go clean up and he just stands at the door and stares into it. I know it’s not set up right, but I don’t even know where to begin. Do you have any ideas?” — MessyRoom

Hi MessyRoom:

Since the quarantine began, organizing and cleaning messy bedrooms is suddenly a top priority on many of our to-do lists.

Before we dive in, I need to ask: Does your son know HOW to clean up his room? For an 8-year-old – and one with ADHD, “clean” or “organize” are often too vague. If he doesn’t understand what exactly he needs to do, or is overwhelmed by the task at hand, he’s not going to do it.

Here are a few of my favorite – and proven – tips to get your son started.

1. Take a tour of his room through his eyes: Sometimes, we don’t realize that our children aren’t cleaning and organizing their rooms the way we’d like because they simply can’t. Eliminate roadblocks by taking a tour of his room at HIS eye level. Are the dresser drawers too hard to open? Can he reach his bookshelves to return items? Does the closet door open easily enough? Is his hamper too tall? Is there enough space for everything? Once you establish what he can and cannot do, and make everything accessible for HIM, the cleaning will come much easier.

[Read: A 30-Day Organization Plan for Children]

2. Go step by step: “Please clean up your room” is a daunting task for ANYONE, but especially a young child. Break the room up into easy steps to make organizing more digestible. Try asking him to “place his toys back in the bin” or to “put the books back on the shelf.” Another way to break it down is with a hula hoop. Drop one down over a section of the room and only focus on what’s inside. Dividing up the room in these ways will not only help establish a clear starting point, but it will more clearly show progress and help him visualize what “organized” means!

3. Become the cleaning paparazzi: Hang out in his room while he’s cleaning and snap some before, during, and after photos. This way, when it comes time to clean again, you both have reference shots. Being able to visualize how the room was organized previously, and what steps it took to get there, will help when it’s time to tackle the mess again.

4. Use music as a motivator: Use music to play “Beat the Clock.” Make a quick playlist of a few favorite songs to use as a timer and tackle the room before the music stops. Alternatively, use that same playlist to set the maximum amount of time spent tidying up. Setting a time limit at the outset, even if it’s as vague as “we only have to clean until the music runs out,” gives a conclusion to what once felt like an endless task.

Good Luck!

[Read This Next: 4 Organization Projects That Spark Joy in Quarantined ADHD Brains]

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.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!