Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: I Need Organization Tips for Kids with ADHD

Even after your child “cleans,” her room looks like a hurricane tore through. You’re tired of arguing about her always-messy area, and want to instill organization skills for life. Our organizing coach has four ways to start.

Q: “My daughter’s room is a disaster area 99% of the time. I’ve organized it for her many times, but a day after I finish, it looks like a hurricane struck…again. To her, cleaning means pushing any loose items under the bed, or into a closet where they aren’t visible. Organizing her room means shoving clothes into a dresser haphazardly until the drawers are so overfull that they won’t shut.

I have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) too, and I’ve tried sharing organization tips that help me — like using a checklist to break down tasks into small parts — but I don’t always remember to make her put one toy away before taking out another.

My husband has threatened to take everything — toys, clothes, shoes — and give or throw it away. She absolutely does not care, and has even asked, “When are we going to get rid of all of my stuff?” Her eight-year-old brain thinks she will get all new things if we take it all away. Help!! I’m not sure how to regain control over this situation and teach her to put things away properly. Any advice for me?”  — ndlivingforchrist

Hi ndlivingforchrist:

Trust me, you are not alone on this one. Here are a few of my favorite organization tips for kids to get your daughter started down a path toward consistent bedroom cleanliness.

[15 Ways to Teach Better Organization to Kids with ADHD]

  1. Recognize your kid’s organizing style. We each have our own unique organizing style. Start by asking your child, “What organization system is going to work for YOU?” If she needs to see her stuff to know it exists, then remove her closet door! If folding clothes is a pain point, replace her dresser with bins where she can easily toss t-shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear. If she detests hanging up clothes, ditch the rod and hangers in the closet and put up hooks.
  2. Eliminate road blocks. If it takes a child more than three steps to do something, she isn’t going to do it. Take a tour of your child’s room using HER height as your guide. Can she open the closet door easily? Reach the rod and shelves? Are the dresser drawers hard to open? Is the dresser crammed full? And don’t forget about shelving! Is there enough shelf space for books, memorabilia, etc.? Are her trash and laundry baskets big enough? Eliminating roadblocks is a critical step!
  3. Buddy-up. Perhaps, since your daughter is only eight, she would benefit from having someone work alongside her when it’s time to clean and organize her room. This will provide her with support and structure as well as a model for the steps needed to organize her room.
  4. Make it fun! Crank your daughter’s favorite music and throw a dance party. Set a timer and play “Beat the Clock” by seeing how much you can get done before it goes off. Grab her favorite candy and, “Have a treat while you make it neat!” Infusing energy and play into the routine is a wonderful way to get moving!

[Less Messy in 30 Days]

Organization guru 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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