13 Clutter Hacks for the Easily Overwhelmed

Martha Stewart’s organization guides are useless to you. What’s more unrealistic? Neurotypical cleaning advice doesn’t work for adults with ADHD. For a down-to-earth alternative, use these quick cleaning tips to restore order to your rooms and life.

Cleaning tip: use this kitchen timer to clean in short bursts
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Straighten Up in Spurts

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. One of the easiest cleaning tips is to set a timer for 15 minutes, and stay on task until it goes off. If you think you can keep going, reset the timer.

A neat place setting - a cleaning tip is to keep surfaces clear and organized
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Nip Clutter Buildup in the Bud

If clutter tends to accumulate on tables and dressers, make those surfaces less inviting. After you clean up your dining room table, set the table. It not only looks nice, but also eliminates the dining room table as a space waiting to be cluttered. Do the same thing with your bedside table — put photos or mementos on the table to "fill" the surface.

A woman dealing with mail daily, one surefire tip for keeping surfaces clean and organized.
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Deal With Mail Daily

To prevent paper pile-ups, collect and sort mail daily. Keep a recycling bin by your desk or close to the door, so you can get rid of junk mail before it makes it to your desk. Sort mail into categories based on the action required. Keep the most urgent documents in a designated inbox or folder.

[Free Download: Clean Up and Get Organized in One Weekend]

A good cleaning tip is to keep all related items together and in their own specific location.
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Keep Related Items Together

Keep items that are used together near each other. That way, you don’t have to keep running around to get the things you need to do a job. (You'll also be less likely to go out and purchase duplicates.) For example, keep wrapping paper, tape, scissors, and ribbons in the same closet so you have everything you need to wrap presents.

Creating a chore file to keep track of everything is a great cleaning tip.
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Create a Chore File

Staying on top of chores is a major challenge for adults with ADHD. Creating a weekly plan can keep you on track. Over the weekend, write down the chores that need to get done in the upcoming week on index cards. Arrange them in order of priority, and keep them in a single location. If you live with a spouse or partner, talk with each other and decide which of you will do what.

Labeled storage containers are a must have for cleaning and organizing to avoid clutter and misplacing important items.
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Label Storage Containers

Packing items away can lead to an "out of sight, out of mind" problem. To keep track of what you have, keep similar items, like holiday decorations, together in the same containers. Tape index cards listing all the contents on the side, and update it as needed. Make sure the card is facing outward when the container is stored, so you can easily tell what’s inside.

This clutter drawer is an example of a good cleaning tip in action.
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Designate Junk Drawers

Finding homes for items like unlabeled CDs and orphan screws can slow down de-cluttering efforts. To prevent this, designate at least one junk drawer in every room. If you don't know where an item should go, put it in that drawer. Once the drawer is full, sort through it. Use what you can, and discard the rest. Then start the process anew.

[Self-Test: Is Your Clutter and Disorganization Out of Control?]

A group of women with shopping bags. One cleaning tip to reduce clutter is to stop buying new things.
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Stop Clutter at the Source

  • Set a clutter rule: If you bring in two pairs of new shoes, you have to get rid of at least one old pair. The same rule applies to all household items.
  • If you're a thrift store person or love yard sales, keep yourself from bringing clutter home by keeping your hands in your pockets. There is a connection between touching and buying an item.
This donation box is a good cleaning tip as it prevents clutter and puts things you don't need to good use.
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Get a Clutter Companion

A few times a year, get a friend to help you sort your clutter into four piles: "keep," "toss," "donate," and "age." Discard the "toss" items at once — before you have a chance to change your mind. Place "donate" items in heavy-duty garbage bags, and drop them off at the nearest donation bin. Save "age" items, and review them three months later. Place a reminder on your calendar, so you don't forget.

A stack of tidy magazines is a great cleaning tip as it helps you keep track of all your subscriptions and allows you to discard magazines you no longer want without having to track them down.
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Corral Magazines You Don't Read

If unread magazines tend to pile up, put them in a small basket. When the basket is full, sift through the magazines. Read what you can, and discard or recycle the rest. (You might drop off the best magazines at a hospital or women's shelter.)

If you are habitually unable to keep up with the issues of a particular magazine, cancel the subscription or read it online.

A great cleaning tip is to appoint a device captain who syncs the devices and makes sure that everything is stored and labeled properly.
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Tame the Technology Stuff

Computers and electronic devices are the new clutter for many people with ADHD. Because these devices become obsolete very quickly, appoint a "device captain," who syncs the devices and makes sure the old machines are recycled properly and all the cords are labeled and stored away.

Person with ADHD cleaning the floor
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Play This De-Cluttering Game

When an area has so much stuff on it, you don't know where to start, try this trick: Drape a sheet or a blanket over most of the clutter you want to organize, allowing only a small area to show at a time. Deal with that bit of visible clutter. Once you've organized the first bit, slide the sheet over to expose another chunk of clutter.

A smart organizing tip is to simplify your bill paying which will also reduce your finance clutter and improve on time payment.
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Simplify Bill-Paying and Finance Clutter

  • Use a single checking account, and sign up for online banking. Pay as many bills as possible using automatic payments to keep down paper clutter.
  • Ask your accountant if you need to keep monthly bank statements. Maybe you can get by with keeping quarterly or yearly statements, and toss the rest.

[Free Download: 22 Clutter-Busting Strategies for Adults with ADHD]

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  1. Question for Russell Barkley Webinar on 01/18/18: Our son was diagnosed with ADD nearly 20 years ago. He made it through high school (went to private schools where there were excellent, caring teachers, and plenty of external structure) but crashed and burned after three semesters at college where much more self-control and delayed gratification is necessary. He has had faithful, steady family support and encouragement, and much professional counseling (the beneficial effects of which never produced any lasting results). He was on methylphenidate in various forms during his school years, and we felt that it helped; however, he didn’t, and after he turned 26 he refused to take it anymore. He is now in a rut; he has very low self esteem, no matter how we try to encourage him, and is afraid to move out of his comfort zone. He still hasn’t figured out “what he wants to do with his life” and seems to be a classic example of “failure to launch”. He is actually AFRAID of success; he says he is afraid that if he does well, he may be asked to more, and he’s afraid he wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectation. (This completely astonished and confounded me when we had this conversation, in the presence of his counselor). He still lives at home (at the age of 29), works a mindless factory/warehouse type job (and he is really quite bright, and capable of much more) and has no motivation to further educate himself or move forward in his life (even though he says he would like to be independent, have a better job, have a real relationship with a girl, etc. (yes – very socially awkward as well). He spends all his free time sitting in front of the computer (video games,mindless entertainment, etc.) and of course any encouragement/admonition from us to do something constructive with his time is seen as nagging and is resisted/resented/rejected. He just can’t seem to get off first base and travel the gap between where he is and where he vaguely wishes he could be. How do we help him get over this negative view he has of himself, and work up the confidence to step outside his comfort zone and realize that he really is capable of accomplishing goals (that he currently perceives as too scary, and thus impossible)? Thank you

      1. 1/17/18

        Hi there…I just wanted to comment on the mother who talked about her 29 year old son. I graduated highschool in 1996 and started college right away bc my parents wanted me to. I had no desire to go but they said they would pay for it. I just wanted to be a “stay at home mom”….but my own mom was divorced and a single teacher, so saying that didn’t go over very well.

        I started college on probation and hated it at a public school where I felt like just a number. I was not working and I had no idea that I had add. The basic subjects bored me and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I spent their money off and on for awhile and then dropped out. The rule was that if I dropped out, then I would have to get out loans if I went back later. But the pressure that I felt was unbearable, so that is exactly what I did.

        After working in child care at a few jobs, I received my child development assoc. credential basically bc it was easy fast hours and I did it with a close friend. It boosted my confidence. I went back to school part time, while working full time and got on the Dean’s List in 2002.

        I then decided to go into management in child care for awhile and loved it. I found an on-line bachelor’s program at a private school out of state and I went to visit and meet the professors. I decided to get on Straterra and I finished my degree in 2009. I really needed that one on one attention from a private school.

        Now, I am a mother of a first grader at a private school. I watch as my son gets easily discouraged with schoolwork and when I think about college for him in the future I will tell him my story.

        I will encourage him to figure out what he’s passionate about before going to college or I will encourage a 2 year program until he figures out his passion.
        I will provide all of the resources that you have provided, as well. I really wish I knew that I had add when I graduated highschool. It would have helped my parents and myself understand why I am the way I am; I wasn’t lazy. I just needed a lot of unconditional love, encouragement, accountability and one on one help.

        ~ M.g.
        Akron, Ohio

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