Get Your House in Order

Strategies for the Home Environment

People with ADHD often live in chaotic environments. They misplace things, they jump from project to project randomly, and they leave things incomplete or undone. Lacking skills to prioritize, seeing everything as “equal,” and not keeping things in short-term memory all contribute to making the tedious tasks of daily living—staying on top of finances, grocery shopping, laundry, or clutter—stifling. With the proper approach, these tasks can be managed, and then mastered!


Understand the cost benefit of delegating.

If you’re like most people with ADHD, you avoid details such as keeping up on bank accounts and paying bills on a regular basis. The thought of sitting down, sifting through mail, and writing checks is enough to make you run from the task, not toward it. Nonetheless, bills need to be paid or you’ll continue to get late notices, accrue bad credit, or run the risk of getting your electricity turned off, not to mention upsetting others who depend on you! If this describes you, learn to delegate. Pay someone to keep track of your finances. Arrange for bills to be automatically paid via your bank. Do what you can to get the job done. In the end, it will cost you less than you’re spending in late fees!

Separate the task from the set-up.

To make paying bills easier and less painful, do the set-up first before paying the bills, which is the real task. Equip a “bill-paying station” with your checkbook, stamps, envelopes, and a basket in which to collect the bills when they arrive in the mail. On a designated day, open the bills and stamp the return envelopes. On the next day, put your return address on the envelopes. On the next day, write and sign the checks. Then all you have to do is stuff the envelopes and send them! By separating setting up and execution, and by approaching the task step by step, you won’t find it so overwhelming, and the job will get done.

Create accountability.

I have several clients who meet with their accountant every three months simply to make sure they keep up with their finances. If this is something your accountant is willing to do, go for it! Your accountant can help you create systems for budgeting and tracking your income. Chances are, if left up to your own devices, you’ll get in trouble. Ask for help from an expert! You don’t have to do it alone.

Ritualize attending to your finances.

If you don’t create space in your life for paying bills and reviewing finances, it will never come to fruition and will remain only a wish. Set a regular weekly time and place to pay bills and review your accounts. Mark it as an appointment with yourself and don’t skip it, no matter what. Do it at the same time on the same day each week so it becomes a habit. Remember to choose a day when you are least likely to be distracted by a more entertaining activity.

Stay in the know to say NO.

Stay on top of how much money you have in your accounts and how much you owe. For example, when you get your bank statement, highlight the amounts and post it on the back of your door so you see it every day. Lack of information about what funds are actually available to you at any given time is a recipe for spending beyond your means and ultimately for financial disaster.

Create visual reminders.

Keep track of when bills are due. Post dates on your calendar. Or here is a favorite of one of my clients: “I open all the mail when it comes in, and immediately sort out the bills, highlight the due dates, and tape them on the wall by the light switch. This way, I can quickly glance at the wall and know how many bills I have to pay, and when they are due. Because they’re right next to the light switch, I’m forced to look at them at least once a day!”

Budgeting: Create a tracking system.

Keep track of receipts by labeling and carrying envelopes labeled BusinessGroceries, and so forth. Put all receipts in the appropriate envelope when you pay for it, and if you forget to get the receipt, write the cost of the item on the outside of the envelope. At the end of each month, file them away for your records in a small, accordion-style 3×12 expanding file. This strategy is great for tracking receipts for expense reports, too.


Take action.

People with ADHD are highly affected by their immediate environment. It’s very important, therefore, to keep your living area organized and picked up. If you know you’re challenged in keeping up with laundry, take measures to get it done! Either delegate it by hiring someone to do it, or send it out to be done. Set a specific day of the week to do that, and write it on your calendar. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of having it pile up while you avoid it will continue. A messy environment also puts a strain on relationships and on those around you, so that’s another reason to take action!

Set personal standards and stick to them.

What is acceptable? What is not? Set standards and stick to them. Enlist a “no excuses” attitude in sticking to a schedule that you have clearly marked on your calendar. At the beginning of each month, for example, write LAUNDRY in each Wednesday box, and include the time you plan to do it, 7 PM. Don’t allow yourself to negotiate with your ADHD by saying, “Oh, I can skip this laundry week,” especially if you know that skipping a week will only lead down a path of shame and blame four weeks later as dirty clothes block your door!

Make it routine.

You must create the time and space for laundry. Otherwise, doing it will remain only a wish! Set a time and day to do it on a regular basis. Think this out and make it realistic. Don’t say you’ll do it Sunday mornings if you go to church. That’s setting yourself up for failure. If for some reason you can’t do laundry on your designated laundry day, have a back-up day and time. This way it doesn’t pile up and become unmanageable.

Use your environment.

Planning to do it and doing it are two separate things. Be sure you have systems in place to remember the day and time you have scheduled. Post a note to yourself as a reminder, or put a sign over your laundry basket “Do on Tuesday evening.” This strategy worked so well for one of my clients that when her fiancé saw the sign “Do laundry on Wednesday,” he thought it was directed to him and he did the laundry!

Combine it with another activity.

While you’re doing your laundry, also do another project or task you engage in on a regular basis. This will help you to remember to do it more readily, regularly, and painlessly. For example, designate Saturday mornings while reading the paper, or Sunday evenings while watching your favorite TV show as laundry time.

Follow it all the way through.

Doing laundry means folding it and putting it away, not just washing it! If you’re going to take the time to wash it, take the extra five minutes to fold it and put it away. A pile of clothes on your floor is still a pile of clothes, clean or dirty!

Decluttering: Staying Organized

No time for shame.

The only way to truly overcome the “messy closet” syndrome is to come out of the closet! That means accepting that your struggles are not a character flaw. It’s not you; it’s your ADHD. This doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have to take responsibility for doing something about it. In order to take that first step, you must acknowledge it’s a problem and stop blaming yourself.

Know it could be emotional.

Going through old paperwork or clearing out clothes and clutter can be emotionally toxic, bringing up a host of feelings—shame, old memories, or horror that you’ve forgotten something important. Prepare yourself, and don’t allow negative tapes to sidetrack you.

Does it have a home?

Create “homes” for things like your keys, wallet, glasses, and cell phone—anything that you tend to lose track of easily. Some people use a small basket in the kitchen as a collection point for these items. One client keeps a pair of glasses next to her computer, another on the bathroom vanity, a third pair on the kitchen counter, and a fourth in her purse. It’s worth the expense, she says, to know she’ll be able to read anywhere!

Use the three-second rule.

When clearing out piles of papers or clothes, or doing any type of decluttering, don’t hold anything in your hand for more than three seconds. Make a quick decision: throw away, take action, or keep. Cleaning can be overwhelming, so take frequent breaks, but continue the process until it has been completed. Set a time and day for each “take action” item, and act on it! For example, if you have a pile of clothing to donate to your local church, designate Saturday, 9 AM, to deliver it.

Stand up and keep moving.

Stand up while decluttering, especially while going through paperwork. Don’t do it sitting down! Standing up helps your brain be more alert and prevents you from spacing out and/or hyperfocusing on one aspect of the job. Keep moving!

Don’t look back.

Once you’ve gone through clothes that you’re going to give to Goodwill or decided on things in the house you’re going to give away or throw out, DON’T LOOK BACK. Put everything in boxes or in non-see-through garbage bags. Get them out of the house or stick them in the trunk of your car as soon as you can. Otherwise, you might be tempted to go back through everything and keep things that you’ve already decided to eliminate.

Do a swap.

Have a friend help you clean, and agree that, in return, you’ll help him or her clear out clutter or go through paperwork. It’s a lot easier having someone with you who can keep you moving and who has no emotional attachments to your “things.”

Keep it alive through accountability.

The issue for people with ADHD isn’t the lack of desire to stay organized; it’s the ability to keep the importance of doing so in the forefront of their minds. Share your desired goals with someone, and keep him posted on your progress along the way. The power of verbalizing your intention, as well as having a watchdog of sorts, should help keep you on course and true to your plan.

It’s a process. Be vigilant!

Remember that you have ADHD. It takes longer for you to change your old ways and develop new habits. You have to be committed to staying in for the long haul to make things stick. Don’t give up! Discovering what systems and strategies work for you will take time. The worst thing you can do is give up. Know that you will slip and slide, but keep at it. It takes time to break old habits and develop new ones.

Create tangible accountability systems for yourself.

Create time sheets for doing dreaded tasks. For example, if you need to clean out the pantry, post a piece of paper on the pantry door. On the paper list the task: “Clean Pantry!” Under that, state the goal for the amount of time: “Spend One Hour Cleaning Top Shelf!” The time spent can be spread throughout the day. It does not have to be done all at once. Every time you go into the kitchen, time yourself and write the time spent (10 min, 15 min, 20 min, and so on) cleaning the pantry. When you reach one hour, stop. This serves two purposes: 1) to break the project into small, doable pieces; 2) to allow you to actually see that you spent one hour’s worth of time cleaning.

The key is to make your goal specific so that you can see and feel progress. For example, when you set out to clean one pantry shelf, you won’t be able to miss the difference in how that shelf looks compared to the other messy ones you haven’t yet touched. Or set out to do one load of laundry. You’ll be able to see that the original pile has become smaller.

Change settings to get mundane tasks done.

If you can’t do certain kinds of work in one room, try another. I personally find that I can’t pay my bills anywhere except at my kitchen table. I have clients who take mundane paperwork and drive to a parking lot and do it in their car. Do whatever it takes to find out exactly what helps you focus long enough to get the task done.

And if you have other strategies that help you keep your house in order, please share them with the rest of us!