Maintaining an organized home can be challenging for anyone. It’s not uncommon to juggle a traditional job, a family, a social life, a fitness regimen, eight hours of sleep, and even school. But if you live with an attention disorder, getting organized can be even more daunting.
For those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the struggle to focus, prioritize tasks, and stay on top of everyday responsibilities can make organization feel like an impossible concept—which is why designing a functional living space will require a bit more creativity.
In this article, we’ll dive into practical and effective organization tips tailored to individuals with ADHD. As part of our research, we spoke to the following experts in the field about ADHD and how to design a space that is helpful for individuals with this disorder:
- Heather A. Jones, Ph.D., associate professor and child/adolescent concentration chair at Virginia Commonwealth University
- John Vasko, M.S., M.P.S., doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, under the mentorship of Dr. Cynthia M. Hartung, Ph.D.
What Is ADHD?
ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, involves persistent episodes of hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity. However, ADHD is a complex disorder that can present a variety of symptoms that vary from person to person. According to the Mayo Clinic, some common adult ADHD symptoms include disorganization, problems prioritizing, poor time management skills, low frustration tolerance, poor planning, and more.
ADHD is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children, according to the American Psychiatric Association, but also affects roughly 4.4% of U.S. adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. ADHD can impact many aspects of a person’s life, including school, work, home, and interpersonal relationships.
Here are the three main ADHD subtypes explained:
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation: People with this subtype are usually hyperactive and impulsive. Individuals may struggle to sit still, interrupt others, and act impulsively without thinking about the consequences.
- Predominantly inattentive presentation: People with this subtype have difficulty staying focused, completing tasks, and coordinating activities. They may often overlook details in school or job tasks, avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort, and frequently lose items necessary for daily life.
- Combined presentation: This is the most common subtype, where individuals exhibit both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.
Research, including a 2019 study published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases, shows that ADHD frequently occurs with other mental health disorders. The most common comorbidities are autism spectrum disorder (ASD), learning disorders, tic disorders, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. These additional mental health disorders can increase the level of difficulty individuals have completing day-to-day tasks.
How Can ADHD Impact the Home?
ADHD can affect adults’ homes in many ways, says Heather Jones, Ph.D., associate professor and child/adolescent chair at Virginia Commonwealth University. They may forget to pay utility bills or take out the trash, lose their house and car keys, or find their space messy and disorganized despite their desire to keep it neat.
This disorder can also make it challenging to initiate and complete tasks. “Procrastination can result in a household project or task not being started or being rushed,” says John Vasko, doctoral student at the University of Wyoming. He adds that individuals may become so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of maintaining a home that they don’t know where to start. The end result could be uncleaned messes, dishes piled up in the sink, a hamper overflowing with laundry, and more.
While individuals without ADHD may mistake these behaviors for laziness or lack of motivation, they’re actually due to the neurobiological factors associated with ADHD, including differences in brain structure and dysregulated neurotransmission systems. “The main barrier to being organized for people with ADHD lies in the executive function deficits we often see in people with this mental health disorder,” says Jones.
Home Design for Individuals with ADHD
If you have ADHD, consider designs that cater to your unique needs when moving into a new home or remodeling an existing space. Thoughtful home design can substantially ease daily living and support focus and organization.
Optimize Your Focus Space
Whether you’re creating a home office, a study, or another area requiring deep concentration, attention to the environment is vital. “An individual with ADHD may start a household task or project and quickly become distracted or drawn off task, resulting in the task or project not being completed,” says Vasko. This insight underscores the importance of creating an environment that minimizes distractions.
To do this, ensure your focus area contains only furnishings and elements that pertain to the tasks you wish to accomplish within the space. For example, if you work from home, ensure your office has a desk, comfortable chair, and office supplies, but not a clothes hamper or a television set. This will minimize the possibility of getting off task by turning on a show or sorting through laundry.
Further, eliminate potential distractions by evaluating each component of the space. For instance, old or improperly installed windows may allow disruptive noises to permeate your focus area. Consider soundproofing elements and materials that minimize external noises, creating a serene and focus-enabling environment. Ensure your space has a door or at least a room separator to eliminate distractions from outside of the room.
Blend Aesthetics with Function
An ADHD-friendly home doesn’t need to compromise on style. You can create a space that’s both functional and stylish by carefully selecting furniture, storage solutions, and decor that promotes relaxation, organization, and focus.
Integrate storage solutions that are visually appealing yet practical, opt for stylish furniture that offers comfort and promotes good posture, and choose decor that not only adorns your space but also serves a purpose, such as a chic end table that features a container for your keys, wallet, and phone. This balance ensures that your living space is not only organized and ADHD-friendly but also a reflection of your personal taste and style.
Consider color, too. Research shows that blue improves concentration, productivity, and mental clarity. Shades of green reduce anxiety and eye strain and create a sense of balance. Avoid bright, highly saturated primary colors, such as red and yellow, as these can increase heart rate and heighten anxiety.
ADHD-Friendly Home Organizational Tips
Those with ADHD may struggle with the tendency to misplace everyday items and the inability to sustain a structured living environment. Here are some tools for organizing a living space.
Put a Trash Can in Every Room
Common ADHD symptoms include distractibility and difficulty staying on task. Always having a trash can nearby eliminates the need to leave the room to dispose of trash, which can disrupt focus and concentration and cause someone to start a new task without finishing the previous one. With an easily accessible waste bin in every room, you can quickly get rid of garbage and continue to focus on what you’re doing. It will also prevent the pile-up of empty cups, snack bags, or wrappers on tables, chairs, and other surfaces.
Establish a Go-Back Cart
Similar to how retail store associates use a cart to store misplaced items and later return them to where they belong, people with ADHD can unload items, such as keys and bags, in one spot throughout the day. At the end of the day, they can return those items to their correct spots instead of having to pick them up from multiple rooms around the house.
Embrace a Clock Collection
One of the core challenges for individuals with ADHD is time management. Consider investing in multiple clocks for several ways to acknowledge time. Traditional analog clocks provide a visual representation of time, with the sweeping hands showing the passage of seconds, minutes, and hours. This visual cue can help individuals with ADHD improve their concept of time and strengthen their time management skills.
Digital clocks, on the other hand, provide a quick way to see exactly what time it is and may offer stopwatch or timer features that can help individuals practice efficient task completion. In addition, an alarm clock in the bedroom can serve as a better alternative to a cell phone alarm, as the time appears larger on the screen and allows individuals to stop the alarm without being tempted to scroll on their phones.
Use Clear Storage
Storage bins are a great way to organize and consolidate items, from day-to-day toiletries to seldom-used seasonal items. “When organizing at home, be sure to create a system for organizing items, such as using labeled, clear storage containers that have a designated location so everyone in the household knows where to find items and where to return them,” suggests Vasko.
Clear storage bins make it much easier for an individual to find what they’re looking for. Since forgetfulness is a common ADHD symptom, individuals may forget which bin stores which category of items, resulting in opening and closing multiple bins and becoming frustrated when they can’t find what they’re looking for.
Organizational Processes for Individuals with ADHD
Mental organization is just as important as physical organization. The following strategies may help individuals with ADHD complete tasks in a timely manner without getting overwhelmed.
Allocating specific time blocks for different tasks can help individuals focus on one thing at a time and reduce their tendency to become distracted. “Try to find five minutes a day, such as right when you wake up, to organize something. Five minutes is manageable, and small steps towards organization add up over time,” says Jones. Committing to just five minutes of a task one dreads completing will reduce anxiety over starting; plus, starting the task is often the motivation one needs to finish it, and five minutes will usually turn into completing the project.
Alternatively, one can schedule their entire day with time-blocking. For example, you can schedule three hours of heads-down working time, one hour to chat with family or eat lunch, two hours to plan for tomorrow, and one hour to exercise. Then, you can block off one or two hours of “free time” in which you can do whatever you want. This will help you develop a daily routine and prioritize your tasks instead of trying to do multiple things at once. Use visual aids such as calendars, whether physical or on a cell phone app, to keep you aware of when the time blocks start and end.
Chunking is an organizational strategy that involves breaking down complex information or tasks into smaller, more manageable “chunks” or groups. According to Jones, it’s harder for an adult with ADHD to plan, so looking at a messy room, for example, can be so overwhelming that they don’t even know where to start, leading to a cycle of procrastination.
“Break down larger tasks, like cleaning a room, into smaller steps,” suggests Jones. “Use a system where you can physically check off what you get done. Checking off items done can help with feelings of accomplishment.”
For example, if doing laundry feels like a mammoth task, break it down into smaller steps, such as cleaning up piles of clothes, putting away clean clothes, or starting one load of laundry. Commit to completing each task on its own rather than the larger task of “doing the laundry.” This will reduce overwhelm and make it easier to stay on track.
Finding What Makes Sense Right Now
It’s important to note that different techniques work for different individuals with ADHD, and what works best for one person may not work for another. You can experiment with any of these techniques to find the ones that are most effective for your specific needs.
Focus on the season of life you’re in now and what can aid it, as what works during one phase of life may need adjustment in another, especially as you get older and have different responsibilities and priorities. Think about what makes sense for you right now and adapt your strategies to evolving needs and circumstances.
Tools for Individuals with ADHD
Losing things and experiencing forgetfulness are two of the most common problems that those with ADHD face. Fortunately, there are tools that individuals with ADHD can use to manage daily tasks and make life easier. Here are some ideas:
Amazon Key Finders
While everyone loses their keys sometimes, it can be a daily occurrence for those with ADHD. With Amazon Key Finders, you can attach tracking devices to keys, wallets, or other frequently lost items. When you misplace something, you can use your smartphone to quickly locate it through a sound alert or GPS tracking.
Having consistent reminders can be particularly helpful for individuals with ADHD. A tool such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home can help. “Use Alexa or other virtual assistants to give reminders, such as when to take dinner out of the oven or to change smoke detector batteries,” says Jones. These devices can also make it easier to manage schedules and appointments.
While these devices offer numerous benefits, they should be used wisely. Individuals with ADHD may need to set boundaries to avoid overuse and distraction. It may be useful to customize the device’s settings based on the individual’s needs.
Whiteboards and Color-Coded Lists
Writing on a whiteboard and erasing tasks as they are completed can provide a sense of immediate accomplishment, which can motivate individuals with ADHD. Plus, unlike digital devices, whiteboards don’t have the distraction of notifications and social media apps.
“Color-coding the lists can also be helpful for separating out different types of items,” suggests Jones. Consider using different-colored markers to represent different types of tasks, such as blue for household tasks, red for reminders, and green for errands.
Make sure the whiteboard is placed in an area of the home that’s frequented often, such as by the front door or in the kitchen. That way, you can keep a list of things you need to take with you when you leave the house, write out your to-dos for the day, or even leave yourself a positive affirmation.
ADHD can make organization challenging, but one can create an environment that supports focus with a few helpful strategies. When it comes to home design, opt for pieces that reflect your style while providing an organizational element. Also, consider how colors affect mood: Blues and greens can help with focus and relaxation, while red and yellow can induce anxiety.
Further, organizational strategies, including clear storage containers and a “go-back” bag, can help you keep your items where they belong. Visual aids, such as clocks and whiteboards, aid in time management and keep to-do items front of mind. In addition, time-blocking and “chunking” tasks can reduce overwhelm and mental paralysis, while tools such as virtual assistants and key finders can help with forgetfulness.
By implementing these ADHD-friendly home organization tips, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the chaos and enjoying a more peaceful and clutter-free living space. The most important thing is to be patient and celebrate accomplishments along the way.
Heather A. Jones, Ph.D., is an associate professor of clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She served as co-director for the VCU Center for ADHD Research, Education and Service and is currently chair of the Child/Adolescent Concentration of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at the university. Her research broadly focuses on evidence-based assessment and intervention with at-risk and vulnerable populations of children and adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
John Vasko, M.S., M.P.S., is an advanced doctoral student at the University of Wyoming under the mentorship of Cynthia M. Hartung, Ph.D. His experience includes coordinating a grant-funded treatment research study about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), working as a lead counselor for a summer treatment program to treat ADHD, and teaching a developmental psychopathology course to college students. His research interests broadly focus on evidence-based assessment and intervention for substance use and individuals with ADHD.