No characteristic of my ADHD has gotten me into as much trouble as my messiness.
I grew up without the benefit of knowing that I had ADHD. The people who did know didn’t have an accurate understanding of the disorder. That meant a lot of frustration and confusion for everyone.
I left plates on the table. I got in trouble. I left books and papers in the living room. I got in trouble. My messy room kept me grounded for most of my teenage years. In my first apartment, a consistent flow of mess followed me wherever I went.
No matter how hard I tried, I spent a great deal of time frustrated because I wasn’t able to keep everything together. Over the years I despaired. I tried my best but always failed to keep the messiness at bay.
Then I was diagnosed with ADHD. Everything changed.
I expected to turn into a neat freak overnight. That wasn’t the case. At some point, I had to make peace with the fact that I’ll never be a neat freak. In doing so, I found ways to stay organized.
Here’s how I came to terms with my messiness and learned to keep my life a bit neater.
I admitted that I had a problem
Messiness can be stressful. What’s worse? Feeling consistently terrified that someone will find out and tell you that you’re awful.
Part of being at peace with my messiness was coming clean about being messy in the first place. Once you admit that you have a problem, you can begin to let go of the guilt and the shame. Then you can use that energy to make your life a little less messy and a little happier.
I stopped pretending
Being a woman with ADHD means that I’ve put up more than my fair share of facades.
It often feels like society expects women to be tidy and organized. I’m neither. We’re expected to run every minor detail of our households without ever missing a beat. That’s not possible for me.
To admit that felt like I was admitting that I was lacking as a woman. Nobody wants to feel like they’re lacking. So we pretend.
I stuffed things in closets and cabinets so everything looked good on the surface. Never mind if I was actually organized, tidy, or happy. (I wasn’t, by the way.)
Messiness isn’t a part of my identity. But I also don’t want to feel ashamed that my home isn’t pristine.
Making peace with messiness meant that I had to recognize that I might not meet social “norms,” and that’s OK. Being different can sometimes feel isolating. It’s also part of what makes us unique.
I set up zones
Along my journey, I learned that I actually enjoy being in a tidy space. I just needed to learn how to work with my ADHD to make that happen. Once I came to terms with my messiness, I was able to start taking steps to keep a bit more organized.
For one, I frequently lose things. I realized it was in part because nothing had a designated place.
Now everything in my house is set up in a zone. I place everything I own where I know I’ll be using it. That makes it a little easier for items to go back in the right place.
I got baskets
People with ADHD like to make piles and stacks of things. It’s a way to have a stab at knowing where your stuff is.
Since piles can get unsightly, I bought baskets. They helped with the look. I just promise to sort through them when they begin to overflow.
I set boundaries
Part of staying organized for me means limiting how messy I allow things to get.
Everybody has a different tolerance level for messes. For me it’s when containers for the mess reach capacity. I know that it’s time to tidy up if my laundry hamper overflows or if I trip over a pair of shoes by the door.
If a mess gets too large, it becomes more daunting to clean. I use those markers as a sign that I need to start tidying up immediately before I hit the danger zone.
I began tidying up before leaving home
I know how impractical this may sound to some of you, but I do a “sweep” of the house before I leave. It’s a quick reset so that I don’t come home to a mess.
Most days I make the bed, empty the sink of dishes, and straighten up the living room before I leave the house. Coming home to a clean place feels amazing.
No one expects me to be a perfect homemaker. I’ve stopped trying to convince them that I am. I found a system that helps me to control most of the mess. I let go of the rest.
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
ADHD-US-NP-00063 JULY 2019