DISCLAIMER: I speak from my own ADHD experience. I cannot guarantee that my ideas will work for anyone else, but I’d love to hear about your experiences with ADHD and cleaning!
First of all, there are two kinds of cleaning: “cleansing” and “tidying.” The first is what you do to the sink bowl; the second is what you do to a cluttered table. My ADHD strategy for cleansing is unremarkable — to the extent I have any strategy at all, it is to let Sara point out that a very specific thing needs to be cleansed (e.g., the toilet), gather all the supplies, and then just do it. At that point there are no distractions in my field of view, so I can often get into a state of “hyperfocus” (characteristic of ADHD) and literally scrub the crap out of that toilet bowl for an unreasonably long time.
Tidying is a different story altogether. Every tiny act of tidying carries carries within it a potential distraction. Here is a paper I printed out that I intended to read a while ago. What was it about, again? Oh, that’s interesting! Here is a folder containing my Brandeis health insurance plan. I was going to check if I’m supposed to be getting dental coverage. I should log on to the Brandeis website and read more. Here is a copy of the Atlantic. Before I recycle it, I should read the article about the Common Core… and so on.
Based on these experiences and on my heartfelt desire to actually do some tidying up in spite of them, I have developed a system that leverages my ADHD to tidy the house rather than letting it bog me down. I’ll explain the process, and then the rationale.
- In the middle of the mess, designate a location for things that are not easy to “put away” in a place they belong.
- Find a thing near you that does not belong where it is. If it has words on it, DO NOT READ IT, or at least not more than a title.
- If you can immediately come up with a place that it belongs, immediately put it there. If you cannot come up with such a place (or feel that you have to read it to s, put it in the designated location.
- Here’s the key step: the moment you have put the thing away, find something within your reach that does not belong where it is. If you can’t find anything, look a little farther, but DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE until you have something in your hand that needs to be put away. DO NOT READ THAT THING; instead, repeat steps 3 and 4, moving faster and faster until everything is either where it belongs or in the designated location.
- Look at the things in the designated location (WITHOUT READING THEM). Why don’t they have anywhere they belong? Can you throw them all away? Can you put them all in a box and hide the box? If not, why not? At this point, you can start being creative because the rest of the house is now tidy.
This method turns me into a cyclone of tidying fury. Not only does it eliminate my tendency to read things and stop tidying, but it cuts out the time spent walking back to the place I’m trying to tidy. It seems ridiculous, especially because my house is so tiny, but I’m pretty sure that time is prime distraction time. With my new method, tidying is nonstop action. I am always either on my way to return a thing that is in my hand to its natural habitat or aggressively seeking such a thing. With this method, I never have to pay attention to anything outside my field of view. The intense stimulation of moving quickly keeps me focused, as does the fact that the only thing that matters is physically in my hand.
If you have ADHD or ADHD tendencies, give it a shot and let me know if it helps!