Why is it important?
If you live with ADHD, I’m guessing you’re well aware of how important it is to be organized. You’re probably bombarded with daily reminders of how disorganization costs you money, strains your relationships, and taxes your health. Every time you open your fridge to the smell of broccoli gone bad before you got around to using it or spot another app you’re now paying for because you forgot to cancel the free 7-day trial, you mentally kick yourself for not being more organized. When the only thing bigger than the mountains of laundry in your bedroom is the rift they’re causing in your marriage, you silently make (yet another) vow to get organized.
You get it. It’s important. Being disorganized causes all sorts of frustrating, unpleasant issues and you intend to do something about it. Someday.
Here’s the thing: your ADHD is never going to go away. It’s going to keep getting in the way, showing up where it’s not welcome, and taking more than its fair share of time and energy until you learn to manage it. Getting organized is part of managing your ADHD. And managing your ADHD means you can manage your life.
There, wasn’t that easy? All you need to do is get organized. Problem solved!
Why is getting organized with ADHD so hard?
If you’ve tried to get organized before and feel like it was a big, fat waste of time because you ended up in the same situation again and again, I get it. It’s not surprising when you look at the skills organizing stuff takes and compare them to what ADHD brains struggle with.
Let’s say you want to avoid the rotten broccoli situation in the future, so you’re going to organize your fridge in a way that allows you to see what you have. And let’s say that you are not very excited about this task, and also that you’re expecting a package from Amazon, and you think you just heard a car door slam.
How likely is it that the broccoli is going to end up where you want it?
You guessed it. That broccoli is going in next week’s compost bin. Here’s why. Organizing requires focused, sustained attention to the task or goal.
While neurotypical brains can see what’s important and get motivated to do it, ADHD brains see everything as being equally important and are motivated only by what sparks their interest (or stimulates their brain).
We already determined the fridge organization isn’t a task you’re exactly looking forward to, so it’s a safe bet that it doesn’t stick out as important, especially when you have the added distraction and stimulation of a potential Amazon delivery. The goal was pretty vague, too, which means extra steps to figure out exactly what you want to do on this task you already don’t want to do!
Most organizing books don’t take into consideration the fact that ADHD brains operate from an “interest-based” nervous system and are written with the underlying assumption that knowing what to do leads to doing. Most of my clients know exactly what they need to do but still can’t do it. Conventional organizing methods also rely on prioritization and time management as motivators, so distinguishing what’s important and ignoring everything else and using the time you have accordingly to spark willpower. As such, conventional organizing methods typically just don’t fit an ADHD brain.
Finding the right support is a huge part of getting organized with ADHD.
Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time “shoulding” yourself already- “I should be able to do this on my own,” or “I should use a filing cabinet”- so you don’t need someone else coming in and shoulding you too. Most people mean well and really are trying to help, but if they don’t understand how you think, their “helpfulness” might just send you on another loop down the shame spiral.
Beware of sentences that start with “You just need to” and “You should”.
Finding support from people who understand ADHD is key and makes asking for help that much easier.
I come across “shoulds” all the time that I like to practice resisting, and I encourage you to do the same. Why should I have doors on my kitchen cabinets? Why should my jeans be folded? Examining the shoulds in your life gives you the freedom to organize in a way that works for you!