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Confession: People with the perfectly clean, always-organized homes? I sort of hate them.

I try. God knows, I try. Sometimes I go two weeks where I get my place perfect every 24 hours. But then normal life happens.

As much as I want the perfect home, part of my problem is ADHD. Thanks to head trauma, my mild ADD tendencies went through the roof in my thirties, bringing with it all kinds of new challenges.

At home, this means some tasks can be ignored for months. Papers pile up, disorder creeps in. First a cup gets left on a table, then this doesn’t get put away, that doesn’t go away, those are brought home and left on the table, and so forth. Ahh!

distracted houscleaning

But nearly every week I get my place back to beautiful, if even for a few hours. To successfully keep it clean, I need to have a routine of doing 30 minutes’ cleaning every morning, and doing the kitchen every night. ADHD, however, is all about how difficult being routine can be, so that’s a lot easier said than done. The rare weeks I pull that off,  I feel like it’s a near-heroic accomplishment.

Let’s not feed stereotypes here. Not every person with ADD lives in a cluttered disaster. I’m living proof of that, but it doesn’t mean my behaviour is resolved. I suspect most of us who do have reasonably nice, orderly places struggle to make it so.

Maybe you’re ADHD, or maybe you’ve got too much going on. Here are some tips on how I find success around home — or at least fight the good fight, when it feels like life’s getting the best of me:

1. Skip the egg-timer, just scramble!

Every advice column for ADHD folks talks about egg-timers. “Turn on the timer and work until–” but I think we’re all more grown-up and accomplished than that. Instead, get it into your head that you’re not forced to stick with one task until it’s done. Embrace your inner-Tasmanian Devil and go from room to room, doing stuff until bored or frustrated with that room. I’ll wash the dishes until I’m suddenly fed up with it, then I’ll go to the bathroom and clean the bathtub instead, or organize my desk, or put away laundry.

Cycling, I find, keeps me interested and motivated. When cycle, every time I return to that room, I’ll find myself further along. The positive results slap me upside the face and I get excited that I’m making progress, as opposed to being in the same room for 30 minutes and stuck in the mindset of “This is taking forever, I hate it,” which is just mental fatigue that is part of ADD.

Results are my greatest reward. “Something’s HAPPENING. Yay!”

2. Start simple & escalate

We find messes intimidating, even overwhelming.”Yes, there’s a mess; yes, there’s a lot of it; yes, I’m at a complete loss of where to start.”

The best way is to start by putting away anything that needs to go away. No tidying, no cleaning, no sprays or rags or paper towels. Just walk around putting everything away that can go away. It’s that simple. The oil goes here, the towel goes there. That’s an easy place to start.

When you’re putting it away, straighten things up a bit too in that cupboard/drawer/etc if it’s annoying you. Don’t get in your way if you’re motivated to do something new, but don’t let it derail you from your original plans either.

Next, start clearing off surfaces and organizing them. Then start cleaning surfaces. Then floors.

Take breaks. Watch TV or read or nap, and do it for a few minutes an hour, and it’ll keep you mentally sharp as your day proceeds. You can also have a built-in long-day distration  by making a great all-day stew like Bolognese sauce or pulled pork or anything else that wants to be lovingly cooked for at least four hours. Stir it, taste it, and enjoy the smell as you keep working knowing a reward awaits.

cleaning mom daughter

3. Set routines but know your weaknesses

Sure, it’s easy to say “set a routine and stick to it,” but that’s the problem with most ADHD people is that routines are very, very hard to adopt. As soon as life gets a little busier or something else intervenes, the routine can go out the window, and if you don’t “stick” to it, you’re left with the veneer of failure.

When this happens and everything comes apart and you’re left with a FEMA-grade disaster, take a deep breath, and do one of these two first steps:

  • 1) decide what part of it is affecting your life the most and tackle it until you need a break (then go to another room and start there) or
  • 2) choose a task you hate but can get out of the way quickly. (Me, I hate cleaning the bathroom, but it’s actually such a small bathroom that I can do it in 30 minutes if I just commit. When it’s done, I feel like nothing else can be as bad as the bathroom, and it’s a psychic boost for an hour or two.)

4. Connect short tasks with big rewards

Results are gold for ADHD types like me. So have a little list of things you can do in between larger tasks. The kitchen as a whole is troublesome, but if you interrupt it for cleaning out the fridge, that’s a huge payoff for 15-20 minutes’ distracted focus, and it’ll power you for other tasks.

On my lists are things like “put away all coats and shoes and bags” and “sweep the apartment” and “take out the trash and recycling” and “pay bills”. Even menu-planning for the week makes the grade.

The short-term high you get from these tasks fills you with energy and focus when you return to the larger, more daunting tasks like doing the laundry, deep-cleaning the kitchen, and so forth.

5. Don’t pressure yourself

Consider different home organizing strategies if what you’re doing isn’t effective. There’s no one way that’s right. Part of life’s journey is about finding out what ways work for you and bring you success. The same is true of keeping your house organized. Don’t give up. Just try different approaches. You’ll find the right fit for you.

And so much more

Ultimately, ADD/ADHD are all about what works for you. These things work for me — some of the time. Do I ever find 100% success? No. It’s why I’ve begun hiring a cleaning person every couple weeks. I know I’m likely to never be great at keeping my world organized 24/7, but my home isn’t cluttered. So, there’s that.

But you know what? While ADHD makes being a domestic goddess a struggle, it also makes me an awesome cook, a creative writer, a fascinated photographer, and a fun friend. I won’t apologize for not being able to keep my home clean all the time, and I won’t feel guilty for getting a cleaning person that society suggests is a “splurge.” Instead, I’ve learned to appreciate my shortcomings and work with them.

Hopefully these ideas on how to modify your approach might be a game-changer in your world, but if not, keep reading and learning more strategies, because dissenting voices have different methods, and maybe one’s right for you.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.