ADHD Piles and Clutter

Paper piles and clutter a major problem!

If asked, “What is the most troublesome ADHD symptom you struggle with?”, a lot of us ADHDers (or ADDers, which is simpler to write and say) would answer, “The many piles of papers and clutter that accumulate in my house and where I work.”  As someone who lives with ADHD, I admit that this is also one of my major struggles. 


People living with ADHD periodically look around at the clutter and piles, feeling high anxiety and self-recrimination.  This is because the current mess is not the first time we have faced this problem.  We look around at a room or office that looks as if it just vomited all these notes, pieces of paper, files, books, receipts, and some other surprising objects we thought we had lost, out into the room, and we feel anger over the state of our space.  We had cleaned all this up several months ago, and now, look: it’s the horrible mess we vowed would never happen again.


So the rush of negative self-talk begins.  Anxiety and anger over having to face a frequent recurring situation fills our heart and mind.  This becomes another reminder of failure.  It’s no secret that others become upset and disappointed with us.  But what others may not realize is the depth and degree of internal anguish we ADDers feel over these very same issues and behaviors.


To a neurotypical person (someone who has what is considered a normal brain), this pattern of cleaning everything up, organizing one’s life, then having the whole system slowly break down with everything becoming a mess once again, only to go through the whole routine again, appears to be a nonsensical and puzzling behavior. “Just organize everything, create a system, and stick with it,” they say either cheerily, or condemningly.  Rather than helping, comments such as this function like acid thrown on the soul of the ADDer. 


First, we are not stupid.  In many cases, people with ADHD are above average intelligence.  We know what needs to be done, in most cases.  Knowing what to do is not the problem.  So second, the problem has to do with our brains, how they are wired or structured, and how our brains produce and work with neurotransmitters. 


We get distracted from goals (such as putting that paper into the right file and putting that file away).  We feel overwhelm: a condition of complete emotional and cognitive flooding that leads to paralysis, because we can see the totality of our To Do list, the mess lying before us, the consequences of not performing certain tasks, anticipated responses from those around us, and thousands of other data and issues in one powerful vision.  (If neurotypicals experienced this all-encompassing vision, they would most likely cognitively implode, since this would be completely foreign to their internal linear experience.) We become tired from working hard to keep it together day after day, spending energy to fight the way our brains want to work, forcing them into patterns that work against the way our brains naturally function, and dealing with the emotions that accompany our lives.


What do we do to solve this problem?  First, realize that this may be a problem that you will need to deal with repeatedly throughout your life.  At some point, you need to accept the reality that you have a brain different from the majority of brains.  You are not other people, and they are not you.  And that is not only OK, it’s only one aspect of you, while other aspects of you include strengths and qualities worthy of admiration.


Second, think about how you process information and your day.  Before you decide a system or method to help you gain control of the mess, know yourself and how you work.  Then think through a system that works with you and how you process work and information.  Something as simple as buying a basket or box to put next to your desk for you to throw all the mail coming in may be an effective tool to help you cut down on the clutter.  Neurotypical solutions to organization do not necessarily work well for ADDers, because people who have ADHD do not think and process life the same way that others do.  Whatever systems, apps, and tools you use must match the way you process life, objects, and tasks.  Do what works for you.  And if something is not working, stop doing it and try something else.


Rather than using filing cabinets, try using in trays or baskets large enough to place frequently used files, or files in progress, rather than stressing over always putting the files back into a filing cabinet.

Also, realize that your organization system only has to be good enough for you to function effectively.  As long as you know where everything is and can quickly locate a needed item, how it looks is less important.


These are only a few suggestions.  Each of us must know how we process life and experiment with methods and tools that work with our style of processing information and tasks.  If you want more help dealing with ADHD symptoms, as well as your feelings and challenges, contact me to schedule an appointment: (717) 440-1493 or  I am delighted to work with you, as well as your loved ones to help you all function more effectively, while growing closer to each other.