Book a call

Make the Disarray Go Away! - Organizing Your Home as a Human with ADHD

So your home is a mess.

So what?

Outer clutter is a sign of inner genius, right? That’s how the saying goes, isn’t it? 

Well, maybe, but there’s a good chance that visual disorganization is having a few negative effects on you, especially if you have ADHD. 


And before you think that I’m trying to shame you or act like I’ve got this all together, let me just say that I am still working on this too.

I’ve improved a lot, but I still have a long ways to go.

So I’m telling you this stuff from down here in the trenches with you.

I’m going to be giving you solutions that I have only just barely begun to implement myself. I am still clawing my way out of this cluttered hole I’ve dug myself into.

But I’m going to tell you a few words that I never thought I would hear escape from my lips:

I am, very slowly, actually beginning to kind of enjoy getting organized.

If my mother is listening to this podcast, well, then . . .

Hi, Mom!

Hell has indeed frozen over. 

For everyone else who did not give birth to me . . . 

Hello to you as well. 

This is Julie from Julie Saad Wellness. I’m a certified health coach who helps women with ADHD. And I’m a recovering messy person. 

Today we’re going to talk about why messy spaces can be bad for us, ways to deal with the shame, and some solutions to help you, including some things you can do today to get a quick win.

So, breathe. We can do this. 

Why Clutter Is Bad for Us

First off, what’s the big deal with being a bit messy? I mean we’re all adults, right? We can do what we want. 

Well, not so fast. 

For one thing, the mess leads to stress, like, literally, inside your body.  

In fact, one study showed that women who saw their homes as cluttered had high levels of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day. (1Yikes. 

In another study that I came across, the researchers looked at the effects of visual clutter by placing the participants in one of two environments, a very cluttered one and a more organized one, and found that the folks in the high clutter environment reported “lower cognitive capacity levels.”

In a nutshell, their brains just didn’t seem to work as well in the messier place. (2) Also yikes. 

And here’s another study I came across. Would you believe that it’s harder to understand other people’s feelings when you’re in a cluttered place?

This study found just that. They used scenes from movies to test their subjects, and found that when the background of a scene is really cluttered, the people watching it have a harder time interpreting the characters’ facial expressions. So if this is true in real life as well, it means that if you’re in a clutter-filled room, you might have more trouble figuring out how the people in that room with you are feeling. (3Can I get a “yikes?” 

According to Dana Rayburn, a brilliant ADHD coach who helps her clients get organized, clutter is not only distracting (especially if you’re easily distractible), it’s depressing!

Each time you see that messy desk or that chair that’s no longer sit-innable, it gives you that “ugh” feeling, and we’ve already got enough of that going on, haven’t we?

Also, it might be embarrassing to have someone over to your house. (4) Oh, Lord, has this happened to me, especially in the past when I was at peak messiness.

{Editor's note: I was going to put pictures of cluttered spaces in this blog but they stressed me out so much that I decided to put in things that were a little more Zen, in case you were wondering!}

I would either just not invite anyone over, or I would spend hours cleaning beforehand just to get my home to a level I wasn’t ashamed of, and by the time the guest got there I was so frazzled I almost didn’t want to hang out with them anymore.

Like, “Oh hey! So nice to see you! Oh! You brought hummus! Wow!”

How long did that take to make, like three minutes? I washed this floor with my tears and the tears of my mother and her mother before her. You will never understand my suffering and your pithy offering of pureed garbanzos does not appease the gods of chaos who circle above us waiting to swoop in and destroy everything at any moment. 

“Oh, what’s that? No, you don’t have to take your shoes off. It’s a very casual kind of place. Come on in.”

Dysfunction, y’all. 

Cleaning Out the Shame and Throwing It in the Garbage Where It Belongs

So, in addition to having clutter or other forms of disorganization, we might also be beating ourselves up about it to boot. 

You know what I’m talking about, that voice in your head that scolds you, calls you messy, lazy, hopeless, whatever. Ugh, f*ck that voice, am I right?

Some crappy advice that I could give you would be to stop feeling ashamed about your clutter. Oh, wow, just stop the feeling? Gee, thanks, I’m cured.

Yeah, you already know, changing your thoughts isn’t that simple, especially if you’ve been thinking similar ones for most of your life. But it’s not impossible

Let’s examine these thoughts and feelings and see if we can chip away at them a bit, shall we?

I’ll use myself as an example.

Bear in mind I’m still a work in progress on this getting organized front, y’all. I was told and also told myself my entire life that I am a messy person.

So, I constantly had the thought, “I’m so messy,” knocking about in my head. 

There are some problems that thought causes, aren’t there?

First of all, I’m making it about me. It’s a judgment on my character.

But at the end of the day, chastising myself for a perceived character flaw creates somewhat of a mountain to climb, doesn’t it?

If the problem is me, then the solution is to fix me, and, ok, I’m all about self-improvement, but at 11am on a Tuesday maybe I don’t really want to deal with a character overhaul.

I just want to not trip over sh*t that I left on the floor. 

So instead of thinking this judgmental thought about myself, maybe it would be better to be a little more objective, and by that I mean, looking around my environment for an actual mess.

Compare the difference in these two thoughts: 

  1.  I’m so messy. 
  2.  My desk is so messy. 

You’re smart. Where am I going with this? If I tell myself, “I’m so messy,” well, where do I even begin to fix that problem, if the problem is . . . lil’ ol’ me?

Meanwhile if I tell myself, “My desk is so messy,” well, okay, where do I begin to fix that problem?

Probably somewhere in the vicinity of my desk!

So, yeah, negative thoughts about ourselves take a bit of practice to eliminate, but there’s a little trick you can try if you find yourself thinking something sh*tty about yourself.

Try to avoid this catastrophic, all-or-nothing, “I’m so messy!” kind of thinking.

Replace it with something else, specific and fixable preferably.

Stop making the problem be you all the time.

You’re awesome.

And I know that for a f*cking fact because only awesome people listen to this podcast. 

Here’s another thought trick.

I’m going to give you several.

It’s a thought buffet, darling.

Take what you like and leave the rest. 

Please compare these two thoughts:

1. I have to organize this apartment.

2. I want to organize this apartment.

I only changed one word. What do you think would happen if you said to yourself, “I want to organize this apartment,” instead of, “I have to clean this apartment?”

It gives it a bit of a different feeling, doesn’t it?

Try it, right now. What’s something you feel like you HAVE to do? Try saying it like, “I want to . . .”

How’d that go?

Now I’ll bet at least one person listening to this thought, “but I don’t want to organize this place, or anything!” Ok, fine, think of another thought instead, like, “I want to have an organized home,” or something like that. Just try it. 

If you think it sounds really hippy-dippy to try to think your way into a de-cluttered desk or what-have-you, I understand.

All I have to say to you is to try it as an experiment.

See what happens when instead of going, “Ugh, I have to clean off the kitchen table, I can’t even see what color it is anymore!” you go, “I would really like to straighten up the kitchen table and put away a few things that don’t belong there any more so I can see how beautiful it is,” or something to that effect.

It might make it just that little bit easier. 

Another tip from Dana Rayburn, is instead of being ashamed, be curious. (4)

Let’s think about what that might mean.

Instead of opening a cabinet in your bathroom and saying, “I am the queen of the slobs! I deserve a crown made of rotten banana peels and cigarette butts,” you could try saying to yourself, “Hmm, I wonder how my bathroom cabinet got so disorganized.” Just to see what happens.

If you’re in a space that’s cluttered right now, I invite you to try it.

I’ll do it too.

Like, for example, looking at the little table next to my sofa my first instinct is to think, “Why is all that random stuff on there? Omg what’s wrong with me?

But let’s replace that little sh*t of a thought with some curiosity, shall we?

“Hmm, I wonder why I put my glasses there instead of . . . well . . . actually . . . I don’t have a set place where I always put my glasses when I’m not wearing them."


I wonder where my glasses could "live" when they’re not on my nose.

And actually, I kind of just blew my own mind with my little example exercise, haha.

I don’t have a place to put my glasses when I’m not wearing them, and I would say my glasses are definitely the thing I misplace the most and spend the most time looking for.

Of course! They don’t have a set place where they should go!

Where should they live? I’m going to declare a home for them right now and see if I can put them there whenever I take them off. It’s going to be on my bookshelf, there’s a little empty space there. 

 If you’re into affirmations, you could even try coming up with a few to help you get into a headspace that’s more conducive to tidying up.

For example:

-I easily organize my living space.

-I am motivated to organize a little each day.

-Keeping my desk clean is kind of fun. (Okay okay, you’re probably not supposed to say, “kind of” in your affirmations, but, hey, I’m trying to keep it real over here.) 

One other little mindset-related tip is to think about how it feels to be in an organized, visually relaxing space.

If you can, take a second to close your eyes and think back to a time when you were in a clutter-free space, like maybe a hotel room just after you’ve checked in.

How do you feel?

Does your breathing change, or anything like that?

Next time you need a bit of motivation, you can try thinking about a beautiful, well-organized place where your eyes just seem to relax and your shoulders just seem to melt away from your neck. Try using that thought and that feeling to encourage you to tidy up a bit. 

Alright, so you get the point. No, you cannot magically think cleanliness and order into existence, if you could you would be a witch and wouldn’t need to listen to self-improvement stuff for mere mortals, but being in the right frame of mind should make it easier, so try to be conscious of your attitude and if necessary, clean it up a bit, yeah? 


So how about a few solutions to help you get more organized? 

I’ve got a bunch for you. 

As always, if you have ADHD, managing your ADHD itself will help make it easier to get going on Project: Organize, so whatever that means to you . . .

. . . whether that’s ADHD-specific nutrition, exercise, sunlight, sleep, stress reduction, remembering to socialize now and then, working with an ADHD coach, or taking medication if that helps you.

Fixing the foundation always helps the house look nicer, even if it’s messy. I don’t know. I was trying to do a funny metaphor but it wasn’t funny oh well you get the point.

Take care of yourself, yo.

That’s the point.  

Put in on the Calendar or Make it a Habit

Sometimes, we don’t get organized because, well, we just haven’t set aside the time for it.

So, now’s a good time to think about when you might want to schedule some time to organize.

Do you want to have a weekly appointment on your calendar, for example? 

You could also try tacking on a few minutes of organizing time to something that you already do daily.

Putting things back where they belong for a few minutes after dinner, or as part of your morning routine.

Get creative and see if you can come up with a cue for yourself to make it an easy-to-adopt ritual. 

So there are two separate ideas here.

One is to have a longer clean-up or organizing session once a week or something like that, and one is to have these little moments of organizing that are built into the day.

One is a bigger project and one is more about forming a habit, so we need different skill sets for each.

Just something to think about. 

Sometimes, even with the best-laid plans, Mr. Brain just doesn’t want to do the f*cking thing. I know you can relate. 

Often, especially if we have a lot of organizing to do, just getting started on it can seem impossible.

There are some things you can try. I don’t know which one or ones will work for you, you’ve just got to give it a shot and see for yourself. 

Use a (Tiny) Plan to Help

If it feels like, “Oh my God I don’t even know where to start,” then take a moment to create a mini plan.

Mini plan!

By this I mean, figure out the first one or two steps, not all the steps!

Don’t plan out all the steps if you’re already overwhelmed!

Trust me. It will just make you feel barfy and you’ll be d*cking around on social media or whatever your dopamine du jour is in no time to avoid said barfy feeling.

Mini plan, y’all. I say this with love.

So, if you have lots of things on the floor, for example, maybe step one in mini plan could be picking up all the shoes, or all the books, or all the purple things.

All the purple things, what?

Yeah, why not?

Why not make it into a game?

Who says everything has to be so f*cking serious all the f*cking time?

Pick up all the purple things.

If there are none, congratulate yourself.


Why the f*ck not?

For real. This sh*t is really hard for some of us. We have to be nice to ourselves.

The shame sh*t is really just getting quite old. Enough. Those days are over.  

Timers or Music to Get Started

Additionally, if it feels like, “Oh my God this is going to take forever I just don’t even want to do it,” and that is preventing you from starting, try setting a timer for a few minutes or putting on a song.

The goal is to organize until the timer goes off or the song is done.

If you want to keep going afterwards, so be it. If not, okay fine!

The idea is just to trick yourself into starting.

Trick myself?


Your mind is playing tricks on you to prevent you from starting, so sometimes you’ve got to fight fire with fire. Sorry, Mr. Brain, two can play that game. 

Can I Phone a Friend? - Body Doubling

If you’re able to start but are having trouble staying on track and you want to devote a decent chunk of time to it, you can try body doubling.

Body doubling is when you have someone else there in the room with you.

You can ask a friend to come over, or you can even look for online body doubling buddies.

For many of us, just having another human there, whether in-person or virtually, helps keep us on task. 

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

The trick that I use the most for times when I need to spend more than a few minutes getting organized is doing something fun at the same time.

I put on a movie, or a TV show, or a podcast on my phone and use headphones so that I can walk from one room to another without missing anything.

I try not to put anything too engrossing on, because then I’ll just want to sit down and not do anything but watch it, but for example stand-up comedy in my case I find works really well because you don’t usually have to actually look at the screen that much. Sometimes I’ll put something on that I’ve already seen and that works too. I also listen to lots of audiobooks this way. 

Throw Some Money at It - Hiring Help

Another idea: if you can afford it, you might want to think about paying someone to help you with cleaning or organizing, even if it’s just a one-time thing.

Many people feel embarrassed by letting someone into their homes to see their mess, but here’s something that might help with that.

I was reading a discussion board about this online, and on the board were several people who had worked as professional housekeepers. Surprisingly, many of them said it was actually very rewarding to come to someone’s house who really needed the help.

They felt like they really accomplished something by being there. So, if you’re worried about being judged, that’s something to keep in mind.

The person helping you might actually be quite happy to see your disorder. 


The Life-Changing Magic of Just Doing a Tiny Bit

I know a lot of this might feel overwhelming, especially if it seems like there’s just so much to do. I want you to have that  “ahh” feeling asap, so here are a couple of ways you might be able to get a “quick win:”

For starters, tidy up one small area, whether that’s your desk, your kitchen table, your bathroom countertop. Just having that one victory to start can help motivate you to continue. I bet you could do one of these areas in less than fifteen minutes. What do you think?

If that’s too much, try just putting away five things that aren’t where they belong. Or just one thing. Then congratulate yourself, even if it was just one thing. 

The Beauty in Wrongness - The Wrong Thing Can Lead You to the Right One

Another idea is to do the wrong thing first.


Listen, sometimes we can be a bit perfectionistic with ourselves, and this can slow us down, prevent us from finishing, or keep us from starting all together.

I actually use this trick for all sorts of things. First of all, any progress is progress. Second, sometimes taking the scenic route is the fastest way to get somewhere.

If you don’t know what the “right” first step is, or you’re feeling some kind of resistance, do the wrong first step!

Just see what happens.

For example, yesterday my desk had gotten disorganized and I knew that I would feel better if I organized it but I just didn’t f*cking want to.

Like, I simply did not want to organize the thing, even though it wasn’t that messy.

There was some kind of feeling there that I didn’t want to feel. Ugh. I think it’s because there’s a box on there that I need to keep for a little while, but don’t have a place for the box yet, so it’s still on my desk and therefore my desk will not be “perfect” for the moment and that’s cramping my style big time.

So, anyways, I decided to trick myself by starting with a different, but related, task.

I went to my jewelry box and organized it.

It wasn’t a big priority and in fact was already pretty organized.

I went there, put a couple of things into place, and then somehow, miraculously, was able to mosey on over to my desk and tidy it up, which took all of 90 seconds once I had started.

Now, why do you think this trick worked for me?

I have a few theories. One, it was easier to go start with the jewelry because I knew it wasn’t going to be too hard and so success was very much within reach. Also, since it wasn’t really a priority, there was by nature none of that crappy self-talk that I mentioned we ought to get rid of.

There was no, “I should,” “I have to,” “I need to,” but just, “Hey, how ‘bout a little jewelry organizing?”

Sure! Why not?

So the task initiation itself was easier for me, since there wasn’t that much negative emotion associated with it to begin with.

Also, I finished the jewelry organizing so quickly and gave myself a mental gold star for having done it. Yay! So I felt good.

Lastly, I was then in organizing mode, just from doing that tiny task, so I didn’t have to do any kind of task switching, you know, or context switching, to go from organizing one thing to another, just needed to move to another part of the house.

So, notice how trying to go from on the couch to cleaning the desk didn’t work for me, but couch to jewelry box to desk did.

To think about it another way, I couldn’t go from couch to desk yesterday because, at least this is my theory, that would have involved task initiation, plus dealing with a crappy emotion plus not really having a sense of satisfaction because of that dumb box that’s still there.

Yet, I was able to go from couch to jewelry box because in that case I only had to deal with task initiation first, was able to get my sense of satisfaction before going to the desk, and therefore the crappy emotion of not being able to clean my desk 100% didn’t feel quite so crappy ‘cause I was already happy about my little jewelry organizing victory. 

I have no idea if something similar would work for you, but I would be thrilled to hear about it if you try an experiment like this. Try taking the wrong first step and see what happens. You might just surprise yourself. 

Be Wary of Advice That's Not ADHD-Specific

Now that last suggestion is pretty wack-a-doodle, to do the wrong thing first, and I’d be surprised if you found anything like it in conventional tips for getting organized. So that brings up an important point, which is that, some of the advice out there that’s aimed more at people that don’t have ADHD, might not be the best fit for us.

For example, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up several years ago, and I really liked it and I do think it was a very helpful book for me.

However, it has some tips that might not work for everyone.

Like, for example, it tells you to put all of your clothes on your bed and then start organizing them from there.

I was able to do this as soon as I read it in the book because I had an entire free day and at the time actually didn’t have that much clothing because I had moved to a new country only a year before, but . . . I know full well that if I had been really stressed or tired or had had a lot more stuff, or if someone had interrupted me with something pressing that day, those clothes might very well have stayed on my bed for weeks and become my new fashionable sleeping nest.

So, be careful with the organizing tips and tricks you hear, especially if they’re not given with the ADHD brain in mind, and give some thought as to whether you think they’ll work for you and if they don’t, don’t stress about it. It just wasn’t the right method for you. No big deal. You can try something else. 

Conclusion - You Can Do It!

Okay so let’s summarize the main points we went over today:

Disorganization can take a toll on you

You can replace the shame you feel around disorganization with something else

Calendarizing a longer cleanup session can help

Ritualizing quick cleanup sessions can also help

A mini plan can help you get started

Telling yourself “just a few minutes” can also help you get started

Body doubling may help

Doing something fun at the same time may also help

You can pay someone to help you if possible

Look for small, achievable victories

Try doing the wrong thing first

Make sure you congratulate yourself, like, a lot!

So, there you have it!

I would love to hear from you.

Which of these ideas would you like to try? Leave a comment or send me an email. 

If you know anyone who could benefit from this information, please share it with them. 

Also, my ADHD-specific coaching program Focused, Fit, Fun is now open! It’s pretty cool because we work together on all the things, starting with getting your foundation in order and then moving on to create new habits and a life that you’re happy to live. It’s basically health coaching and ADHD coaching combined, so it’s holistic, synergistic, and pretty f*cking cool. Click here for more info.

Thanks so much for being here, and have a happy and healthy day.