Make it bite-sized: organization that works with ADHD

[This article was first published as a guest post on another website in 2010 but the site is no longer online.]

It’s no secret that organization is a huge challenge for those with ADHD. Add in the immaturity, laziness, and just plain “I don’t care if it’s clean” attitude of most children and you have one heck of a mess.

My loyal readers know a mess makes me crazy. Really, really crazy! In my brain, every object has a home and should never be set down anywhere but in its assigned place. I live with two children and a husband who welcome and nurture a disheveled environment though. They are the anti- to my order. They just don’t see the mess. Honestly, it doesn’t bother them and so it doesn’t even register with them. That is a huge problem for me.

For years I have been cleaning up behind everyone because I just can’t stand it. But no sooner than I’d tidy up one corner and move on to the next than I’d turn around and find that first corner again a disaster. That is so very frustrating, as you can imagine.

So then I vowed to stop picking up after everyone. “If they can’t pick it up themselves, I’ll just leave it until it gets so bad even they can’t stand it,” I thought. That backfired. I couldn’t stand it long before they were even close to being bothered.

And so the plan to organize everyone better came into being. I decided I have to make it as easy as possible to maintain order — break it down into small increments, bite-sized pieces, and enforce a daily quick tidy so that it never becomes overwhelming. Feeling overwhelmed has been the source of many an ADHD meltdown and tons of procrastination. Feeling overwhelmed is one of our biggest hurdles to being organized. While I haven’t been great at daily enforcement, everyone is reminded every few days to do a quick tidy before it becomes too much to conquer. {that was in 2010, now in 2012, I am not as on top of it as I should be.}

Here’s what we’ve accomplished of the organization overhaul so far:

  1. Each child has a small plastic bin on the stairs leading up to their room. When I find little things here and there in the living room that have migrated down, I put them in the appropriate bin. Once a week the kids carry their bins up to their rooms and empty them (and put everything in its RIGHTFUL place).
  2. I completely revamped Luke’s toy storage. I thought the buckets we had were organized enough but as I’ve learned more about ADHD and Luke’s specific struggles, I realized that we needed to break toys down into smaller, more manageable groups and tidy each day to keep the unwelcome task short and simple. While the new system cost us nearly $300, I was finally able to spend some cash on the project at the end of 2009, after a long dry year in real estate sales.

He had four large plastic buckets I got when he was about 3 years old. While it looked cohesive aesthetically because they were all the same size and color, every time Luke wanted a specific toy he had to dump the buckets on the floor until he found what he was after. Once a bucket was dumped, the scale of the mess was too overwhelming for him to clean up.

Here’s the only remaining of those four buckets which still houses his train set (that he doesn’t play with but I can’t convince him to give up just yet):

I purchased an ITSO system found exclusively at Target. It’s a modular system that can be customized to your exact needs. I started by making a list of all the categories I could sort Luke’s toys into and whether each required a small, medium, or large bin. Our categories were:

  • Hot wheels cars
  • Medium-sized toy cars
  • Trains
  • K’Nex
  • Action Figures
  • Animal and dinosaur figures
  • Toy story action figures (he has a big set of these)
  • Stuffed animals
  • Writing/drawing
  • Flying toys (Nerf gun, fly wheels, etc)
  • Balls
  • Army figures
  • Misc.

I used their online ITSO designer to configure Luke’s new wall unit and print out a shopping list of all the pieces I needed to create it. Kudos to Target for making it so easy. I had to pick up pieces in a few separate trips – they don’t stock enough in the store to make a pretty large wall unit. We are still missing the feet for one stack of cubes as you can see in the pictures. But it’s functional and that’s the first goal.

He has lots of bins but they are organized into manageable amounts of toys. And they even make dry-erase stickers for the ends to label them. He can quickly scan and find what he wants without removing anything he doesn’t want. He has been a lot less frustrated for sure.

Plus, he can pull out the entire bin and take it to a play area. Here he is playing with his Toy Story figures. When he’s done, he can just drop them back in the bucket real quick and put it back on the shelf. So quick and simple! Amazingly, I have not found any of these bins dumped on the floor in the 8 or so weeks we’ve had this new system. Woo-hoo! {that was 2010 when it was all new, that’s not the case now in 2012}

He’s happier because he’s not nagged to clean up all the time. Each night (when mom remembers), he is asked to do a quick tidy and get anything laying out back in its rightful place. That usually takes just a minute or two, five minutes tops.

I should mention too that he has some shelving in his closet that houses large cars and trucks, puzzles, and odds and ends that don’t fit in the cubbies. There are just a few items that didn’t fit.

We also have a cubby system Daddy the woodworker built in our entryway for organizing all things you enter and exit the house with. There is a long bench where the lid can be lifted to reveal cubbies to keep shoes in. There are doors that reveal hooks for coats and a ledge for purses and backpacks. And there are cubby openings at the top with a basket in each for gloves, hats, and scarves. There are four of each item, one for each family member. When you enter the house, you go to the cubby and kick off your shoes, hang your coat, put away your backpack, keys, hats, gloves, etc. Then, when it’s time to go somewhere, we don’t have to search high and low all over the house for a missing shoe or car keys. It’s all right there. So simple and yet genius. Even better would be if we could have phone chargers in the cubby and keep our mobile electronics there. There isn’t electricity in the area though … next time.

I have decided coat hooks are a blessing and can be used to organize a large number of things. I am going to install hooks on the wall:

  • in Luke’s closet for costumes and hats (now kept in a dresser drawer where he has to drag everything out to find what he wants).
  • in sister Emma’s closet for purses and hats
  • in my closet for my pj’s in rotation (I wear the same pj’s 2-3 nights to keep laundry to a minimum and usually fold them on the floor of the closet) and for necklaces and other accessories
  • in the stairwell coming up from the garage for dog leashes and messy and/or wet clothing from work or play outside
  • in many more places yet to be discovered

Of course, there are many more ways I want to organize but current finances dictate doing a little at a time. Keeping it bite-sized and manageable isn’t a bad idea for me either. If I had my way though, I’d buy 100 matching bins/cubbies/baskets in all sizes and every cabinet and closet, every shelf and nook, would have symmetrical, evenly-spaced, matching bins. Ah, I can breathe easily and relax just imagining it. Order makes my brain so happy!

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom.
A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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executive functioning, organization, parenting/FAMILY ·

About the author

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom's view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.
The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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