Any tips on approaching the ADHD spouse about their clutter?

I seriously feel like I am suffocating in this house. I am so tired of trying to pick up and keep things organized, just to have it all blown to pieces by my ADHD husband. I am nothing close to a neat freak, but his piles and projects are killing me. If it was just in his office, I could sigh and close the door. But it is seeping out of his office. The garage is a nightmare thanks to his "Hey how about I spontaneously start tearing down all of the drywall (including the ceiling) so I can insulate and put up new wood" right before Christmas and his busy tax season. The kids can't even get to their outside toys. 

He took over a leadership role in our Cub Scout Pack. (I, of course, warned him it would be a lot of work. He, of course, said, "Oh, it will be fine." ) Anyway, the issue is that he has spread piles of Cub Scout stuff over our entire 8-seat, super nice and new, the focal point of our downstairs, table. 

My son just turned 8 and I said we were not having a big birthday party because of the mess. I do all of the work planning and prepping while he works on a project (ironically, cleaning out the garage for my daughter's party in November. I parked in it for one week before he started the next thing. ) It stresses me out to no end (getting things ready while DH is doing whatever he wants to get ready), so I have to find some kind of alternative plan (inexpensive, of course, since DH just lost his job) for my son.

Because I never know what can set him off, I am trying to find a gentle way to discuss him cleaning it up. So, if any of you have tips on this, please let me know. I have kept everything bottled up for so long that I have no idea how to express things.

that's a hard one

Hi boilergirl,

That was hard for me--the clutter gradually took over our whole, entire house and every storage area, and the large renovation that my (separated) spouse started is still in the drywall/no kitchen phase 2 years later. I am not a neat freak either, but I started to feel depressed and dragged down by my surroundings. I remember not having people over because at times it was hard to walk through our house. I didn't park in our garage for years. If I got one spot (like the dining room table) cleared, it was like another new, shiny, happy, available place for him to start putting things and he would spread out even more and pile up a project there within 10 minutes. And there it would stay, and he would get really distressed if I moved it. I think it broke his train of thought and he was worried (rightly so) that if I put it away he would not ever find it or finish or work on it again. I couldn't keep up with him and often gave up. 

I am not sure how to approach this. There is probably some value in trying to understand why--it is not laziness, there is really something going on with an ADHD'ers brain. Mine would tell me he actually hated the clutter but it was so hard for him to deal with it. Some people seem to have success with "zones," so you let him have a room or two, like his office or whatever, and that is it. An ironclad agreement--no clutter or stuff anywhere else. Can you kindly speak to him and tell him that you value him and you are not criticizing him or mad at him, but your tolerance for clutter is different than his. It is affecting you and your family in a bad way. And that renovations have to be done by a certain date or don't start them, period. Can he make an agreement with you to partially control it? 

Or maybe seeing an ADHD/family counselor is an idea? 

Best to you. I know it can feel like it is taking over your whole life. 

Distress over mess and chaos

, and he would get really distressed if I moved it.

Are you distressed by his junk as much as he is distressed by you moving his junk?  Is your distress less worthy than his?  Are you afraid of his distress and/or are you trying to be an agreeable wife supportive of your husband's wishes?  I was doing all of those things and a little afraid of his name calling and outbursts.  I didn't want the kids to hear his hateful, disrespectful manipulations so I constantly "gave in" to whatever he said or wanted.  Now, I am just distressed beyond whatever distress he could possibly have today ADD or no ADD ---  I AM DISTRESSED!  I wish I would have taken care of the way I felt more often and paid less attention about what HE felt.  Disagreements happen.  If a dh is fighting unfairly, a wife tends to be isolated, unhappy, lonely, resentful, and small and disrespected by the unfair fighter and by herself.  How do you discuss things with someone who fights unfairly and just wants to WIN at all costs to the relationship and is in the habit of NOT CARING about the wife?  When one partner cares less, he has more power over a situation.  When one partner wants to cooperate and contribute and love, that partner is GIVING and GIVING IN to the dirty fighter.  Over the years, an unspoken habit of enabling HIM starts to be the norm but this will certainly play havoc on YOUR nervous system.   Like I said, I AM MAAAAAADDDDD that I let this habit in our marriage do this to me.   Your resentment will build up to a point of your own disabilities unless you find your voice and your stamina to keep your self in tact.

PUT HIS STUFF ON HIS SIDE OF THE GARAGE AND KEEP MOVING HIS STUFF TO HIS SIDE.  Keep doing it.  PUT HIS STUFF IN HIS PILE PLACE.  Keep doing it.  Don't let his stuff crowd YOU out of your sanity and peace of mind.  

junk and chaos

Clean up all the spaces you and your family need and want to be organized.  Now, let dh have an area with a door and out of sight.  You might need a second outdoor area or potion of the garage for his pile that you can bring his outdoor messes to also. This is where YOU get to put all his things that he lays around cluttering the shared space.  Let him be as upset as you are as things pile up in his area.  If he wants more space, tell him to make room for more stuff by cleaning and organizing the space he has.  When it overflows, pile his stuff on top of his stuff.  He has the room and space...let him sit in his mess.  My dh, likes to sit in his mess.  It is weird and dirty but then I am coming to accept that HE is weird and dirty. You can have the peace of organization around you and people can come over - you don't have to be embarrassed about what HE does. Plan a party or some event that will involve other people seeing his mess. Let him know this event will take place a one or two WEEKENDS before so he can clean if he desires to. Don't expect him to help you with the event - he will be staring at the overwhelm of his own mess. Don't tell him too far ahead...let it be under the gun so he can focus for a short time.  Let him know that you will mention to guests that this is his room to keep like he is up to him. Don't clean up HIS mess.  Just ask him to/or carry it yourself to his "area". Anything that does not fit into his area gets toted to his car.  Anything that does not fit into his car, gets driven to a recycle place by him...or by you if he is unwilling.   Tell him (amid his glares and name calling) that you will be taking a certain amount of junk to a dump each week.  If he does nothing, start junking things.  You don't have to live in another person's trash and chaos. He may not mind other people seeing his trash and chaos.  He may even be proud of his manly slop....  Let him have it where only he lives and defines him. It doesn't have to define you.

By the way, I did this last year.  We had an outdoor wedding party with rented tent and the house open to guests.  LOTS of preplanning and work.  dh was still scraping carpet off the cement front steps two weeks before (something I asked him to start 6 months earlier). I told him to stop in the middle of the project because I needed him to do other things on a more immediate list (he was aware of but just couldn't get those steps done in 6 months although I reminded sufficiently) the steps are still not finished but good enough.  Even though I gave him 30 minute intervals of reminders of when people would come, the people were coming in the yard to arrive and he was still power washing the driveway in t-shirt - needing a shower. The driveway still is only half power-washed.  He was asked to grill some vegetables as part of the buffet....he began grilling after we had finished serving the food.  You know what?  It didn't matter. No one cared that there were greasy messes piled in a corner of the garage (camoflauged). Our garage actually looked presentable by the day of the party and I did not do the cleaning of it.  People thought it was fun to have vegetables after the dessert. He is off doing his own thing ALL the time - doing it HIS way.  No one minded. Everyone helped.  No one noticed dh's lagging and independence.  I gave him things to do one at a time (a list) knowing that he would not do all the things or on time. Wouldn't I have been foolish to have let him ruin for me what turned out to be a LOVELY event to remember?  Weddings and pretty parties are for girls.  Dh's are just putting up with our wishes and plans.  It is hardly ever their idea of a great time to work for.

I'm So Exhausted's picture


Well boilergirl, I am sure there are many who can join in the chorus of "What do we do with all this stuff?"  

It sure is infuriating.  I am thinking it is yet another aspect that falls into the "compromise category", more commonly known as "He Does What He Wants, and I Feel Frustrated. "

The top of our barn is so jammed full of heavy stuff - chains, pipe, lead -  we had to put up braces so it does not lean over and fall down.  My spouses ADHD denial system insists the barn was leaning because of a "high wind that came through."  

I remember angrily shoving all his stuff to one side of the barn, literally putting tape down the floor, and announcing, "That is your side, this is my side.  Keep your stuff out of my side."  Didn't help.  20 years later, he is still battling with my son over the use of space in the barn.  Ridiculous.  I suggested my son move his stuff to someplace else - but he doesn't seem to "have had enough" yet, so he continues on with his Dad.  Different goals I think - My goal was get my spouse to understand - my son's goal is to simple keep Dad's stuff out of his space.



hoarding and ADHD

I feel for you. I am married into a ADHD/Depression/Addicition/Racing Thoughts/Hoarding family.

Until I started doing some research I had no idea that my ADHD husband's mother who is a clinical hoarder- is in the same spectrum as ADHD.  As well his siblings suffer depression, addiction and racing thoughts in the schizoid spectrum. And a nephew is ADHD and ODD.

He is kind of a hoarder but not to the extent of his mother.  I have kept it in check at our house.  I have my floor and his has his. But he blows up at his mother regularly for her hoarding and uncleanliness.  In fact he is down right mean to her and it is hard to see her suffer.

In my situation he likes money more than old stuff, because money means you can buy more new stuff.  So I got him to take trips to the metal scrapper 4 times a year and to sell stuff on ebay. It is still not as clean as I would like, but it is better.

Good luck!

I'm So Exhausted's picture

The Cash Value of Scrap


There is no denying the cash value of scrap metal.  My engagement ring was bought with my spouse's scrap money.  Our vacation's spending money has been gotten from my spouse's scrap money.  The piles of scrap are - sorta - hidden behind a hedge of bushes.  The issue comes from all the stuff that never leaves the property.  For every 100 pounds of stuff that gets here - only 50-75 pounds leaves.  After 20 years, that is a lot of junk piles on our 10 acres.  

He is a plumber by trade, so brass and copper scrap come here from his repair jobs.  Those have value.  On the other hand, scrap metal is only about 2 cents a pound.  His scrapping gets caught up in his time-blindness.  If it takes 2 hours out of your work day to salvage a ton of metal - that equals $40.00 of scrap value.  Then add the time and fuel it takes to get the scrap to the scrap yard. . . . . . ugghh.  It costs us more than the $40.00 he gets from the scrap-yard - so we lose money.  He cannot see the big picture - whether that is denial or the ADHD brain, I do not know.  



he hoards wires more

Luckily mine hoards wire connectors for computer gadgets more than anything else.  And we live in a big city so not a lot of space in our garage.  And since he has ADHD, I can haul big stuff he found out of the garage and put out for the scrap scavengers and he won't know or  I can claim that I had the garage door open while gardening or something and someone must have come along and took it.

The good news is he likes to go to the scrap yard with mainly pop cans.  He is self-medicating with caffeinated soda, like 12 or 14 a day, no kidding.  


Just had to update on this: Last week, I asked my husband about moving the scout papers, etc. that were taking up our entire dining room table. He said, "I will when I know what is going on with it." So, they were going to sit there indefinitely. A couple days ago, he was out of town and I had had it with looking at the papers. I neatly stacked and boxed them up. he came home and didn't say much about it. The next day, I left to run some errands. 5 minutes into my trip, he called asking where the box of garden seeds was. I told him that I put them in the garden shed. (The seeds had been sitting in the kitchen for weeks. He bought one of those rubbermaid sheds last year specifically for garden stuff, so wouldn't it make sense to keep them in there???) He then starts going off about me moving his stuff and he has asked me not to. I calmly reply that I asked him a week ago to move the papers off the table (did I mention he has an entire home office to himself!??!). He continued ranting and I just tossed the phone on the seat next to me. I know that sounds very disrespectful, but those of you with ADHD spouses know that there is no reasoning with them when they are in that state of mind. And I was not going to allow myself to listen to that. 

Of course, it went on when I came home. He claimed I did not ask him to move the stuff, I just said, "What are we going to do about the scout stuff?" Really??? We are going to get that technical? And I do know that I absolutely did ask him. Anyway, it was back and forth and then he was "done" and "leaving". And you know what? I did not care. Of course, I tried to calm him down  for the sake of the kids. He did, and today we had a good talk. For once, I did not feel sorry for bringing it up and causing a fight. I stood my ground and am glad. Now, I need to discuss some kind of plan for him finishing that garage. 

If your DH is anything like

If your DH is anything like mine, he starts tons if things and then loses interest and moves on to the next. He was diagnosed in '07 and we were married for 3 years before that. Out garage is still full of stuff from when we moved to our house. I've told DH before that I have no problem with him keeping things. The problem I have is that we have a small house and not a lot of space. Our kids don't have a lot of room for their stuff either. We haven't parked in our garages in years. Luckily we are at a place that he isnt starting new things and has accepted that all the old stuff needs to be finished up first. Through taking the counseling course offered through the site, we've come up with a plan to get things done. He's told me that he knows that there are a gazillion things that need to be done, and when I mention one thing to him that's bothering me then that is the only thing he's thinking about that he needs to do... But then you know, cars need work, yard work gets in the way, spending time with the kids, sleep, and random things that break around the house then take priority. He's told me over and over that he knows that all the years of unfinished projects bother me and they also bother him but if he tries to think of everything at the same time it just stressed him out and the motivation is gone. we agreed for me to make a list of priorities. He told me not to show him the list but if it will make me feel better and better able to figure out what the most important thing is to me then to do it, then pick the most important thing and tell him what that is, and not to mention anything else until that's done. Then go to the next item on the list. And so on. We are so behind on projects it will literally take us years to get through this list but its the closest we've come to progress, and him having s good attitude about it. He would get so overwhelmed because I would tell him I want a certain thing done, and get all pissy and demanding and irritated about it, then when said task didn't get accomplished right away, I'd move on to something else being a priority and would get all irritated about something else and harp on him to do that instead. He told me he had a hard time creating hierarchy in his brain and when I keep throwing difference t priorities at him and different times, he'd get to the weekend and just not even do anything because he was so confused. I don't understand this since Incan create hierarchy in my brain and think about many tasks at once, but it just overwhelms him. So far the first task hasn't been done due to money but overall now that I understand what he needs to be productive, I'm willing to help him.