A Quick Guide to Taming ADHD Clutter at Home

Coming home to an ADHD partner's mess can raise the stress levels at home, encourage long-term resentment, and ruin your sex life.  Here's how to clear up the clutter fast.

I hear with some frequency that living with the visual and physical clutter of an ADHD partner eats at your soul.  If clutter has accumulated over years there can now be so much of it that it seems impossible to tackle - even if it's negatively impacting your relationship, as one couple recently wrote me.  We have a little bit of that here, too, in the Orlov household, though I've managed to isolate some good part of my husband's clutter by assigning it spaces - which has helped tremendously.  As part of the overall negotiation, I have also come to terms with the idea that he has a 'collection' of bikes and bike parts that is outrageously large (and constantly growing).  Bikes are his hobby...and it's not my place to dictate whether or not it should change.  But that doesn't mean that clutter needs to take over my life...or yours.  Here are some specific ideas that can help you tame clutter that's out of control.  The basic concept is this - MOVE now; SORT later.  That way you get immediate visual relief, reduced stress, and sorting can happen...whenever.

  • MOVE the clutter to one location or a few locations.  Certainly, make sure your bedroom is clear of all clutter, since you want that to be a sanctuary for you both.
  • If you have a large enough piece of property, and money, consider building a shed or extra garage to move clutter into.  You can do the sorting in the shed (I'm guessing this is only practical in colder climates if you have it heated :-)
  • Rent a moving "cube" into which you can store a lot of clutter - typically they drop them off in your driveway, and people put all their junk in them for a period of time - like renting a trailer by the month.  The inconvenience of having the cube in the drive may remind you to sort.
  • Put all your junk in your side of the garage.  Getting the snow off the car that you must leave outside in the winter will remind you (daily) that you need to sort it.  See below for the fastest sorting method.
  • Allocate specific spots for the ADHD partner to be messy.  For example, in our home those spots are:  my husband's office; the basement; my husband's half of the garage; his closet; the entrance hall.  If things get messy outside of those spaces you can move the stuff into one of the mess locations pretty quickly.  The ADHD partner will always know where to find it.
  • "Tidy" the mess by putting it, untouched, into dated moving boxes and storing them in the basement or closet out of sight.  If you need to find something you can locate the appropriate boxes.

Many people with ADHD think that they can't hire help to sort through things - there is too much nuance to the job.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are wrong.  There may be some stuff that you feel you must go through, but reality is that most stuff can be sorted by a complete stranger using a set of rules.  Always.  Even if you fear it's not true.  Here are some examples of sorting categories:

  • All tax files back to 2004 go into this pile, here
  • All tax files older than 10 years old get shredded
  • All other financial files go in this box, here (label the box.  You can sort through it later if you want)
  • Any papers related to health goes into this box (labeled)
  • Anything related to my extended family goes into this box (labeled)
  • All photographs go into this labeled box
  • All woodworking tools go into box on work bench
  • All clothing gets folded and put on bed (sort through it all at once to figure out what goes to Goodwill)
  • All books get put into a pile (once piled up you can sort through them quickly to figure out which get donated to the library)
  • All sports equipment goes into this corner
  • Any artwork goes into this bin
  • Kitchen and cooking items go into this box (labeled)
  • Anything that doesn't fit into a category gets put next to the stairs (if you see many like items in this area, create another category and pull them apart from the pile)

You can take these categories and boxes from room to room if you need to.

You will have your own "rules" based on what your specific mess is, but you get the idea.  HIRE SOMEONE to work with you for 3 hours a weekend until it's done (or 3 hours a day, if you want to rip the bandaid off all at once!), put on some music to stay pumped up or relaxed, and soon you will be sorted and past your anxiety about letting things go.  Hiring help is really important when you're overwhelmed with the mess because a.) you can use their great organizational skills and b.) their energy as you work side by side will keep you going.

If you want some more ideas about getting organized with ADHD, see Kohlberg and Nadeau's ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.


Read the !st 45 pages of the Book "The ADHD Effect....."


I'll be 58 next month, I have been married for 24 yrs. this May. I found out I had ADHD when my Family Dr. suggested I see a Psychologist. I was given Meds that - I thought- was all I needed.

Unfortunately, that just added to my Marriage Complications. Almost everything in the first couple chapters was like a carbon copy of what I and the Family are going through. I'm speechless in

describing how I feel. So many years of %$#& because of this. We have gone to 3 Marriage Counselors that failed miserably. The Verbal Brutality I go through would make the late George Carlin

BLUSH. And all of this would be in front of our only child. So many times I tried to walk away because it was like listening to a broken record. Our child was emotionally affected by this. All of this is

just so unbelievable. This just the tip of the iceberg. If I only knew what was wrong.

Resigned2B's picture


Dear Steve,

I'm trying to understand your post. Are you complaining about how your wife has treated you all these years? Or are you regretting that had your a ADHD been identified, treated with meds and behavioral therapy, she wouldn't have lost her temper and trashed you in front of your child? 

Read the 1st 45 pages of the Book The ADHD Effect...

Wow, you have described my situation exactly!  I was 60, and 32 years married, when I was diagnosed.  I read the book and thought that my life was explained for the first time.  I had my husband read it, but my diagnosis and the book made him angrier than ever.  Things were desperate!!!!!

THe problem was....and this is actually resolving itself.......slowly.....we were BOTH extremely depressed and angry with each other, so no talking helped initially.  

I have spent all my energy in the past while, working on how I feel about MYSELF....I do everything to get a good night's sleep, I do aerobic exercise, first thing in the morning, take Omega 3 gels, drink less, read EVERYTHING about ADHD, etc etc.   Also, some ADHD coaching....although this is really expensive.  All these things have helped, and since I have stopped trying to explain myself to him, my husband has actually gone to a therapist for himself.  We are healing.  YOU are important!

Organizing Book Suggestion

Hi Melissa,

I LOVE Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD by Susan C. Pinksy.  I have read the other book you suggested, and it certainly has some good points, but this one is truly amazing, and has helped me organize better than anything I have read.  What's really great about her is that she is a professional organizer who has a daughter with ADHD.  Her methods are completely radical and TOTALLY work with the ADHD brain.  She actually doesn't live too far from your area (based on the about the author sections on your books; I'm not a stalker ;)), and I bet it would be interesting for you to have a conversation with her.  I've never seen ANYTHING like her work in terms of addressing the topic of clutter.  I actually understand what to do with paper, which had been the bane of my existence as a homeowner who gets mail and a teacher.  It is one thing to be told how to store paper, but no book I have ever read adequately addresses how to decide what to recycle. What I've always found equally mind-boggling until recently was how to deal with nebulous papers that may or may not be important but can't stay on the surface of your desk forever.  I had a phobia of dealing with papers, as well as a phobia of leaving them out as my mind is cluttered when my physical space is disorganized.  Lastly, let's not forget the phobia of storing these papers that may or may not be needed in the immediate future.  If I put them away, I would totally forget about them.  This book explains how to make decisions.  It no longer takes me as long as it did to organize.  I actually can make decisions faster because I have a method.  I don't get as overwhelmed.  I read this book last summer, and my house is so much better, and my husband is not as stressed.  

Also, very excited about your new book.  Congratulations :)!  I like the cover.  I like that it is a growing heart-shaped tree (thriving) and that it directly contrasts with the cover of your first book, which shows a broken heart (which also makes sense for the topic of your first book).

Best of luck :)



the suggestions are fine, and I've already come up with many of those ideas on my own.   But they only work for so long.  Eventually you run out of space for the stuff.  We are paying $200 a month for a storage locker.  The basement is full.  There is a room full of clutter.  And the other problem is that I'm tired of having to deal with it.   Not only do I have to spend my time moving and sorting her stuff.  But on top of that I have to endure her blame and complaints when she can't find things she needs.  This is just one of many problems that is ruining my life and our relationship.  


Resigned2B's picture



There is only one answer but, once you take this position, you really have to be willing to stand by it. It goes something like this:

Here's the deal, sweetheart.  We have endured this mess for "X" amount of years. We've had a storage locker to house the overflow of this mess at the total cost of "X". I'm going to give you two months to go through these things and get rid of anything that hasn't been used in a year. At the end of the two months, whether you've gone through it or not, we're sending it to Good Will where perhaps it can be better used.

Then put it in your calendar to gently remind her of the time frame and consequences every Saturday. When the date comes, and it will, do EXACTLY what you told her you would do. Do it while she is not there so there is no kerfuffle. If she gets upset so be it. If she leaves you then this relationship would have never survived and it's better you both find this out sooner than later.

Good luck!