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ADHD and messiness

By Gail Belsky

Some people are naturally neat. They keep their things fairly organized and try to avoid making a mess. But many kids and adults with ADHD are the opposite — they’re messy most of the time. And it can cause problems at home, school, and work. 

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For example, kids might miss a field trip because the permission slip got lost in their overflowing backpack. Adults may misplace their keys on a messy dresser and end up being late for an appointment. You may wonder: Why don’t they just keep things neat to avoid consequences? 

People with ADHD who have a hard time keeping things tidy usually aren’t being lazy or thoughtless. They have trouble with a group of skills needed to tackle cleanup tasks and stay organized. These skills are known as executive function.

The constant messiness can be annoying for others and embarrassing for the mess maker. But knowing what’s causing this behavior can help you approach the situation with empathy — whether you’re the one who’s messy, or if it’s someone else — and find ways to stay neater.

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The challenges behind messiness

People with ADHD struggle with executive function . These are the skills that allow us to get things done. They include planning, focus, memory, and self-control. 

Difficulty with these skills can make it hard to:

  • Start and finish cleanup tasks

  • Pay attention to or remember cleanup directions

  • Keep track of what you’re doing

  • Stay organized (even if there’s an organization system) 

People with ADHD don’t only make messes. They often walk away from them. For example, they may constantly leave the top off the toothpaste or forget to flush the toilet despite being told many times. One reason that happens is trouble with working memory .

Learn more about the ADHD brain .

Next steps

Checklists can help people know exactly what to do and help them stay on track. Use them for any cleanup task, large or small. Kids in particular can benefit from picture schedules and a backpack checklist .

There are also low-cost tools that can help keep things in order. These include organization apps and office supplies like binder clips or folders to keep papers neat.

Whether you’re struggling with messiness or someone in your life is, do your best to approach the situation with empathy. ADHD challenges make it hard to stay neat and organized. It can take extra practice and support.

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Share ADHD and messiness

  • Facebook
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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom