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. 

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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    About the author

    About the author

    Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD is an ADHD/ASD expert and a best-selling author.