Or, why people with ADD ignore messes and organize by pile.
If you have ADHD, or you know someone with ADHD, you may have noticed that people with ADD have a tendency to be messy. On the same hand, many people with ADHD cannot deal with other people’s messes and are obsessively clean about certain things.
I, for one, have an office that others would consider messy. My kitchen counters on the other hand are typically very clean. The key in both cases is the main working area is clean, the “messes” are around the edge, where the ADHD mind will ignore them as background clutter, even as it finds distractions in other areas.
As someone with ADHD, I can’t have things in my main working area. Not only are they a distraction, they are constantly in the way in a way that frequently requires my attention leading to additional distraction.
If I’m going to get any writing done, my hand (or arm) can’t hit anything while I type. If I’m going to get any cooking done, my counters can’t have “other stuff” on them.
ADHD Organization – The Sides
But, you see that area under the monitors?
Those are what I call the sides.
The sides are near the main workspace but not in it. As someone with ADHD, when I sit down, my attention is drawn to that clutter just outside of my main workspace. I use that to my advantage. That pile to the left is mail, notes, and other things that I still need to deal with.
While I will completely ignore that clutter once I start typing, since it is outside my focus zone, I do see it several times a day when I sit back down. In addition, if that pile starts to get too big, it will encroach on my main working space. That means I will eventually deal with what is there, either to reduce the pile size back out of my main workspace, or just out of annoyance.
The Need Pile
More difficult to see is that the clutter is also items that I need, and need quickly while working.
As an adult with ADD, I can’t take the chance of having to go find something while I’m in the middle of work.
That multicolored bag has my colored pens in it. If I need to brainstorm, or journal something, I will want those pens. If I have to stop and go find those pens, or retrieve them from another area too far away to reach while still sitting, chances are I will get distracted and lose my focus. So, I keep them right there, even though it is clutter.
ADHD Organization Drawers
The ADHD organization solution that would really help is a desk with drawers, but that isn’t what I bought 15 years ago, and the list of other things that I want to spend my money on is very long. I could get some IKEA drawers for a small price, but they won’t fit under the short desk that I have.
Don’t worry. I love IKEA. I will find a solution sooner or later 🙂
People with ADHD don’t like being disorganized, and dream of the next device, furniture, planner, or organizer that will fix all of their ADHD problems. For this reason, people with ADD love IKEA.
ADHD Workspace – The Piles
Surrounding my desk are the piles.
The pile is a very important part of ADHD organization.
Piles created by the person with ADD do not register in their brain as clutter. Rather they are pseudo-organized stacks that blend as effortlessly into the background as if they were camouflaged by Rangers in the field.
That pile on top of my computer needs to be scanned. You can see my printer/scanner combo behind it, so of course it goes there. — The ADHD mind is precise in its own way. (I don’t know why I need to know that 250mg is 3 fl. oz like it says on that sticky note. Probably for one of my cancer meds, not an ADD med, but until I remember, I can’t throw away that note. Ironically, I haven’t noticed it in months until it showed up in this photograph.)
The stuff underneath the to-scan pile, is an old iPad and my daughter’s old laptop. Both of which I’ve been meaning to repurpose as treadmill screens for exercise routines like from Peleton or iFit training. Although those don’t technically belong up there, I don’t want to put them on the floor where they might accidentally get stepped on.– It’s only been six or seven weeks. I’ll get to it… eventually.
Below is the kind of pile that drives other non-ADD people (my wife) crazy, but that blends into the background noise of the ADHD adult that created them.
To the untrained, non-ADHD mind, this is a big mess. To my ADHD brain, this is actually five distinct piles. The main Disney World book pile is, obviously, Disney World books for planning our DisneyWorld vacation. There are a couple of cookbooks under there. — I recently got a new air fryer.
The pile directly to its left is actually my tax records pile (it’s 2021 tax season as I write this). That bigger book is there because it messes up the pile of smaller format books.
The pile behind the tax records pile is items that I need to sort. I actually need to throw most of that away. Most of it is for electronics we no longer own, or items that don’t work, but I feel like there is a use for them… or maybe I just don’t like throwing away electronics.
Behind that is my messenger bag, which is both the pile my messenger bag is stored in, and a pile of stuff that is inside the messenger bag as well.
Finally, behind that is my printer paper, on top of a dictionary. This isn’t where the dictionary goes, but out of sight…. actually, the dictoionary is bothering me now, because it goes in the bookcase, and…
Must resist urge to stop writing this article and go put away the dictionary…. because if I do… I’ll never come back to this article and will have wasted the effort I already put in… (the sunken cost fallacy looms large in the ADHD world.)
The ADHD Mind Eliminates Clutter As a Distraction
The irony is that the ADHD mind actually is less distracted by such clutter than others. Our hyper-focus (for lack of a better term) edits out possible distractions that it already knows are unimportant. This is in contrast to any novel elements in the environment that command an outsized amount of attention from the ADHD mind.
How To Use ADHD Clutter Piles To Your Advantage
There are many ways to use ADHD to your advantage once you understand and accept your ADD mind. Clutter piles are one area that can be leveraged as an ADHD advantage.
The key is to find a place that the piles do not bother your spouse. Then, let the piles flow.
The Right Number of Piles for ADHD Organization
Organized clutter piles only become a deficit when used improperly, usually by having too few piles. If you have a pile that contains both important paperwork that needs action, blended with a pile of important paperwork that just needs filed, you will correctly avoid throwing those items away.
But, you will likely not act on the papers that require action because your mind will consider the file according to its lowest priority in your mind, that is, “too be filed,” in this case.
If you had two separate piles, the needs action pile would draw your attention and occasionally, your focus and action, resulting in more things getting done appropriately. (The to be filed pile will languish until it is so big it causes an extra distraction.)
The Right Place for Piles for ADHD Organization
The other important thing to get right is where to put your ADHD piles.
A pile of papers than needs scanned should go near the scanner if possible. Thus, when the pile draws your attention, its corresponding action is close by.
A pile of papers to be scanned sitting in the kitchen requires you to disengage from whatever task you are in the kitchen for, to instead go scan some paper. This will likely be a distraction from what you need to be doing at the moment (cooking dinner).
In a larger house, it may be necessary to have piles whose sole function is to be moved to a different location.
Remember that to be scanned pile? Chances are some of that is mail — mail that you open in the kitchen after you come in through the garage. You know it needs scanned, but you have other mail… and maybe groceries… and maybe you’re thirsty and the water is right there…
Whatever the reason, chances are you will just put that to-be-scanned document into a pile there in the kitchen.
But, what if you put that mail into a specific pile which is nothing more than a pile to be moved to your office? Then, eventually, you will notice, and move that pile to the scanning pile, where you will end up scanning the documents you need to archive.
Avoid Mixed Piles
The worst piles for ADHD are mixed piles. Your mind will not process properly that there are things in there that need your focus. Instead, your mind will rank that pile by the lowest item in there.
The pile to be avoided at all costs is a general pile. General piles will be ignored as unnecessary clutter until you do some sort of whole room or area cleanup. Important things will fall through the cracks.
Specific, single-use piles, can have great benefit for ADHD distraction. Consider using bins, or drawers to contain such piles, but be sure they also follow the rules: single use, or single priority.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with just another junk drawer.