Clutter and ADHD in Teens: Tips For Your Child

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS

Clutter and disorganisation can be challenging for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for teens with an ADHD diagnosis.

The inability to focus coupled with the physical chaos of a cluttered space can exacerbate their symptoms, leading to increased stress and decreased productivity.

By understanding the unique challenges faced by teens with ADHD, parents can provide support and help create an environment that promotes focus, organisation, and a sense of calm in the best way.

A teenage boy lying on his bed watching something on a tablet. His floor is covered in bags and clothes and his desk is cluttered.

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurological condition characterised by difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

For many teenagers with ADHD, clutter and disorganization are common and can mental health issues and daily functioning.

This is because ADHD symptoms can have a significant impact on their ability to organise their personal space and manage their belongings.

Key Takeaways

  • Clutter can magnify challenges faced by teens with ADHD, leading to increased stress and decreased productivity.
  • Understanding ADHD and its relationship with clutter can help parents provide better support and create an organised environment.
  • Strategies for managing clutter in a teen’s space can improve their mental health and daily functioning.

Understanding Clutter and ADHD in Teens

As a parent or guardian of a teenager with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you may notice that clutter can be a common challenge.

ADHD symptoms often include difficulties with organisation, focus, and time management, which can contribute to struggles in maintaining a tidy environment.

In this section, we will explore the relationship between clutter and ADHD in teens, as well as some strategies for managing it.

Teens with ADHD frequently display behaviours such as impulsivity, distractibility, and forgetfulness, which can make it difficult for them to stay organised and clutter-free.

Excess belongings, disorganised spaces, and unfinished tasks are all signs of a cluttered environment that may exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Studies suggest clutter can negatively impact mental health, focus and productivity, which are already challenges for individuals with ADHD.

To help your teen manage clutter and improve their ADHD symptoms, consider implementing some of the following strategies:

  • Establish routines: Developing daily routines for tasks such as making the bed, putting away clothes, and cleaning up personal spaces can create structure and foster a sense of ownership over their environment.
  • Use visual reminders: Creating labelled storage spaces and using visual cues for organisation can help remind your teen where important items belong and make it easier for them to maintain order.
  • Break tasks into smaller steps: Instead of overwhelming your teenager with a large task like cleaning their entire room, encourage them to tackle smaller tasks, like tidying a desk or putting away laundry, to make it more manageable.
  • Encourage regular decluttering: Set up regular times for your teen to evaluate their belongings, discard or donate items they no longer need, and reorganise their space as necessary.

The process of managing clutter and ADHD symptoms may require patience, understanding, and some trial and error as you support your teen in finding the best strategies that work for them.

Keep communication open and work together to create a more organised, supportive environment that can help your teenager better manage their ADHD.

Managing Clutter in a Teen’s Space

Struggling with clutter in your teen’s space when they have ADHD can be challenging.

To help you navigate this issue, we will explore some tactics and strategies that can make it easier to maintain an organised and clean room.

How Much Help to Give Your ADHD Child in Organising Their Bedroom

It’s essential to strike a balance between guiding your ADHD child and allowing them to take responsibility for their space. Work together to devise a plan for organising their bedroom, and provide support as needed.

Remember, the ADHD brain might need more help with maintaining order, but fostering independence should be one of your goals.

Clutter & ADHD in Teens: Storage Solutions

One of the best ways to deal with a messy child’s room is to create adequate storage space.

You should help your teen identify areas within their bedroom that can be efficiently utilised for storage.

For instance:

  • Under the bed: Invest in under-bed storage containers for items that aren’t regularly needed.
  • Cubbies and shelves: Place cubbies or shelves near the front door to store shoes and outerwear.
  • Storage bins: Allocate bins for school supplies, books, and other miscellaneous items.
  • Laundry hamper: Place a hamper near where your teen usually undresses to ensure dirty clothes don’t end up on the floor.
close up of teen boy with bedroom behind him

Dealing with Unnecessary Items

As your child grows, they’ll accumulate items that they no longer need or use. It’s crucial to weed out unnecessary items regularly.

Encourage your teen to identify and separate items they no longer use to create more space. As a guideline, if they haven’t used something in six months, it might be time to let it go.

Using Visual Organisers to Manage Clutter

Visual cues can be helpful for teens with ADHD to remember where their belongings go. Consider implementing visual organisers to make organizing tasks more accessible. Some ideas include:

  • Labels: Label storage bins and shelves to remind your teen where items belong.
  • Colour-coding: Assign specific colours for different tasks, such as school work or sports equipment.
  • Checklists: Create checklists for daily tasks and chores, like making the bed or sweeping the floor.

Mess, Clutter and ADHD: Strategies for Teens and Parents

Healthy Time Management

One of the main challenges for teens with ADHD is managing time effectively. As a parent, you can help your teen improve their time management skills by establishing routines.

Create a daily schedule that includes designated study times, breaks, and recreational activities. Encourage your teen to use a planner or digital calendar to keep track of homework assignments and important events.

Flexibility is key, as ADHD symptoms can make it difficult for your teen to adhere to a strict schedule. Provide support by adjusting the timetable as needed and helping them prioritise tasks. Maintain open communication and regularly review the schedule with your teen to ensure it meets their specific needs.

Setting Specific Goals and Expectations

Clear, specific goals can be beneficial for teens with ADHD. Work with your teen to develop realistic expectations for their academic performance, organisational skills, and personal responsibilities. Help your teenager break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps.

For example, you might create a checklist for tidying their room, dividing the process into tasks like sorting clothes, discarding unneeded items, and organising an open space for study.

Encourage your teen to take ownership of their goals and progress. Provide guidance but let them decide how to accomplish tasks, which can lead to better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Consult with your child’s doctor or mental health professional as needed to ensure your expectations and strategies align with their specific ADHD symptoms.

Positive Reinforcement For Managing Mess and Clutter in ADHD Teens

Teens with ADHD often benefit from positive reinforcement, such as praise or rewards for accomplishments.

Acknowledge your teen’s efforts and achievements, even if they don’t meet your expectations as a “neat freak” parent. Be patient and understand that building organisational skills and coping strategies takes time.

Tailor incentives to your teen’s interests, such as extended screen time, special outings, or small gifts.

The Impact of Clutter on ADHD Teens

Physical Clutter and Focus

Physical clutter can be overwhelming for ADHD teens, as it can create visual distractions and make it difficult for them to focus on tasks. When dealing with too much stuff, a cluttered space can lead to incomplete tasks and disorganisation.

A clean and organised environment is essential for maximising focus and productivity.

For example, keeping storage areas tidy and implementing a new system to manage belongings, such as open shelving, can be beneficial to your ADHD teenager.

To tackle physical clutter, it’s a good idea to set a specific goal and allocate a time limit for decluttering each area of the room. This can make the task more manageable and help your teen see progress as they work.

Encourage your teen to keep only the items that serve a purpose and get rid of excess stuff that contributes to the clutter.

Clutter and ADHD: Reducing Stress and Negative Emotions

A cluttered and chaotic environment can lead to increased stress and negative emotions in teens with ADHD.

Clutter makes it challenging for ADHD teens to find what they need, such as books or important documents, which in turn, can contribute towards the chaos.

Clearing physical clutter can positively impact your teen’s emotional well-being and help them feel more in control of their surroundings.

Allowing them some extra free time to clear their space can be a great way to get started in reducing clutter. Remember to encourage your ADHD teen to take regular breaks during the decluttering process and ensure they are getting enough sleep to cope with the mental and physical demands of the task.

Improving Overall Functioning by Decluttering

An organised and clutter-free environment can significantly improve the overall functioning of an ADHD student.

By keeping a tidy space, your child can have better access to necessary items, complete tasks more effectively, and have a sense of accomplishment.

With visual reminders, such as a to-do list or calendar, your teen can stay on top of deadlines and manage their time more effectively.

Additionally, removing unnecessary distractions, like dirty dishes or excess items, can help them remain focused and improve their academic performance.

Creating a structured home environment by establishing specific routines and habits can be highly beneficial for your ADHD teen.

As your child struggles to maintain focus and organisation, a clean and clutter-free space will support their learning and growth while providing them with a sense of self-efficacy and achievement.

teen girl standing in cluttered bedroom

Clutter and ADHD in Teens Case Study: Amy Age 16

Amy, a 16-year-old teenager with ADHD, faced challenges in managing clutter and organising her room. Due to her condition, she often found it difficult to stay focused on tasks and maintained a messy environment.

We will look at the steps she took to improve her organisational skills and create a cleaner, more functional living space.

Amy’s first step was identifying the primary areas of clutter in the room. She walked around and take note of the most cluttered spaces. For Amy, these were her desk, wardrobe, and floor space.

Next Amy implemented a decluttering strategy. This involved breaking down her tasks into smaller, manageable goals. She started by removing any items that were not being used or were unnecessary, then organised the remaining items into appropriate categories, such as books, clothing, and school supplies.

As part of her decluttering process, Amy’s parents helped her invest in practical storage solutions. This included new shelves, drawer organisers and storage boxes.

Amy found that having designated spaces for her belongings helped maintain order and prevented future clutter accumulation.

A girl working on her laptop at a desk with her stationary in a pot and other things organised in a jar. Her bed is made behind her.

Finally Amy established a routine to maintain the cleanliness of her room.

Amy decided to spend a few minutes each day tidying up, putting things away, and doing quick cleaning tasks like sweeping or wiping surfaces.

She also set aside time each week for more thorough cleaning and decluttering, ensuring her room remained organised and clutter-free.

Clutter and ADHD in Teens Case Study: Connor, Age 13

Connor, a 13-year-old with ADHD, faced significant challenges in managing clutter, especially in his bedroom. His parents played a crucial role in helping him overcome these obstacles.

Initially, Connor’s bedroom was a source of constant disarray, affecting his ability to find belongings and causing stress. Recognizing this, his parents decided to intervene with specific strategies:

  1. Creating Designated Spaces: They established clear zones in Connor’s room for different activities. A specific area was set for studying, another for leisure, and distinct spaces for storing clothes and other personal items.
  2. Implementing Organizational Tools: Connor and his parents introduced tools to help him with organizational skills including shelves, bins and labels. They used a colour-coded visual organiser system of labels on each shelf and bin. These tools helped Connor categorize his belongings and maintain order.
  3. Routine Clean-ups: Together, they established a routine for regular clean-ups. This routine involved a weekly session where Connor, with his parents’ guidance, would declutter and organize his room, making it a habit rather than a sporadic task.

Through these methods, Connor learned to manage his clutter more effectively.

His parents’ support and the establishment of clear, manageable systems played a pivotal role in this improvement.

This change not only made his room more organized but also brought a sense of accomplishment and reduced anxiety related to disorganization.

A boy sat at his desk chair looking pleased with himself. Behind him, his room is tidy with books organised on a shelf.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is cleaning hard for teens with ADHD?

Cleaning can be challenging when teens with ADHD struggle with inattention, disorganisation, and impulsivity. These symptoms make it difficult for them to focus on specific tasks, maintain a routine, and complete tasks in an organised manner.

Therefore, it becomes harder for them to maintain a clean and tidy environment.

What is the link between ADHD and clutter?

The link between ADHD and clutter stems from the symptoms of ADHD, such as being easily distracted during a clean up, struggling with organisation and making impulsive decisions.

These behaviours can lead to accumulating unnecessary items and having trouble maintaining a tidy living space.

How can clutter affect ADHD teens?

Clutter can affect ADHD teens by making their symptoms worse, as it creates a chaotic and disorganised environment. This can further exacerbate their feelings of restlessness and overwhelm, making it even more challenging for them to focus and stay organised.

What are some organisation tips for teens with ADHD?

  1. Break tasks into smaller steps to make them more manageable.
  2. Use visual aids, such as labels, colour-coding or charts, to help with organisation.
  3. Establish specific routines for cleaning and tidying up.
  4. Create designated spaces for items to reduce clutter.
  5. Use a timer to allocate specific time periods for cleaning activities.
  6. Encourage regular decluttering sessions.

How to create a calming bedroom for ADHD teens?

To create a calming bedroom for ADHD teens:

  1. Keep the room clutter-free and organised.
  2. Choose calming colours, such as soft blues or greens.
  3. Ensure the room is well lit, incorporating natural light if possible.
  4. Incorporate calming elements, such as soft furnishings, comfortable bedding, and relaxing scents.
  5. Minimise distractions by removing unnecessary electronics and providing a dedicated space for studying or working.

How to help teens with ADHD keep tidy?

To help teens with ADHD keep tidy:

  1. Encourage and guide them in establishing and maintaining a cleaning routine.
  2. Provide clear instructions and consistent expectations for tidiness.
  3. Use visual reminders and checklists to support their organisation efforts.
  4. Be patient and understanding of their challenges.
  5. Praise their efforts and progress in maintaining a tidy living space.

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Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years. In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children.

Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

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