Disorganization is a frequently overlooked element of ADHD. If you’ve ever found yourself paralyzed by too many half-started projects or frustrated by piles of items cluttering up your space, you know the struggle. In fact, there’s a name for this phenomenon: ADHD clutter blindness. While you might look organized and put-together to an outsider, it feels all-consuming to stay organized with ADHD.
One of the core features of ADHD is difficulty with executive functions, which include skills such as organization, time management, and task initiation. Disorganization often stems from challenges with these executive functions. However, everyone is different, and your own flavor of disorganization may be different from someone else’s. Learning what disorganization looks like for you can help you understand how to better recognize and cope with it in your life.
Disorganization with ADHD can show up in a lot of different ways throughout a person’s life. It’s often expressed internally, in your cognitive processes, and externally, in your physical environment. Here are some signs and symptoms of disorganization with ADHD:
ADHD disorganization stems from difficulty with executive functions. Unfortunately, these functions encompass all kinds of skills that can directly impact your ability to stay organized. These skills include time management, focus, task initiation, and more. Difficulty in these various areas can lead to impaired self-esteem, shame, and poor mental health.
ADHD can contribute to disorganization in various aspects of your life in the following ways:
Time management: Many of my ADHD clients struggle with a distorted sense of time. They might underestimate the time required for tasks, leading to difficulties in planning and meeting deadlines. This can result in chronic lateness, missed appointments, and an overall sense of time slipping away.
Organization: Maintaining an organized physical environment is challenging for individuals with ADHD. You might have trouble keeping track of personal belongings, frequently misplace items, and struggle to maintain order in your living or working spaces. This disorganization can add stress and frustration to daily life.
Task initiation and completion: ADHD can impact the ability to start tasks and see them through to completion. You may have a tendency to start multiple projects at once, jumping from one to the next. However, this can become overwhelming quickly, and you may not finish what you started.
Memory: Short-term memory deficits are common in ADHD. Forgetfulness can be a significant issue, affecting both daily activities and long-term planning. People with ADHD may forget important dates, commitments, or instructions, contributing to a sense of unreliability.
Impulsivity: The impulsivity associated with ADHD can also contribute to disorganization. You might act on immediate desires without considering the long-term consequences, leading to decisions that don’t ultimately serve you and may actively contribute to chaos in your life.
Hyperfocus: While distractibility is a well-known characteristic of ADHD, periods of hyperfocus on tasks of high interest is common. Hyperfocus can be a strength in certain situations, but it can also wind up causing you to neglect other tasks, your health, and your relationships.
While disorganization with ADHD isn’t always a problem, it can easily become overwhelming and negatively impact your life. ADHD clutter blindness and other forms of disorganization can affect your daily life and mental health in different ways, from emotional regulation to challenges at work to long-term goals.
Here are a few areas of your life that may be impacted by ADHD clutter blindness and general life disorganization.
Emotional regulation. ADHD impacts emotional regulation. The frustration and stress that arise from disorganization and difficulties with task management frequently contribute to emotional dysregulation. Mood swings, irritability, and a sense of overwhelm are common in ADHD for this reason.
Relationships. Disorganization can extend to social interactions and relationships. You might find yourself struggling to remember social commitments, maintain consistent communication, or follow through on promises. Additionally, if you live with a partner or roommates, they may become angry or frustrated by your clutter or piles of things scattered around. These challenges can affect relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Workplace challenges. Disorganization can significantly impact performance and stability in the workplace. Forgetfulness, missed meetings and deadlines, inability to break down tasks into manageable chunks, and difficulty following through on projects can lead to work-related challenges as well as imposter syndrome.
Self-esteem and motivation. Chronic disorganization can negatively impact self-esteem. You may have internalized feelings of inadequacy and a sense of failure, particularly if you face repeated challenges with organizing your lives. This, in turn, can affect motivation and perpetuate mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
Sleep difficulties. ADHD is often associated with sleep difficulties. Disorganization in daily routines and challenges in winding down before bedtime can contribute to irregular sleep patterns, further impacting overall well-being and mental functioning.
Impact on long-term goals. Difficulty in setting and pursuing long-term goals is another area affected by ADHD-related disorganization. You might struggle to plan for the future, set realistic goals, and follow through on the necessary steps to achieve them.
Living with the ADHD can be difficult, particularly when it comes to the struggles of being disorganized. Luckily, disorganization with ADHD isn’t a life sentence. You can learn symptom management techniques in order to better support your nervous system and mental health. Here are 5 effective ways to help you manage disorganization with ADHD.
One such strategy is creating daily routines and schedules and sticking to them to the best of your ability. This includes a regular bedtime, regular mealtimes, getting enough sleep, and getting enough sunshine and exercise. I know this is much easier said than done, but establishing daily routines can help you manage your time more effectively.
Another strategy to help with disorganization in ADHD is setting your work and home space up for ease and functionality. This is a highly individual process, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Try using organizational tools like planners, calendars, timers, reminders, and organizational apps. These can help you keep track of tasks, deadlines, and plans.
Additionally, try rearranging your space to make it work for you. For example, organize your refrigerator so the healthiest, most nutrient-dense things are right there in front of your face when you open the door, and things like condiments are in the veggie drawers.
Working remotely can reduce psychological stressors, but it can also be particularly challenging for ADHDers. Whether you work from home or have a place of work, minimizing distractions during work hours is vital for helping you maintain focus on tasks. This can look like putting your phone in another room, using white noise or earplugs, or joining a coworking group for accountability.
Medication for ADHD can be incredibly helpful for managing your ADHD disorganization. While medication isn’t right for everyone, it can make a big difference in getting you to a baseline of stability and reducing impairments around executive functioning. Medication is most effective when used in conjunction with therapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for ADHD has been shown to be the most useful tool for managing ADHD struggles, including disorganization. CBT helps you learn specific skills, such as how to break tasks down into smaller steps in order to make them less overwhelming, how to improve emotional regulation, and how to cope with disorganization at home and in the workplace.
If you want help overcoming the stress of disorganization and ADHD, I’m here to help. I offer online therapy in Idaho and Iowa and coaching services wherever you’re located for anxious clients who struggle with things like people-pleasing, perfectionism, burnout, overwhelm, and ADHD.
Reach out today and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.