ADHD CLEANING TIPS: GENTLE, PRACTICAL WAYS TO HELP KEEP A CLEAN AND TIDY HOME WITH ADHD
Many of us love to have a clean and tidy home but struggle how to make this happen. It can be even more difficult if you have the extra challenges of ADHD. In this article you’ll find some ADHD cleaning tips and gentle, practical ways to help you towards keeping a clean and tidy home with ADHD.
I know from my own experience, and from the stories that readers have shared with me over the years, that a clean, tidy and clutter-free home has many benefits. It is helpful for our physical and mental health, a space that we can launch ourselves from and retreat back to each day, and our own individual sanctuary from a busy world.
However, I also know that achieving and maintaining a clean, tidy and clutter-free home is far from easy, and not just simply a matter of dusting and getting rid of stuff we don’t want any more. Definitely not that easy!
Caring for our homes is even more complicated when we have additional challenges, and in this article my friend and reader, Laura, shares her thoughts on homecare and cleaning with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
As Laura writes, and I hope to reinforce through all the tips you’ll find on this website, simplifying life (whether you call it decluttering, organising, minimalism or intentional living) is about finding ways to make life easier for YOU and whatever challenges you face in your own life. I hope these tips encourage and support you without judgement, pressure or expectation.
And, today, Laura shares some wonderfully practical and gentle tips for keeping your home clean and tidy – ADHD style!
ADHD AND CLEANING – LAURA’S STORY
I love having a gleaming clean home. But to say that my ADHD makes it challenging to clean and tidy would be an understatement. I moved in here seven years ago, and I still haven’t gotten pictures up on the walls… because I keep waiting till I have everything clean and organised and decluttered. Maybe I should rethink that decision!
There are several aspects of ADHD that make home care challenging.
There’s being able to decide what’s most important.
There’s “task initiation” – being able to get up and do it.
There’s the struggle to focus on a task till complete.
There’s the reality that most cleaning and tidying tasks are actually multiple steps, not one, and unlike neurotypical people, we have a difficult time integrating them into one practiced activity.
And then there’s the fact that the ADHD brain has a tough time remaining engaged with a task that doesn’t interest it. I find housekeeping deadly dull, although I enjoy the results. There are people who love cleaning, and I wish I could borrow their brain once a month! But the plain fact is, I don’t like cleaning (though I love doing laundry – go figure), and it’s always a challenge for me.
I’m not here to tell you how you can clean and tidy just like someone with a neurotypical brain. I simply want to offer some strategies and philosophies that have helped me get a bit further ahead, ADHD style.
STRATEGIES FOR CLEANING. SOMETIMES. ON A GOOD DAY.
If you struggle with ADHD, or know someone who does, here are some ADHD cleaning tips you might like to try. Remember to be gentle with yourself while trying these suggestions out, as they may not all work for you. You may also need to change strategies from time to time, when the novelty that keeps the ADHD brain engaged wears off. Now repeat after me: It all counts.
1. Understand that housework is morally neutral
You are not a bad person if you can’t keep your house clean and tidy. If you can afford it, hire a housekeeper. If you can’t afford it, work hard at accepting that having dust is not a moral flaw. You don’t need shame on top of your ADHD. Ask me how I know.
2. Food prep is also morally neutral
I try to eat healthy meals, but if I’m having a really tired day, I eat takeout or delivery (depending on just how wiped I am). But when I’m able to cook for myself, I use bags of fresh or frozen mixed vegetables, because if I buy fresh vegetables that aren’t prepped, they rot in my fridge. It’s less expensive to buy prepared vegetables than to waste them entirely. You need to eat, preferably nutritious food. Your body doesn’t care if you peeled and diced those veggies yourself or not, or made your own chicken stock. Save your efforts for other tasks.
3. Getting your groceries delivered is likewise morally neutral
I first began doing this during the pandemic, but continued afterwards. I create my online shopping cart and add to it over several days, I adjust it as needed (including removing things that I add late at night when tired, but don’t really require! Potato chips, I’m looking at you), and then place the order for delivery when I’m ready. No need to force myself to get showered and drive to the store, or buy food when I’m already wiped. No need to go through that big, noisy store, crammed with other people, trying to find what I need. I save my brain for more important matters that no one can do but me.
4. The “Just In Time” method may not work for you, so stock up
If you have ADHD, you may struggle with what’s called “working memory”. This means that you won’t remember to buy milk after work unless you set yourself several reminders, including one that you will see at the crucial moment. If you’re like me, you may see the reminder, and still decide that you’re too tired and it can wait another day. So stock up where you can! There are pantry staples I keep in stock, like grain mustard, olive oil mayonnaise, and chicken stock. I also keep extra toilet paper and facial tissue on hand at all times, buying extras when they’re on sale. And I bulk-buy my favourite coffee in one kg bags, five at a time (for the discount), from Amazon.
5. Take advantage of the good days
Some days I can actually get things done! I’ve learned to take full advantage of them. However, you’ll want to prioritise your activities, because you may power down partway through. Sometimes I’m cranking through laundry and dishes, and suddenly discover I need a nap. I take the nap, and accept that it’s a good time to finish up for the day.
6. Recognise when your brain has powered down
Sometimes you hit the wall, and you can’t control that. So pivot. What can you ruthlessly strike off your list? Get a meal delivered, and don’t do anything that is not 100% necessary. Trust me, housework always waits for you! Go to bed as early as you can, with something comforting to watch or read. Support your mind and body to help them reset overnight.
7. Saving the planet comes later
I’m distressed by climate change and want to do my part. For instance, I wash my recycling and get it in the bin whenever I can. But sometimes that recycling has been sitting on my kitchen counter literally for months, and I have to accept that chucking out that empty mayonnaise tub instead of recycling it isn’t going to be the final straw that leads to Armageddon. I still feel a little guilty when I do it – but it passes. Usually as soon as it’s out of sight, to be honest! I have to take care of myself before I can take care of the planet.
8. Make the barrier lower and lower till you can actually step over it
If you’re having a day when you’re not doing well at task initiation, but you know that you must do that load of laundry, or must wash some dishes, make your starting task smaller and smaller. I mean, really small. Can you manage to stand in the kitchen with your cup of coffee? Once you make it there, can you wash one thing?
9. Stay in motion for as long as you can
Sometimes once you get started, you can wash more than one thing. Great! Keep washing till you hit the wall. Two minutes is better than nothing.
10. Break out the steps
If I’m having a tough time, I break a task down into smaller steps, as small as I can make them. An example of this might be that I want to get the trash out of my bedroom. So step one is getting the replacement bag out of the cupboard. Step two is getting it into the bedroom. Step three is tying off the old bag. Step four is chucking it near the door so I see it next time I leave the bedroom. Step five is putting the new bag in. Step six is taking that tied-off bag and putting it in the bin. If I’m having a rough day, I count every step as a win – because it is. I might not get past all six steps in one day. I let myself be okay with that.
11. Aim for functional, not perfect
I love having a gleaming clean kitchen with lots of space to work, but it doesn’t happen much. Do I have enough clean dishes, pots, and utensils for tomorrow? Is there some space to put down my lunch bag in the morning? If the answer is Yes, and I’m having a challenging day, I stop right there.
12. Set a timer for 15 minutes
I find this works well if I feel like there’s so much to do and I don’t know where to begin. I set a timer for 15 minutes, and do anything I feel I can tackle. Then I take a break. Do this a few times in a day, and your home starts to look a lot better. Sometimes I’ll do this after every episode of whatever tv show I’m bingeing. If 15 minutes feels like too much, I do ten, or five, or two.
13. Try Tiny Habits
Professor B.J. Fogg of Stanford came up with “tiny habits”. I won’t explain the whole concept here, but it’s really helped me get my bathroom clean. After I use the toilet, but before I wash my hands (please reserve your moral judgement!), I get a disinfectant wipe out of the tub on the counter and clean one thing. One small section of floor, the faucet and taps, the toilet lid. Then I throw out the wipe and wash my hands. When I do this consistently, my bathroom gets clean, even things like the dust on the door panels. And if you get out of the habit, it’s so small that it’s easy to start again.
14. If you can’t get your most important thing done, pick something else
Sometimes getting in motion is the thing you need to do before you can get to the most important thing. If you can’t face your most important thing just yet, try a sidestep.
15. Play a podcast or tv show while you’re doing boring work
I use listening to podcasts to keep me focused at work when doing dull work that requires rigorous attention to detail. When my mind wanders away, I tune into the podcast, and it entertains the bored part of my brain and keeps me moving forward with my work task. And I always fold laundry while watching tv.
16. Offload the chatter
Personally, I love Trello boards for the days when I feel like I have a ton of stuff to do and it’s all screaming Pick me! Pick me! I put everything on Trello cards. If I get some of them accomplished, I move them to the Done list on that board. But mostly, Trello is how I stop the overwhelm. Once I offload that, I can then choose where I want to start. You can do this any way that works for you – in a notebook, in Outlook Tasks, whatever. It has very little to do with accomplishing the work, and everything to do with shutting down the ADHD overwhelm.
17. Pick one thing as your primary task, and keep coming back to it till it’s done
Your ADHD self may start doing the dishes and then wander off to sort laundry, or tidy the bathroom. Put a reminder somewhere that you’ll see it, and keep coming back to it after you’ve strayed. (I recently discovered transparent sticky notes – great to stick to a cupboard door or mirror.)
18. Remove barriers to implementation
I have three collapsible laundry bins in my bedroom. One is whites and nudes, one is blues, greens, and blacks, and one is sheets, towels, and dish towels. By putting my dirty items in the appropriate bin, it’s mostly pre-sorted (I’d use more bins yet if I had the room!). This makes it easier to do laundry, as it’s not one huge pile to sort, and I know where to find all the items if I want to wash whites, or towels.
I line all my small trash bins (bedroom, bathroom, etc.) with bin liners, because then I can just pick up the bag and tie it off to empty the trash when it’s full – no need to come in with a big black trash bag and pick all the overflowing items off the floor, long after the trash should have been emptied.
I keep floss picks on my nightstand, because I never use them when in the bathroom, but sometimes I’ll floss in the evening while watching tv if the picks are already there.
If you struggle to do a task, ask yourself what’s stopping you, and see if you can remove the issue.
19. The tool you will use sometimes is better than the one you won’t use at all
I’ve begun trying out different cleaning tools. I will use a Swiffer on my floor, but won’t get out the broom and dustpan unless I break a glass. I bought a steam mop and replacement pads, because I never seem to use conventional mops despite great intentions, whereas I will use the steam mop on occasion. I buy wipes instead of separate cleaning supplies because they smell fairly nice and I will actually use them. I loathe vacuuming, so I bought a rubber-fingered broom to pick up dust and hair. It’s great on hardwood, less effective on carpet – but it’s a lot better than doing nothing.
20. Find workarounds for sensory issues
I hate the slimy feeling of cleaning out the trap in the kitchen sink, or of mixing hamburger by hand and getting it under my fingernails. So I wear food processing gloves for both tasks. I choose toothpaste without spearmint, because it gags me and I will resist brushing my teeth. I use low fragrance personal hygiene products because anything else is not worth the headache and nausea. And I bought that rubber-fingered broom because vacuuming is almost unbearably loud to me.
21. Try to make it easier
I put everything possible into the dishwasher, but sometimes things still need a little more attention, or must be washed by hand – not my favourite thing. I got a product called Dawn Platinum Powerwash in a freebie pack, so I tried it out. It’s a version of dish liquid that you spray on the dish, and it cleans amazingly well, especially to get rid of grease (not a paid endorsement!). If they would come out with refills for the unscented version, I’d be in heaven. It’s expensive and it doesn’t last as long, but I will actually use it without getting frustrated by trying to get all the caked-on food and grease off dishes, so I always keep it stocked. The dish liquid version of it is also ideal for soaking things like casserole dishes that need some quality time with soap and water before the scrubbing begins.
22. Recognise the wins
Yes, you wanted to do a few hundred things today, and you feel like you “ought” to have been able to do them. Not true. You did the best you could today. Give yourself a pat on the back – you actually got a load of dishes running in the dishwasher, and you have clean clothes for tomorrow! You found workarounds. Accept the win.
I hope you enjoyed this article and the ADHD cleaning tips Laura has offered from her own experience. Here are some more resources which you might find helpful.
- KC Davis How To Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing
- KC Davis’s podcast Struggle Care
- KC Davis’s TEDx talk How to do laundry when you’re depressed
- BJ Fogg Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
I’d love to hear from you if you have any thoughts to share on this topic.
Do you struggle with keeping your home clean and tidy alongside the challenges of ADHD? How has this impacted on your life and/or family and do you have any tips to share in addition to this article? What has been your biggest obstacle and how do you work to overcome it?
Please leave a comment below!
Here are some other resources from this website which you might find useful if you’d like to read more:
- Decluttering With ADHD: 9 Tips to Help Clear Clutter With ADHD – Clearing clutter can be a struggle for many of us. In this article we explore some of the particular challenges of decluttering with ADHD and offer some helpful tips on how to clear your clutter – ADHD style!
- Minimalism and ADHD: How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Help with ADHD – Simplifying life is not just a project you can tick off your list and be done with. It’s an ongoing and intentional choice to create more ease and less stress when coping with the ups and downs of daily life. In this article on minimalism and ADHD, we look at how a minimalist lifestyle and approach to home and life can help with ADHD.
- How to Declutter Your Mind for Clarity and Peace – Clutter isn’t just the physical stuff in our homes. It can also be emotional and psychological clutter as we busy our brains like we busy our life. Check out this post for 24 tips on how to declutter your mind for more clarity and peace.
- Minimalism and Menopause: How the Minimalist Lifestyle Helps During Menopause – Menopause and perimenopause is an inevitable part of a woman’s life, but it can create a whole host of problems that can affect day to day life. In this article I share some personal thoughts around minimalism and menopause and how the minimalist lifestyle helps during menopause to reduce symptoms and make life a little easier.
- Why Minimalism Is Not Just About Your Stuff – Minimalism involves decluttering and getting rid of things you no longer need, want or add value to your life but the minimalist lifestyle is also so much more. Here are some reasons why minimalism is not just about your stuff.