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  • Aviva Nirenberg

Spring cleaning ADHD style




After a long winter, with the doors and windows of our homes sealed tight and after many months with fewer opportunities for outdoor activity, many cultures have the custom of Spring cleaning to rid our homes of accumulated mess and clutter. Despite the fact that cleaning product companies ramp up their advertising campaigns and magazines and online forums are flooded with cleaning advice as the warmer weather approaches, housecleaning can present a real challenge for most people with ADHD.

Since effective cleaning requires the very skills that are a real struggle for ADHD – planning, prioritizing, decision making, focus, and time management just to mention a few. Add to the mix that for most people cleaning is boring and repetitive and ADHDers especially absolutely hate monotonous activities. Housecleaning can become one of the worst tasks imaginable when you have ADHD. However, by better understanding our unique ADHD brains we can create a winning formula to tackle Spring cleaning.


Understand why cleaning is important for your ADHD brain. Clutter and mess create stress, anxiety, and even depression. A study at Princeton University discovered that messes create a sense of visual overwhelm for our brain that makes it more prone to distraction and taxes an already compromised working memory and as a result slows productivity. On the other hand, a clean organized space produces a sense of calm and relaxation. It allows us to take control of our environment, increasing our productivity, happiness, and self-esteem. Pause for a moment and try to think how clutter and mess make you feel and in contrast, how you feel when you’re in a clean organized space.



Make it Fun Wait, hear me out. I know at first glance you’re thinking that it’s ridiculous to even utter cleaning and fun in the same sentence. The goal here is to make cleaning more enjoyable and light up your ADHD brain. We all know how hard it is to get motivated for boring tasks. Enter gamification. Gamification is transforming non-game activities into a game and in doing so make something dull more fun. Some ideas for gamification are, set a timer and race yourself, try to beat your best time, establish a point system to earn prizes. If you’re an app aficionado, there are a host of apps that turn everyday mundane tasks into a challenging game. Some of the best know are Habitca, Epicwin, Forest and Super better. Gamification works naturally with your brains reward circuit to trick your brain to work harder and more productively.



Make it interesting The ADHD brain loves novelty. Here we want to give a formerly dreaded task more appeal. Create a special upbeat play list for cleaning or listen to an audiobook or podcast that sparks your interest. If it’s a mindless task that you can accomplish while sedentary or standing in one place, you can even watch your favorite show, but be careful…You don’t want to get distracted from your primary activity.


Dress the part Create your own cleaning uniform. Research shows that workers in uniform are more confident, focused, motivated, and perform their job more efficiently. So, put on your apron, a special hat, dusting mitt, and sneakers and get started.


Join forces or Delegate Work with a friend to share the load or take advantage of the body double concept either in person or virtually through Focusmate.com. A body double is another person who is present (but not involved in your task) while you work. Having a body double is a proven technique to stay on task and improve productivity. For larger or more complex projects, consider hiring cleaning help or a home organizer.


Set Specific Goals Create a master list of what you’d like to accomplish room by room. Be specific. ”Organize the bathroom” is too vague. Our ADHD brains can stall if they don’t have clarity where to begin. So, instead a possible list of steps for “organize bathroom” can be 1) discard all expired or empty bottles, containers, and tubes of toiletries and meds 2) Buy clear plastic bins 3) Sort like items into bins 3) Labels bins (Hair products, first aid products, skin care etc. 4) Place bins on open shelving unit. Then, to stay on target, post your list in a place you will see it to avoid the out of sight out of mind problem. Check off tasks as you complete them to fuel more motivation.




Be realistic Consider how much time you realistically have to devote to this Spring-cleaning relative to how time you estimate the particular project will take. Keep ADHD time blindness in mind and overestimate times, to err on the side of caution. Worst case, you finish ahead of schedule and enjoy an ice coffee as a treat.


Start small Even if you would like to do a massive overhaul of your entire living space, start small. When we ponder the enormity of the task ahead, overwhelm can paralyze us and prevent action. What would be the easiest place to start to give you a feeling of accomplishment? Break down a bigger project into small doable increments. Instead of trying to tackle your entire bedroom closet in one session, work in 15 minutes spurts. You can clean an organize one drawer, one shelf, or one surface at a time. Little by little, change happens.

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