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  • Writer's pictureCoach Elizabeth Brink

Making a Messy House a Home Part 2

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

There are countless ways to approach organization and loads of nuances in how we apply them in various settings.

We have core beliefs about the value of organizing, most of which come from our upbringing and society. This week we're going to get into the practical side of organizing. The "how-do-you-actually-do-it?!" side.

Even though we struggle to bring order to *some* things, a lot of people will express a need for it. I have a much higher tolerance for clutter than my partner, but over the years I've also noticed how much less stressed I am when the house is less chaotic. AND YET! Keeping it tidy often feels like a pointless use of energy, especially if you have pets or messy housemates. To be honest, I am one of the messy housemates.

I only have so much energy in a week, and the first thing I strike off the list is typically cleaning. I'm learning to just move one thing forward to support future me, but that's not always possible.

For example, this morning I started the dishwasher. I have zero intentions of emptying it, but I got it one step closer. This evening, my kids pulled out a bunch of toys. I picked one category, cleaned it up, and walked away.

Common Challenges with Organizing Projects

  1. We forget the goal we set.

  2. We can only accomplish so much and when fatigue hits we tell ourselves all kinds of things about how incompetent we are.

  3. Our definition of "done" is too grand and unrealistic.

  4. We are overwhelmed with where to start or what the next step is.

  5. We get bored when the fantasy begins to become a reality and we realize how much work is ahead.

Are you overly critical of your ability to organize and maintain systems?

Many of us were not taught how to tackle an organizing project. We were told we should be good at anything we "put our mind to." This is a very harmful lie.

We've taken classes, watched videos, read articles, and maybe even hired someone to help us and still haven't kept up.

At what point can you release yourself from the lie that your effort and thoughts are the problem?

Before you tackle an organizing project, try asking yourself these questions:

  • What am I believing about myself (related to this project)?

  • Who benefits from this being accomplished? Is it for you? For someone, you care about? Someone you're afraid of?

  • What is one benefit of completing this project that YOU will enjoy?

  • Are there consequences for not doing it? What are they? Am I able to live with those?

  • What if I could see the future and I told you that you only end up getting 5% better at managing your stuff? How would impact your current perspective? What would you do differently?

Tell me how to do it!

Bad news: there is no one way to organize.

Good news: you can do it, however, works for you!

Let's say you've always been able to keep up with mail and then moved to a new house. The new place doesn't have that same little shelf by the door and now mail is piling up. You ask yourself, "what is wrong with me!? It's just mail! I used to be so good at it."

Your mail doesn't have a home at the new place that makes sense for how you move through the day. There may be several other steps to make the right home for mail possible, but knowing what the real challenge is can make it a lot easier to solve.

Organizing Foundations for Neurodivergent People

Alright, here are a few pointers I've learned about approaching organizing projects. Take it or leave it or adjust it to suit you.

  • Ask yourself, "What's the real problem?" and then ask a few more times to get to the real issue beyond the pile in front of you. Example: The problem is I need to get laundry done by Thursday. Q: Why is it a problem if you don't get it done by Thursday? A: My kid goes to their other parent's house for the weekend and I have to pack their bag. Q: What's the problem if you don't have a bag packed with clean clothes? A: My ex is really judgmental and I don't want to deal with their snarky comments. Okay, so the real problem isn't that ALL laundry must be done on Thursdays. The goal is to have a bag of clean clothes packed for the kid. This influences the potential solutions we attempt.

  • Give yourself permission to decide how to handle it and what you're capable of accomplishing. Most of the blocks we face in everyday life management are, in part, because we believe there is a "right" way to do something. In almost all cases there is not a "right" way -- you are allowed to call your laundry stored in laundry baskets a system!

  • Start with macro-sorting into very simple categories like keep, toss, not sure. Reduce the friction in decision-making as much as possible. When you're sorting, try to use boxes or baskets with clear labels so you can put it away and get it back out. Another tip: leave yourself a note of where you left off, what's the next step to enable you to jump back in without a lot of working memory load.

  • Let incremental progress be accomplishments. If you have half a box of stuff to donate, just take it to donate and celebrate that you got a box out of the house. Don't wait for things to be perfectly prepped and ready to call them done.

  • Enlist help from someone you trust. Sometimes just their company (body-double) is enough, other times we need support with decision making and bringing up the mood of an overwhelming task. I also recommend if you have the resources, hire an organizer to help you. There are many who are trained ADHD coaches and understand your particular challenges. You can check out this directory of organizers trained by ADHD master coach, Denslow Brown. Here are her tips on interviewing an organizer or coach.

  • Adjust your finish line! Heck, have multiple finish lines. We need to acknowledge incremental achievements to gain momentum and not freeze. If you sorted one drawer, that's an accomplishment! It's important to notice every step you've taken. You may find that the finish line of Pinterest Perfect isn't even the one you really want to achieve.


  1. What progress in your attempts to organize can we celebrate today?

  2. What overwhelms you when trying to bring order to something?

  3. What do you need to give yourself permission to do?

  4. What if I could see the future and I told you that you only end up getting 5% better at managing your stuff? How would it impact your current perspective? What would you do differently?


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