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  • Writer's pictureCoach Elizabeth Brink

Making a Messy House a Home Part 1

Recently, one of my sisters reminded me of the state of our bathroom growing up. I had blocked out that memory, but the shame and disgust came flooding back. In a house full of undiagnosed ADHD people, scrubbing the bathtub was just not done.

My mother ran a business in our home – a daycare – so she used all her brainpower and energy to ensure that the daycare side of the house was always clean. I didn't understand that growing up, but now I'm filled with compassion for her.

I help run a monthly organizing program for women with ADHD. I've got A LOT of tips, tricks, and advice about where to start and what to do with your stuff.

But, if you're new here and don't know me, my agenda is to move us beyond problem-solving for immediate results to the bigger things getting in our way. I want to explore who we are so that when we approach our "problems" we can find healing and solutions that will work.

Some of you grew up in highly ordered environments, perhaps even strictly kept. I think our discussion can apply to anyone – all perspectives are helpful. We've all got unique challenges, so if managing STUFF isn't yours, perhaps you can help us gain new perspectives.

Can you remember the first time you saw how "other people" lived?

You know, the ones who don't have weeks-old dishes in the sink, piles of papers all over the table, or one decent enough area for guests to see?

If your home growing up was spotless and ordered, how did you feel the first time you saw a friend's house in complete disarray?

At some point, we all realize that other homes and families are not like ours.

For many with ADHD, that realization can be painful and humiliating. It can be confusing because in our young brains all adults are capable of the same thing, so why don't my parents keep up with laundry like Jenny's?

Once we're old enough to see our families with some compassion and context (when possible), then society takes over telling us everyone is capable of the same thing. In case you missed it: The standards of a home, partnership, career, body, station in life are fabricated.

The American Dream?

The American Dream is distorted and harmful for those of us who need support to manage life or who don't have access to the privileges that make that dream possible.

We've been told our home is a reflection of us, but that message can be a real source of shame for people living messy lives. Some of us really want our homes to be ordered and pleasant to look at and be in, but we cannot manage to make it or keep it that way. Many of us see our home, car, desk, inside our purse pockets, and cringe about how gross we are.

It might not be a judgment you're aware you make (perhaps you don't, which is amazing!), but many of us have deep-seated disdain for uncleanliness, real or perceived.

If you do feel hopeless, embarrassed, or exhausted by fear of being found out that you've got clutter, I want you to know that this does not define you. The way you manage your home is not a reflection of your worth, the values you hold, or your beauty.

It is a lot of work to manage day-to-day living with ADHD and its travel buddies. Maintaining a new system or tidy fridge just can't be at the top of the list for most of us, and THAT IS OKAY. Not everything can be a priority - we have to pick, and often that's going to be food, sleep, and play.

Our relationship to our spaces is complicated. We carry beliefs from childhood, messages from society, and wounds from being harshly judged or ridiculed. It's no wonder we can't get energized by a new system for getting the laundry put away!

As we look at these factors, we can begin to feel less shame for our way of living. We can build self-trust to know if an uncluttered desk is really valuable to us. If it's not, then who cares if it's covered in post-it notes and seltzer cans?

What matters most to me is that my house is a place where people feel seen, accepted, and loved.

None of those things requires deep cleaning, though sometimes Corey feels cared for when I put away the laundry. Sometimes I do it for that reason, and it doesn't feel bad. If we want new habits and routines that work for us, we need to start with clear values.

Below are the discussion prompts to help us explore our beliefs about managing our things. Please be mindful that not everyone has the same experiences, and some of us may be living in conditions others would find troublesome. This is a judgment-free zone. Feel free to reflect in the comments!

Discussion Questions:

  • What was your home like growing up? How is it similar or different from your home now?

  • What does your home say about you?

  • What matters most to you when it comes to your home?

  • If there were no obstacles, what would you do/have to manage your home?

  • What areas of your home are the biggest challenge for you? How do they make you feel about yourself?

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