Feels Like Spring!
Is it time to get organized?
Guest blog entry by Kathy Peterson
When I started coaching people with ADHD 15 years ago, I noticed that many of my clients struggled to get organized. I wanted to help them. Even though I have ADHD, too, getting organized is easy for me. It has been an important compensatory strategy for me in dealing with my attentional issues.
I realized that when my clients try to organize their physical environment, it is very helpful if I participate with them at their home or office. When we do this work together, my client learns organizing skills, which are best acquired by doing. After all, people with ADHD often learn best experientially.
Many people with ADHD find it hard to get and remain organized. Here’s why:
- They find it hard to manage time and tasks. They often leave items out on the counter, desk or floor to remind themselves of tasks that need to be done. Over time, this can lead to a very cluttered environment.
- They often multitask, which can lead to disorganization, especially in one’s office.
- They often move impulsively from task to task, never finishing any of them. Chaos can follow in their wake.
- Some grow up in a chaotic household, with one or both parents having ADHD and possibly substance abuse problems. They don’t know what it’s like to live in an organized environment.
- They often struggle to make decisions and follow through with plans. Indecision leads to disorganization and problems with clutter.
Another barrier to getting organized is “black and white” thinking: in other words, in order to be organized, all systems have to be perfect. A person with this mindset may alphabetize cooking spices and CDs, line up shoes neatly in the closet, and divide files into precise categories. The problem is rigid systems can be hard to follow. Organizational systems need to be simple and flexible in order to work over the long haul. It is important to find a middle ground, and not to strive for perfect order.
The point of organizing your space is to have it work for you. There isn’t one right way. The space should be easy to move around in, visually pleasing (based on your tastes), and tailored to the activities that take place there. You should be able to put things away easily and to find them at a moment’s notice.
One thing you should understand: Being disorganized is not a moral failing. Organizing is a skill that is easier for some to acquire than others. The good news is you can get help to learn these skills, and employ them to meet your needs, as well as those of coworkers and family.
Many people are ashamed about being unable to deal with clutter on their own. They often feel judged by others and judge themselves harshly for their deficiencies. I feel their pain. If you want to learn the skills that will help you get organized, you may need to work with a professional organizer. A good organizer will not only help you reduce the clutter but also help you overcome your feelings of being judged.
You and the organizer are a team. As you sort through the clutter, the organizer helps you figure out which things you value and want to keep in your life. This can take many hours over several weeks. During this process, you and the professional organizer will establish new organizing systems. You will practice new ways of doing things between organizing sessions, and the organizer will check in with you on how systems are working. The organizer will also modify the systems, if they are not working.
Here’s how the organizer-client relationship works:
Step 1: As you work with an organizer, she will want to understand the following:
- What is the goal? What has precipitated your desire to get organized? How do you want to use this space? Create a vision for the desired result, in terms of function and appearance.
- What systems are working—and not working? Often one can’t tell by just looking at the space how functional it is. Some spaces look great when you walk in, but then you discover that things have been jammed into drawers and closet shelves to get them out of the way. The reverse can be true, too.
- What factors contributed to the disorganization?
- What have you done to get organized, and with what results?
- What are your preferences for visual stimulation? Many people feel that if things are put away in drawers and behind closet doors that they have gone missing. For them, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. However, leaving everything in view is often too stimulating and makes it difficult for the client to focus. Others find that a simple, calm visual environment works best for them.
Step 2: Now you and the organizer are ready to dive in and work through the clutter—papers, clothing, and objects of all kinds. You start in one room, or a small corner of one room, and sort the mess into a few broad categories: Keep, Donate, Throw Away. The organizer doesn’t push you to get rid of things at this point. You may eventually discover that you have many of the same items—10 pairs of black slacks or a dozen snow shovels—and the organizer may suggest you keep only your favorites.
It takes time to go through accumulated stuff, but client and organizer learn a lot as they do it. The team works on chunks of the project at a time, so that they can put things away in between sessions. Also, if you are ready and willing, the organizer will identify tasks you can do on your own to speed the process along and save money.
Step 3: Once you know what stuff you want to keep, you and the organizer think about function. The goal is to store things close to where they are used, making it easy to access and put them away. In some cases, you may need to purchase furniture or containers for storing items. It is best to know what you want to store, and where, before doing so.
Step 4: You and the organizer may label and/or create routines to support you in maintaining your newly organized space. Maintaining your space with the systems that have been put in place is important. During the weeks of working together with an organizer, the client practices putting things away and using systems and routines for the flow of items and information. If needed, the organizer will improve the systems and routines to help them work even better for you. An ADHD coach may help you with accountability, and you may schedule maintenance sessions with your organizer.
To get organized, your first step is to acknowledge that disorganization is causing problems, and that you are willing to work on finding solutions. There is hope. With effort on your part and by partnering with a professional organizer—possibly in combination with a coach—you can learn the skills to de-clutter your life.
ABOUT KATHY PETERSON
Kathy Peterson has been coaching adults and college students with ADHD since 1994. She also works as a professional organizer with a small number of clients. Kathy has a BS degree from Columbia University. Kathy had a successful career in corporate sales and marketing before becoming a coach. Kathy received life coach training from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), and ADHD coach training from the National Coaching Network with Nancy Ratey and Sue Sussman, co-founders of the ADHD coaching field. She lives and works in the Boston area.
For more information visit www.petersoncoaching.com .
To find a professional organizer near you, contact:
National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD; www.nsgcd.org)
National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO; www.napo.net )
Books to Read
ADD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life, by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.
Conquering Chronic Disorganization, by Judith Kolberg