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“Clean Up Your Room!”


I honestly wonder whether people are born with the ability (or not) to clean up a space. I think I was born with an orderly philosophy in life. I loved to alphabetize my books throughout my childhood. I had a clean room with each item in its home, and my mom told me I would line up our shoes at the door. I spent a lot of time with my grandma and great-grandma, who also were neat and tidy. Looking back, I believe that my desire to have order resulted from moving often as a child. I may have lived in a new house, attended a different school, and met a bunch of new kids, but everything in each new room had its place.


I think about my sister, who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. As a child, our mother would tell her, “Clean up your room.” It was a directive that was not ever aimed at me, if I remember correctly, but what really threw me for a loop was how my sister reacted. If I was told to clean my room or a space, I would have jumped in and gotten the job done, step by step. For my sister, it was an overwhelming task, and she would usually shut down and take a nap. I’m sure that frustrated my mother (and my middle sister, who often shared a room with her!), but looking back as a professional organizer, I now know how my sister needed more help. Perhaps she just needed someone to give her a clear first step–put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket, for example. Maybe that would have been enough to activate her brain and help her follow through with the rest of the job, but based on my experience, clear, simple, and “one at a time” instructions probably would’ve suited her far better than a simple “clean up!”


Looking through the lens of a professional organizer, I think about my clients with ADHD and how they usually need help getting started, step-by-step instructions, assistance staying focused, and frequent reassurance. Our family was not aware of my sister’s ADHD until a few years ago, and I remember when I was younger, not understanding how she couldn’t just clean up her room. Now, I have an awareness of what having ADHD can be like, and I work every day to offer grace, patience, and a sense of humor to my clients. Generally, we have a fun time, even if it’s a less-than-fun task. I wish I had known how to help my sister when we were younger, but I am thankful that she now feels comfortable calling me when she’s stuck or needs company to complete a task. Our relationship has evolved since I started this work, and I reflect on my experiences with her when I work with clients.


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