Anyone who is neurodivergent knows that keeping things spick and span without getting distracted can be a bit of a challenge. These ADHD cleaning hacks (which also totally apply to autism and any other type of neurodivergence) can help you break down those tasks and get your space nice and clean in way less time.
If you're like everyone in my family, you can get distracted by even the most boring things when you're trying to clean. Add in the sensory overwhelm of a messy room, and it's just a lot. To help, I got some insights from Steve Carleton, a licensed clinical social worker and the Executive Clinical Director at Gallus Detox. Trust me, these are some game-changing tips that are going into action in my own house.
Start Small and Add Tasks With Time
You know that moment when you look at a messy house and just feel totally overwhelmed? For people with ADHD and other neurodivergent perspectives, that feeling of overwhelm can be a giant roadblock to getting things cleaned up. It's hard to know where to start when you're tackling a big job.
Carleton recommends looking for little jobs, such as just one room or even a section of a room. "If cleaning the entire house is too much, start small and gradually add more tasks," he says.
When helping my son with autism clean his room, I like to start in one corner and work out from there. We say we're just doing that corner; then we pick another area and work on that when we're done. One thing at a time.
Break Cleaning Down Into Smaller Tasks
Just as you don't want to tackle the entire house or room all at once if you're cleaning with ADHD, it makes sense to break down larger tasks into smaller pieces. This is part of executive functioning, and it can be a bit of a stressbomb for anyone who isn't neurotypical.
Carleton says it can help to make an ADHD cleaning checklist of the smaller tasks that go into a bigger job. "For instance," he says, "if they need to clean the bathroom, instead of just saying 'clean the bathroom,' it may be more helpful to break it down and list out each individual task: mop the floor, wipe down counters, scrub the toilet bowl, etc. This can make cleaning feel less overwhelming and help keep them focused."
Reduce Distractions as Much as Possible
In my family, we can get distracted by literally anything. That scrap of paper on the floor of a bedroom can trigger a flood of memories or a ton of potential project ideas. While you can't eliminate all the distractions when cleaning with ADHD, autism, or any other type of neurodivergence, you can reduce the ones that are within your control.
Before you start a cleaning job, look around at things that might draw your attention away from the task at hand. These are just a few distraction-proofing tips to make ADHD cleaning easier:
- Turn off the TV or talk radio.
- Close the curtains so you can't see out the window.
- If you're cleaning to music, pick songs that won't pull your attention.
- Put your phone in a different room.
- Keep pets in a different part of the house.
Try a Visual Chart When Cleaning With ADHD
If experiencing neurodivergence has taught us anything, it's that everyone learns and processes information differently. Many people with ADHD and autism are visual learners (though of course, there are people who learn in other ways too). If you're a visual learner, a cleaning chart might help you stay focused.
"Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with sticking to a cleaning routine, so a really good way of staying on track is to have a visual schedule," says Carleton. "They can set up a wall calendar or use an app to keep track of tasks and their cleaning routine and use colored markers or different icons to represent each task."
Have a Touch-It-Only-Once Rule
Everyone in my house struggles with organization, so we have a touch-it-only-once rule. If we're cleaning and pick something up, we have to put it away. This may sound simple, but it's pretty easy to pick a thing up, look at it for a minute, think about the options, and set it back down because it's too much of a pain to figure out where to put it. That's a total waste of time, so we try super hard to avoid it.
This also applies to keeping things clean. If you use the cereal, put the box back in the cupboard when you're done. Picking up after yourself really just means touching things once and putting them away.
Build in Breaks (But Get Back to Work Afterward)
Cleaning takes a ton of sustained attention, which can be exhausting for some of us. If you have a hard time staying focused, don't expect yourself to do it for hours without a break. Breaks are one of the ways you can help yourself stay on track.
The key here is to keep the break short and make sure you get back to work. Look for something that gives you a change of scenery and maybe some movement. Set a timer for yourself (maybe 15 minutes) and then get back to it.
One of the best ways to recharge during a break is to get a small snack and go for a walk. If it's raining or cold out, run up and down the stairs a couple of times to get yourself recharged.
Get Some Encouragement When Cleaning With Neurodivergence
If you're cleaning with ADHD or another neurodivergent perspective, you're doing a task that can be challenging in a ton of ways. This is a big deal. Just like if you were running a marathon, it can help to have someone cheering you on. Enlist the help of a friend or family member to give you a little moral support.
Carleton recommends this when it comes to cleaning and ADHD. "They may also find it helpful to have someone else help them stay on track by setting reminders or providing encouragement when necessary," he says.
Set a Cleaning Reward for Yourself
One of the best ADHD cleaning tips we've tried in my house is the reward system. This doesn't have to be a giant hassle or hard to track. Basically, if you get your cleaning chore done, you can give yourself a little reward - anything from a pack of M&Ms to a bike ride to the park.
If you're struggling with staying motivated while cleaning, this can totally help. My nine-year-old with ADHD cleaned his room in record time the other day because he could earn some extra screen time.
Lean Into Your Strengths
The key is to lean into your strengths. Neurodivergence isn't a weakness; it's just a difference in thinking and processing. Think about what you're good at and use that to your advantage.
For example, some people with autism are great at picking out little details in a scene or room. My son on the spectrum sometimes chooses one thing to find and pick up at a time (such as all the books or all the rocks in his rock collection). He's great at seeing those things, and it makes cleaning easier for him.
Use the ADHD Cleaning Tips That Work Best for You
Neurotypicals aren't the only people with clean houses. ADHD and cleaning really can go together, and so can other neurodivergent perspectives. It's all about leveraging your strengths and using strategies to stay on task. You've totally got this!