Confession: I Am the ADHD Child with a Messy Bedroom

by Yafa Crane Luria

 

my room is not a mess

The most embarrassing thing that barely anybody knows about me is that I’m a slob. That’s where my ADHD shows itself, full-throttle. I’m not the kind of slob where there are bugs and creepy crawling things. It’s more like a colorful array of crap – clothes draped over the foot of the bed, recycling that needs to be emptied, and paper bags lying about unfolded and piling up in the kitchen. I have a clothes hamper but, right now, it’s filled with clean clothes that I washed. And it’s in the hallway. The dirty clothes are on the floor in the bathroom where the hamper usually is. Oh, and my bed is never ever made unless someone is coming to visit or I’m pretending that someone is coming to visit 🙂

I’m the ADHD child with a messy bedroom (or apartment).

At some point, I’ll get it together and clean it all up. In fact, it’s on my calendar for the week of April 4. But right now, I don’t really care about the mess. I live alone and I’m not big on entertaining though I often go out with friends. More true confessions: I think the mess is kind of funny some of the time.

On the other hand, I’m not always messy.

I share common work areas and living areas with other people and I’m very neat. In fact, I get really ticked off when people leave a mess. One day I broke a glass and I was so worried that I wouldn’t clean it up well enough. I worked hard on cleaning up that mess. I also make sure the kitchen is clean at my co-working office and I’ve sent polite but to-the-point emails to other members about cleaning up after themselves (The managing director said I could).

What does this have to do with your child, your family?

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You wanting a tidy house is not unreasonable and I think it sets a great example for your kids. Let’s face it, your kids are watching you and learning from you. My parents always had a housekeeper who did all the cleaning and I wasn’t expected to lift a finger, thus my illusion that somehow, someone will swoop in an clean up after me. Here’s another example: Do you take pride in your home and make obvious efforts to treat furniture and other household objects with respect? Or are you like me and don’t hang up your clothes. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m saying that parents are teachers and it’s pretty hard to teach something you don’t follow yourself. You are teaching your kids to become happy and successful adults. Cleanliness is not a senseless expectation. But I also think there’s a balance that we parents can strive for – a balance between eat-off-the-floor cleanliness and needing to call the exterminator for the weird things growing in your child’s bedroom.

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  1. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?'” Albert Einstein once famously asked. Conventional wisdom holds that it’s easier to work, and to create, in a space that’s neat and tidy — but what if the opposite were true?” (from Your Messy Room Might be the Sign of a Brilliant Mind. People used to talk about the correlation between a messy home and a messy personal and work life. The thought was that if your home is messy – the root of your security and stability – then everything else becomes unstable and precarious. Now, however, you will find more articles about how messy rooms are signs of brilliance and creativity. Another study, by Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota, found that, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.” If you’re a non-ADHD parent, you may not get how inspiration can come from just seeing things out of place. We ADHDers are a people who make connections where none are obvious. This isn’t to say that we’re better or worse, just that our perceptions and understandings are different from most people. You may see disorder and we may see excitement or humor. If you’re an ADHD parent, you may be counting on your child’s neatness so that you can function more smoothly, have less to be concerned about, less mental clutter.
  2. One of my besties, Barbara, is the mom of an ADHD daughter. While growing up, Barbara would tell Becky that Becky’s bedroom is her personal space and that she can do as she likes with it (barring destruction, technology in the bedroom without prior permission, and leaving food scraps lying around). Barbara’s reasoning was that every other space in the house was not Becky’s, but her room belonged to her and she should be able to express herself and feel comfortable. Having a room that a child can decorate and keep however he/she wants to, helps kids learn who they are and can help them feel safe when overwhelmed by the outside world. This is especially true for introverts who need time and space to process their experiences. One client, Lani, had a very messy room. She had two older brothers that took up a lot of space, both physically and energetically – they were big, athletic types who sprawled all over the house and were often calling out to their mom for help with something. Their presence filled the rather large house. For Lani, her room was her sanctuary. She didn’t want it messy but it was. She had all her most precious memorabilia and old stuffed animals. She felt comforted in the crowded room, and protected from what she felt was her brothers’ control of the home and their mother.
  3. But let’s not get carried away! Cleaning up after yourself may not exactly be a life skill but learning how to live and work with others certainly is. While it’s very important to get to the reasons behind the clutter – a simple, “Why do you like it this way?” – it’s also important to teach your children cleaning skills and to differentiate between leaving a mess in your bedroom and leaving a mess in the rest of the house. A general family rule to clean up after yourself is a great way to begin. Both parents adhere to this rule as well. The thing with rules is that we often make rules for the kids but we don’t follow them ourselves. We say, “We’re adults, we don’t have to have the same rules,” or something similar. But that will NEVER fly with an ADHD child. ADHD children and teens (and adults) look for balance and if something is inconsistent, it sets them off. Be specific about what you want, what makes a room “Clean,” and clean with them until they’re comfortable doing it by themselves. It will happen. One day they’ll say, “I can do this myself,” and they will! As for their rooms, make an agreement that is a compromise between what you want and what they want. I often suggest the out-of-site-out-of-mind rule: If I can’t see it (if it’s in the closet) I don’t care what it looks like. AND, that they have to find their own stuff, they can’t expect you to look for it. Their rooms, their stuff, their organizational system, their responsibility!

What is your biggest issue with your children and cleanliness? What will you change about your approach, given the suggestions above?

Share with us below in the comments section!

xo, Yafa

Copyright 2017 Yafa Luria/Margit Crane All Rights Reserved

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Teresa Zahnow April 4, 2016 at

Margrit, Your article on messy bedrooms could not have come at a more perfect time. This is currently one of my biggest struggles with my ADHD teen. It seems no matter how many times we discuss the issue of placing things in the garbage, i.e.: wrappers from food or cans, paper, etc. he just cannot seem to find a trash can. He not only does this in his room but also through the rest of the house. I commonly describe his entrance and exit through the house like the cartoon character the Tasmanian devil. He makes messes everywhere and doesn’t clean anything up. He can’t understand the impact he is having on the other people in our home. Will this ever change?

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Margit Crane Luria April 5, 2016 at

Hi Theresa! Thanks for sharing your situation! I’m of the opinion that we can’t change ADHD kids by just telling them to do something over and over again. I’d ask him what he needs to help him remember. Does he need more trash cans available? Would he like to declutter his room so that there’s less to think about (as opposed to “less mess”)? If he wants you to clean up after him, what is he willing to do for you? My job at home was laundry. I did everyone’s laundry because I didn’t mind doing laundry. Soothing ADHD is about feeling powerful and accepted. Think in those terms – what situations can I create with my son so that he feels more powerful and more accepted for who he is?

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