Cleaning and Organizing with ADHD: A Tool to Help You Stay On Task

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Cleaning and Organizing with ADHD

De-Cluttering 101: The Art of the Chuck It Bucket

By Lindsay Guentzel 

The Chuck It Bucket is an organization and de-cluttering system that helps a person stay on task while putting items away. You can use this tool over a long stretch of time, or at the start of a quick tidying-up session. Another bonus? The whole family can participate in using the Chuck It Bucket! This easy-to-use system helps reduce distractions and minimizes the desire to start new tasks or projects while cleaning and organizing.

The ADHD brain when it’s time to clean

The clutter finally gets to you. Enough, you tell yourself. You’re going to get it picked up, once and for all. You start at your dining table, the place that — despite your best efforts — becomes a dumping ground for a variety of items as you move around your home. Your work badge, a tape dispenser from the gift you wrapped a couple of weeks ago, a bottle of nail polish. You pick up the bottle and walk with determination into the bathroom where you keep the rest of your collection. You pull the basket full of nail polish out of your vanity and plop the polish inside. Done!

Except now you notice the stack of bath towels are in total disarray and the tissue box you keep above the toilet is nearly empty. You pull out the towels and start refolding them. Then you remember you have a basket that might be the perfect fit for them downstairs, right next to where you store the extra boxes of tissues. You head for the stairs, passing the dining table and all the accumulated stuff you were cleaning off less than 10 minutes ago.

Downstairs, you grab the basket for the towels and bound quickly back up the stairs, past the table and into the bathroom where your eyes lock on the nearly empty box of tissues. Dang it, you think to yourself. You turn immediately and head back for the stairs, again, past the dining table clutter you planned to do away with — a distant memory at this point.

Does this scenario sound familiar?

If you have ADHD, it is likely something you have experienced before. Avoiding distraction or derailment during a project is especially difficult for people with ADHD, says Dr. Gayle Jensen-Savoie, the division chief of psychology for ADHD Online. Using the Chuck It Bucket method helps minimize and eliminate distractions while providing an easy step-by-step plan for people with ADHD to follow. It also helps the brain compartmentalize the items by location, which can make the process of putting things away run smoother, Jensen-Savoie says.

How the Chuck It Bucket works

Think of the Chuck It Bucket as a movable junk drawer you empty out regularly. The goal is to reduce clutter, but it’s also meant to keep you from starting any new projects or tasks while cleaning and organizing.

To start, get a bucket. I use an extra laundry basket; a box or a large bag would work as well. You’ll want to use a container that’s large enough so you can clearly see the items inside.

Then you start putting things in it. What sorts of things? Anything sitting out in a spot where it doesn’t belong. You’ll want to set some ground rules, especially to consider different family members. If you have children, decide how you want to handle toys. Or establish rules about important items, like car keys or wallets.

Once you’ve set the rules, it’s time to start moving around your home, taking any item that is sitting out where it doesn’t belong and placing it inside the Chuck It Bucket.

So when should you empty it out? Great question. The answer? The timing will look different for every person and household. If you’re feeling motivated after doing one big sweep of your home, start emptying it out right then. Or set a time — like you would do with any other household chore — and stick to that schedule. Just make sure you sort through the items in the basket before putting things away.

Sorting through the Chuck It Bucket before putting items away

To sort through the Chuck It Bucket, you’ll want to work in a large open space where you can make piles. Remove one item from the bucket, and on a piece of paper, write out the name of the room it belongs in (for example, the tape dispenser that’s been sitting on your dining room table belongs in the office). Set that item aside with its label, then continue pulling out items from the Chuck It Bucket, either adding them to an existing pile or creating a new label for a new room.

Continue removing items from the bucket and placing them in the appropriate piles until the bucket is empty. Then one by one, place each pile into the bucket, go into the corresponding room, and put the items back where they belong. Return to grab a new pile, and continue until the piles are gone and all the items are in their proper places.

Congratulations! You’ve mastered the art of the Chuck It Bucket. Your home may not be perfect, but it’s in a better place than it was an hour ago. That’s progress! I’m so proud of you.

As you gain confidence using this method, I encourage you to find ways to adapt this technique so it fits your unique lifestyle. Happy de-cluttering!