ADHD? The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?

 In Organizing ADHD

ADHD the life changing magic of tidying upGot ADHD? The Life Changing Magic of Tidying is more like dark magic for ADHD adults. Setting you up for another round of disappointment. Another round of organizing failure.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing expert. Her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, hit the bestseller list a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve often been asked if the book’s organizing techniques will work for people with ADHD.

I’ve avoided writing this blog. Marie seems so genuine. So well-intentioned. I’ve resisted saying less than positive things about another organizing expert’s techniques.

But, three clients have asked me about this in just the past few days. Wondering if they should follow Kondo’s advice for organizing ADHD. It’s time I speak up.

I do need to say that I am not an expert in Japanese culture. Perhaps, if you live in Japan The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up would work wonders. I also think the techniques would be more successful for someone who doesn’t have ADHD.

But before you try an organizing technique you have to face the realities of living with ADHD. Our challenge of finishing what we start. Our need for things to be easy for us to do.

That’s where the The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and ADHD problems start.

You see, Kondo wants us to clear clutter by category. Focusing on one category at a time. On only clothes or books or kitchen gadgets. This part could actually work.

The next step is where I start to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. She says if you don’t look at everything you own in a category at one time you won’t thoroughly clear the clutter.

The Life Changing Magic’s clutter clearing system goes like this:

  • Pick a category (all books for example)
  • Gather everything you own in that category into a pile.
  • Then sort it by getting rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy for you.

Yes, that’s right. Make a big pile of all the books you own in the middle of the floor and then sort it.


Every card-carrying ADHD adult I know would gather all the books in a pile. Get bored and go do something else.

The pile of books would remain in the middle of the floor for months. Chances are you’d never sort them. Someday, probably before company visits, you’d cram the books back on the shelf. Maybe hide them in a closet.

Ms. Kondo also suggests other organizing strategies that wouldn’t work for ADHD adults. They wouldn’t cause such a mess though. They’re just unrealistic and you wouldn’t maintain them.

Like her multi-step approach to folding clothes. I tried it for my sock drawer. Stuck with it for about three days. If something takes too many steps to do someone with ADHD won’t do it. Period.

I do think Kondo’s approach to keeping only things that spark joy has some merit. But I suggest a more gentle approach than getting rid of everything that doesn’t spark joy in you at one time. You might need those scissors or that laundry detergent.

Bottom-line? If you have ADHD The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up won’t work for you. It’s just not realistic for how you rock and roll in this world.


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Showing 11 comments
  • Tonya

    I have been trying to find a free weekend so I could have time to pile all my clothes in one place and go through them. I even thought about doing it one weekend when my son was out of town so that if I didn’t finish by bedtime, I could sleep in his bed. Just the thought of the giant pile has been so intimidating that I haven’t started. Thanks so much for the ADHD perspective! I can see myself sorting a manageable bit at a time now and it has probably saved me from sleeping on the couch when I couldn’t get it down by the time my son came home. It is a huge relief not to feel like the giant pile is looming in my future.

  • kinohi

    I enjoyed the book. But definitely ADHD adapted my groups into much “looser” categories. I didn’t pull all my books off the bookshelf– because as you note, that’s where they would have stayed. The pile of “throw aways” sat in my living room for a month! Then the trunk of my car for another 2 weeks! But at the end of the day, less stuff to get distracted with is very helpful. Totally agree on the folding clothes thing. While reading I just kept thinking, “I’m going to love folding clothing by using this method? I’ll love it? Really? Can’t wait!” Obviously reality has sunk in– There is no joy in meticulously folding clothing; it was a lie 🙂

  • Mary

    I read the book. I recognized immediately that “pull all the books out” would not work. A few things in the book, I think, ARE very good for those with ADHD. (1) Attitude for keeping and letting go: I was easily able to get rid of about 80% of the stuff in my office at work (my job description had changed) because of advice in the book about letting go: tell the item thank you for its service to you and then let it leave. Keep what brings you joy. The permission to keep a folder of (to others) useless stuff and the acknowledgement that the rest (3 large bookcases full) had been useful at one time, but did not fit with who I am now made getting rid of the no longer needed items almost EASY! (2) collecting similar items together: I collected together all the pens and pencils in my house. Seeing them altogether made me realize I had more than I could use in a lifetime. I got rid of some and, more importantly, stopped monthly trips to the office supply store – saving $ and preventing additional clutter. (3) visual impact of seeing everything: I did make slight changes to folding sweaters and sweatshirts because I liked the effect of being able to see all my choices. What did not work was all my clothes in one closet. I felt calmer when out of season clothes were elsewhere so I could only see appropriate choices when choosing clothes for the day. (4) getting all decluttering done in a short amount of time: i don’t know how to accomplish this at home! But it seems that clutter attracts more clutter, so if you deal with things too slowly, more can accumulate and you never finish. But if there is only one new pile, then your brain knows it does not ‘fit’ and makes you want to deal with it.

  • Jennifer

    Thank you!!!! You’re just brilliant. And every time I read one of your posts, I feel normal, not broken. I feel so blessed to have found your advice, insight and encouragement.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Thank you, Jennifer. I just cruised your blog. You’re very inspiring yourself!

  • Lindy

    Just wanted to say that Marie Kondo’s method absolutely changed my life. As someone who has struggled with disorganization and ADHD from childhood, I can now say with confidence that I am finally organized (two years later and no regressing!). Her methods may sound strange and daunting, but they make so much sense later. My mother is still in disbelief every time she visits. It may have taken 40 years, but I’m finally a neat person (so much that others comment and ask me to help them get organized). As Kondo says, 2/3 of our stuff we really don’t use. It is so important for an ADHD person to reduce and limit to essentials and what we love (right now, in the present). I feel like my brain is finally working after all these years. I hope others aren’t discouraged from reading her wisdom.

    • Dana Rayburn

      Hi Lindy. That’s great news! I am thrilled to hear The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up worked for you! Yes, reducing what we keep to the essentials that we love is important. For most people with ADHD though, Kondo’s methods cause more clutter and guilt. I find we do better in smaller batches with less overwhelm.

      • Lindy

        Just seeing this – I think Kondo actually released me from the clutter guilt. If I had done everything in smaller batches, I could have never committed to this as a routine…and as Kondo says, “You will be decluttering forever.” I think this actually directly faces the overwhelm and deals with it once and for all. Life afterwards is so incredibly easy. If anyone is in doubt, just go through her manga (good for those of us who can’t focus on the whole book).

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] about how not to clear clutter if you have ADHD. If you missed it, I reviewed the best selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. This week I want to give you a simple ADHD-friendly trick for clearing […]

  • […] Next, I tried reading organizing books. I gleaned some ideas. But as with the organizing class, most of the authors were born organized. They didn’t have a clue how I struggled. You know what I’m talking about if you agreed with my take on The Magical Art of Tidying Up. […]

  • […] Next, I tried reading organizing books. I gleaned some ideas. But as with the organizing class, most of the authors were born organized. They didn’t have a clue how I struggled. You know what I’m talking about if you agreed with my take on The Magical Art of Tidying Up. […]

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