Book Excerpt: Personal Organization: Where’s My Stuff?

In coaching, clients whose goals include improving organizational skills can be given an opportunity to learn and practice organizational strategies in a methodical, nonpressured, and supportive setting. When I work with some of my clients on organization, I literally stay on the phone with the young person as he or she goes through the process of tidying and organizing the room. One of the strategies we sometimes employ is to go through a slow and steady checklist of different categories in the room that need to be addressed: clothes, trash, papers, and so on. I don’t actually direct the client to look for each of these items, but I ask the client what he or she sees on the floor.

This particular strategy of personal organization involves the young person cleaning his or her room in stages, on the basis of different categories. After that initial session with the coach, the young person will then have an opportunity to practice using this strategy each day as he or she completes the action step to spend 15 minutes every day organizing personal space. The young person may also decide to add another strategy to help him or her become successful, for example, sticking a Post-it note on the mirror with a list of the different categories of items that need to be cleaned up each day (clothes, papers, trash). Below are a few of the other strategies I offer to my clients as we work together to build the clients’ skills in the area of personal organization. Keeping a tidy room or desk area is just one of the important facets of personal organization that young people with ADHD need to consider.

  • Label everything, from binders to notebooks, from jackets to sports equipment and musical instruments. Include one’s name and use color coding or bold print.
  • Retrace one’s steps through the house and clean up the things left in one’s wake.
  • Do a daily 15-minute pickup in one’s room and study areas. Where do things belong?
  • Conduct a daily backpack dumping, emptying the entire backpack upon arrival home, in the same spot every day; then, sort the contents for files, notes for parents, homework to do, and so on.
  • Avoid overload—does every piece of paper belong in the notebook or textbook?
  • Put important papers in folders labeled homework, parents, and to file. Have a file box or file drawer for completed papers and tests. Don’t throw out work until one is certain it is not needed again for review or regrading.
  • Look in one’s assignment notebook when packing up at school at the end of day to ensure one brings home necessary papers and books.
  • Designate a set place to keep one’s assignment notebook/daily calendar.
  • Consider using binders with side pockets, accordion file sections, and zippers to keep everything together.
  • Color-code notebooks by class or by A and B day when following a rotating class schedule.