When Organizing Sparks Joy (Through the ADHD Lens)

Some of you may not know this but my youngest daughter moved out on her own last year. Kyrie struggles with ADHD and severe learning disabilities. To make matters worse, like many ADHDers, she has very low motivation from low levels of dopamine in her brain.

As a result, her apartment looks like a tornado just went through it. She doesn’t like to stay in her apartment when she’s not at work because it distracts her; she’s unable to relax and it’s far from a calming environment, so she goes out and spends money she doesn’t have just to stay away from that demoralising environment.

I’ve offered to help her get organized, but she has never been interested because she knows it won’t be all that enjoyable. Recently, I came across an interesting approach to organizing proposed by Marie Kondo, a Japanese woman who has written a couple books on the subject based on her work helping organize people’s homes in Japan.  I read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in hopes that her method could help my readers with ADHD. While some of the strategies are far from being ADHD friendly, there are some strategies that, I believe, are promising.

It’s a Two Step Process

Step 1: Discard then Step 2: decide where to store: The first strategy is to discard. I believe that the fewer items you have, the less you have to manage.  (This is why businesses hold big sales BEFORE they do inventory- fewer things to count!)

Tackle one category of things at a time: Kondo advocates gathering all items in one category in the same place before you begin and she means everything (but, remember, only in one category at a time) – this gives you a better idea of what you own.  She recommends you:

  • Start with clothes – that includes accessories, socks, shoes, belts and outdoor apparel such as mitts and scarves
  • Then move to books
  • Documents and various papers
  • Miscellaneous
  • And finish with mementos (the things you keep that have no purpose except to remind of you something) – they’re the hardest to deal with because of the sentimental value.

This doesn’t sound much different than other approaches so far, but when I spoke to Kyrie about the part I loved the most about this method, she was intrigued and eager to try it out.

Finding the Joy

Kondo insists her clients take each item in their hands and ask themselves: “Does this spark joy?” If it does not, thank it for either giving you joy when you bought it or for teaching you what doesn’t suit you, and then discard it for good. So last Sunday afternoon, Kyrie and I gathered every article of clothing in her apartment, put them on her made bed, and divided them into sub-categories such as:

  • Tops
  • Bottoms (including shorts, pants and skirts)
  • Dresses
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Purses
  • Accessories
  • Shoes
  • Outerwear

Then, starting with tops, Kyrie picked up each item and asked the question “Does this spark joy?” Anything that didn’t, we put in a bag to give to Goodwill or, if it was damaged, into the garbage it went.

It was amazingly easy for her to make the decision because the contrast in her mood when she picked up an item that sparked joy compared to when it didn’t was so great. She’d exclaim “Mom, I just feel so beautiful when I wear this” or “I just love, LOVE this color on me”.  She didn’t have to convince me that she should keep it. I could see the joy on her face.

Some Items Are Heavy

Some items didn’t spark joy; they sparked guilt. These were often items she kept because they had been gifts from me or her sister. They had served their purpose, but she kept them because they came from people she loves and she didn’t want to disappoint or hurt us. I encouraged her to thank those items for the love they represented and then let them go.

In no time, we plowed through all her clothing. As we completed each category of clothing, Kyrie decided where to store that category and we folded each item.

Folding For the ADHD Brain


Out of sight, out of mind; ADHDers quickly forget about things they don’t see. So if you know that if you don’t see something, you forget about it, why on Earth would you fold your clothes and store them one on top of the other in a drawer, or, as many of you do, shove them, unfolded, in your dresser?

If an item sparks joy, you want to be able to see it when you open your dresser. So Kondo recommends that you fold all your items so they are stored vertically in a way that allows you to see every piece when you open the drawer.


You don’t want everything to get wrinkled – who has time to iron everything before you put it on – but rolling the clothes keeps them visible and prevents them from getting wrinkled. Kyrie and I folded the clothes two or three times lengthwise, then, being careful to remove the creases, we rolled them up and placed them in the drawer.

Within two hours (and we took a break to go shopping for a few supplies in the middle), we were done.  I was so inspired by this approach, I started to implement it with my own clothes. I’ve included pictures of my drawers so you can see what it looks like.

Is This Sustainable?

Kyrie brings her laundry to my house once a week to save on laundromat fees, so a new habit she will start implementing (and I’ll help her by doing it too), is that as we are passing time together, she’ll roll up her clothes before she leaves and then put them away as soon as she gets home.

I’ve tried both rolling and folding and I like the effects of the folding better and it didn’t take much more time. Marie Kondo explains in one of her Youtube videos how to fold.

What About You?

Do all your clothes spark joy? If not, thank them and get rid of them. If you haven’t worn something for a long time, is it because you’ve forgotten about it? Or is there guilt associated with it? Get rid of it and allow it to spark joy in someone else.

Want To Give It A Try?

  1. Make your bed
  2. Gather all your articles of clothing and place them on your bed (and I mean everything!)
  3. Divide them into categories as I mentioned (see the list above)
  4. Then tackle one pile at a time; hold each item in your hand and ask “Does this spark joy?”
  5. After each type of clothing (tops for example) is sorted, roll up the ones you’re keeping (blouses and dresses should probably be hung up) and put them away where you’ve chosen to store them.


Here’s how to fold like Marie Kondo: https://youtu.be/Lpc5_1896ro

5 thoughts on “When Organizing Sparks Joy (Through the ADHD Lens)”

  1. Oh my darling friend Linda!! Thank goodness for your beautiful daughter Kyrie, and the energy your story and your examples have already helped me!! I have been housing so many items of clothing for years now and since having read this latest news item….I am MUCH more organized!! Thank you SOOOO much for being such a motivational part of my life, and for your sweet daughter Kyrie!!

    All the best Linda; I think fondly of you often from our times at ADDA Conferences. As ever, Helen Mailer, London, Ontario, CANADA

  2. I was very surprised to see you recommend the konMarie method. I believe that this working for your daughter with ADHD was a unique circumstance and your experience was abnormal. Your daughter was very fortunate to have you there and two hours is unrealistically low for a timeframe, I know people without ADD or ADHD who have done this and it takes them longer than two hours for just clothes.

    Last year, I personally tried this with the best of intentions and became quickly overwhelmed and unable to finish. I’m not sure your tips would simplify the process for me. When I heard you say not everything in this book was great for ADHD you had my attention but I didn’t feel that you strayed from her way at all.

    1. Hi Kat, you’re right, I didn’t stray away much from your clothes method. What I feel doesn’t mesh well with the ADHD brain is spending a whole day going through everything. One thing I have learned Kat, is that when you’ve met one ADHDer, you’ve met one ADHDer; meaning, each person is so unique that this is one strategy that could work for some. It’s been more than a month, and Kyrie is still rolling her things up and putting them away like she did with me. Kyrie has never been good at following a process. She starts with the best intentions and then strays away, but she loves opening her drawers and being able to see everything and choose among her favorite things.

      I see 2 ADHD winning strategies with Kondo’s method: 1) only having things you really love and enjoy – interest for ADHDers works wonders on your motivation; 2) being able to see everything you own at once because if you don’t see it, you forget it exists. We haven’t moved further in Kondo’s system because time just hasn’t allowed me to do it.

      I tried the system on myself but preferred not to take EVERYTHING out all at once. I worked on one drawer at a time; eliminating the clothing that don’t spark joy and that may be another way to do it if you tend to get overwhelmed easily or if, like me, you have a lot of clothing.

  3. Hi Linda, I too have tried several times to organize my clothing and failed. I picked up Kondo’s book at Costco quite some time ago as I thought I’d try again. Much to my surprise her method worked well for me! I did my clothes and the books. I love when I open my drawers now and see everything organized. Had you asked me if I ever thought it was possible to have an organized closet or drawers I would have answered ‘never in a million years’! It really does bring me joy. I’ve been completely amazed that I’ve been able to keep this up for over 6 months.

    1. Thank you Nancy for sharing this. I think the idea that the only things you see when you open your drawers, closets, etc. are the things that bring you joy seemed to me a great motivator to keep it up. Like you, my daughter has tried so many options and had resigned herself to being totally disorganized all her life. We haven’t yet finished reorganizing everything, but she has also been able to keep it up and is encouraged by what she sees when you looks at her clothing. This is all she’s managed to do as of yet. I think for some, as is the case for Kyrie, she’ll need a body double to help her go through the process in the first place.

      Kyrie, like many ADHDers want to be a hero and she and her fiance took in a friend who was supposed to be at the apartment for 3 weeks, 3 months later, they had to give them notice that he’ll have to leave at the end of July. Then, we’ll be able to continue as right now, there is no room to work with all of his stuff in garbage bags in her living room. Thank you for inspiring others with your success.

      Keep it up and continue to spark joy in others!

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