How Clutter Affects ADHD Symptoms and Cognitive Functioning

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms can significantly interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. While medication and behavioral therapy are commonly used to manage ADHD, it’s important to recognize that environmental factors, such as clutter, can also play a crucial role in the severity of ADHD symptoms. This blog delves into how clutter impacts cognitive functioning and exacerbates ADHD symptoms, backed by academic research.

Understanding ADHD


Individuals with ADHD often struggle to maintain focus on tasks or activities, especially those that are repetitive or less engaging. They may frequently make careless mistakes, have difficulty organizing tasks, and be easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.


This symptom manifests as excessive physical movement and an inability to stay still. It can include fidgeting, tapping, talking excessively, and an overall sense of restlessness. Hyperactivity is often more apparent in children but can persist into adulthood.


Impulsive behaviors involve acting without thinking about the consequences. This can lead to interruptions during conversations, difficulty waiting for one’s turn, and making hasty decisions without considering long-term effects.

Individuals diagnosed with ADHD often experience heightened challenges when surrounded by clutter. The excess of items can lead to frequent deviations from planned activities and a loss of focus. This disorganized environment exacerbates symptoms, causing forgetfulness and difficulty in maintaining concentration. By addressing clutter and creating structured environments, individuals with ADHD can enhance their cognitive functioning and overall well-being. A clean and organized space reduces distractions, lowers stress levels, and improves the ability to focus on tasks. Implementing strategies to reduce clutter can lead to improved focus, reduced stress, and better management of ADHD symptoms.

Managing ADHD Symptoms


Common medications for ADHD include stimulants (like methylphenidate and amphetamines) and non-stimulants (like atomoxetine). These medications can help improve focus and reduce hyperactive and impulsive behaviors but may not address environmental triggers.

Behavioral Therapy

This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals develop strategies to manage their symptoms, improve organizational skills, and cope with emotional challenges. However, therapy alone may not be sufficient if the individual’s environment remains disorganized and cluttered.

The Role of Environmental Factors

Clutter and Cognitive Load

Clutter can increase cognitive load, making it difficult for individuals with ADHD to focus and process information. Cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, excessive visual stimuli, such as clutter, can overwhelm the brain’s processing capacity, leading to decreased attention and increased distractibility (Marois & Ivanoff, 2005).

Impact on Executive Functioning

Executive functioning, which includes skills such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing, is often impaired in individuals with ADHD. A cluttered environment can further hinder these skills. A study conducted by R.A. Barkley and colleagues found that environmental disorganization can exacerbate executive functioning deficits in children with ADHD, making it more challenging for them to complete tasks and manage time effectively (Barkley et al., 2014).

Increased Stress and Anxiety

Cluttered environments can also increase stress and anxiety levels, which can worsen ADHD symptoms. Research published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology indicates that clutter is associated with higher levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone (Arnold et al., 2010). For individuals with ADHD, this increased stress can lead to heightened impulsivity and difficulty concentrating.

Impaired Working Memory

Working memory, the ability to hold and manipulate information over short periods, is often impaired in individuals with ADHD. Clutter can negatively impact working memory by providing constant distractions and reducing the ability to focus on the task at hand. A study in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications found that visual clutter can interfere with working memory performance, making it harder for individuals with ADHD to retain and use information effectively (Vogel et al., 2019).

Behavioral Implications

The presence of clutter can lead to behavioral issues in individuals with ADHD. A cluttered space can create a sense of chaos, making it difficult for individuals to establish routines and stick to them. This lack of structure can result in increased instances of forgetfulness, impulsivity, and disorganization, further exacerbating ADHD symptoms.

Practical Strategies for Reducing Clutter

Maintaining a clutter-free environment can significantly enhance cognitive functioning and overall well-being for individuals with ADHD. Here are some practical strategies to help reduce clutter and create a more organized living space:

Implement Organizational Systems

Organizational systems are essential for maintaining order and reducing visual clutter. Here are some specific tips:

  • Labeled Storage Bins: Use clear, labeled bins to store items. This not only makes it easier to find things but also helps to categorize and separate different types of items, reducing the visual chaos.
  • Shelves: Install shelves to take advantage of vertical space. Shelves can be used to store books, decorative items, or frequently used objects, keeping them off surfaces like desks and countertops.
  • Filing Systems: For paperwork, set up a filing system with clearly marked folders. This helps keep important documents organized and easily accessible.

Establish Routines

Routines are crucial for maintaining a clean and organized environment, especially for individuals with ADHD who may struggle with consistency. Consider the following:

  • Daily Tidying: Set aside a few minutes each day to tidy up. This could involve putting items back in their designated places, wiping down surfaces, or organizing cluttered areas.
  • Weekly Cleaning Schedule: Develop a weekly cleaning schedule that includes specific tasks for each day. For example, Monday could be for dusting, Tuesday for vacuuming, and so on.
  • Morning and Evening Routines: Incorporate tidying into your morning and evening routines. For instance, spend five minutes each morning making the bed and putting away clothes, and a few minutes each evening tidying up the living room.

Limit Distractions

Designating specific areas for work and study that are free from unnecessary items and distractions can improve focus and productivity:

  • Dedicated Workspaces: Create dedicated workspaces that are solely for work or study. This helps mentally separate work time from leisure time.
  • Minimalist Desk Setup: Keep your desk setup minimalistic. Only keep essential items like your computer, a notepad, and a few pens. Avoid cluttering your workspace with non-work-related items.
  • Digital Distractions: Limit digital distractions by organizing your computer desktop and using tools to block distracting websites during work hours.

Involve Professional Help

Sometimes, the task of decluttering can be overwhelming, and professional help can make a significant difference:

  • Professional Organizers: Consider hiring a professional organizer who can provide personalized strategies and hands-on assistance in decluttering and organizing your space.
  • Cleaning Services: Professional cleaning services can help maintain a clutter-free environment by performing regular deep cleans and keeping your space tidy.

Use Minimalist Principles

Adopting minimalist principles can help reduce the amount of clutter in your home and simplify your living space:

  • Essential Items Only: Keep only essential items that serve a purpose or bring you joy. Regularly assess your belongings and donate or discard items that you no longer need or use.
  • Regular Decluttering: Make decluttering a regular habit. Schedule periodic decluttering sessions where you go through different areas of your home and remove unnecessary items.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Focus on quality over quantity when acquiring new items. Invest in well-made, durable items that will last longer and reduce the need for frequent replacements.


Clutter can significantly impact cognitive functioning and exacerbate ADHD symptoms. By understanding the relationship between clutter and ADHD, individuals can take proactive steps to create more organized and supportive environments. Implementing strategies to reduce clutter can lead to improved focus, reduced stress, and better management of ADHD symptoms.


  1. Marois, R., & Ivanoff, J. (2005). Capacity limits of information processing in the brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 6(8), 495-502.
  2. Barkley, R. A., Murphy, K. R., & Fischer, M. (2014). ADHD in adults: What the science says. Guilford Publications.
  3. Arnold, P., Cooper, C., & Robinson, J. (2010). The effect of clutter on psychological distress and cortisol levels. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(1), 74-82.
  4. Vogel, E. K., Woodman, G. F., & Luck, S. J. (2019). Storage and maintenance of visual information in working memory: An event-related brain potential study. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 4(1), 1-18.

By addressing clutter and creating structured environments, individuals with ADHD can enhance their cognitive functioning and overall well-being. A clean and organized space reduces distractions, lowers stress levels, and improves the ability to focus on tasks. For those seeking assistance in maintaining an orderly environment, Good Cleaner Co. offers professional cleaning services tailored to your specific needs. Our team understands the unique challenges faced by individuals with ADHD and is committed to providing a clutter-free, calming space that promotes mental clarity and productivity. Contact Good Cleaner Co. to help you create a supportive environment that fosters better mental health and improved daily functioning.