The Neurodivergent Guide to Cleaning Up

organizing closet

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Neurodivergence can come with challenges, both because it is difficult to exist in a world that is not built for how your brain works and because neurodivergence can be disabling. Many neurodivergencies, like ADHD, autism, some mood disorders, and psychotic disorders, can impact executive functioning and organization, which can make spring cleaning particularly difficult.

If you are neurodivergent and struggle with spring cleaning, learn more about managing your symptoms, changing your relationship with cleaning, and tips for cleaning while neurodivergent in this article.

What Spring Cleaning Feels Like If You’re Neurodivergent

Many neurodivergent people experience executive dysfunction, or difficulty organizing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It can manifest as difficulty planning, starting or completing tasks, breaking projects down into manageable steps, maintaining focus, and other skills that help in many areas, including cleaning. Because of this, spring cleaning is not only a tedious, non-preferred task for many neurodivergent people, but an uphill battle that can be impossible.

Because spring cleaning can be more challenging for neurodivergent people than it is for neurotypical people, and because neurodivergent people are often taught to ignore needs in an effort to live up to neurotypical standards for behavior, these tasks can even trigger feelings of shame and guilt.

Emily, a neurodivergent individual, shared: “Anxiety is definitely a huge factor in this because the less clean, the more anxious, and the more anxious, the easier it is to get overwhelmed and depressed and then go toward no cleaning.” Basically, executive dysfunction about cleaning and negative feelings about these tasks spiral, making the task increasingly difficult and the emotions even stronger.

Anxiety is definitely a huge factor in this because the less clean, the more anxious, and the more anxious, the easier it is to get overwhelmed and depressed and then go toward no cleaning.


MM shared a similar experience, with childhood guardians demanding high standards of cleanliness that she could not keep up with. She shared that she would take steps to “hide the chaos,” like shoving piles of clothes under her bed or into her closet, to avoid getting into trouble and never actually tidying up as a result.

In addition to the mental barriers to cleaning up, neurodivergent people often struggle to keep their living space clean over time. MM shared how her room would become a “complete disaster” soon after tidying up despite her best efforts.

How Can I Change My Relationship with Cleaning?

You deserve a living space that works for you, a space that is healthy and functional. It can be difficult to re-imagine what this looks like and change your mindset about cleaning. G, a neurodivergent person, shared, “Ideally, I’d like my house to be spotless, but it’d be unlivable.”

Adjust Your Priorities Based on Your Needs

Emily said that she changed her views on what her cleaning priorities are based on her values, rather than what others expect of her: “The most unhelpful thing is when people expect a clean place when visiting. It sounds trite, but I personally never saw the point in cleaning rooms that friends and family were never going to enter in.”

Learn what you need and want from your space, and set your standards there.

Release Shame and Ask for Help

Emily also shared that it helps to remember you are not alone if you have a hard time with cleaning: “No matter what your strategy for successful upkeep looks like, be assured that someone has gone through this before and is willing to help!”

Recognize that it is okay to ask for and receive help. If you can afford it, hiring a service to assist with spring cleaning or other chores is a great accomodation.

MM shared that hiring a laundry service made a huge difference for her, although she had to overcome feelings of shame associated with hiring the company. She shared: “Instead of trying to hold myself to what I now recognize was an impossible standard, I decided to clean in a way that makes sense to me AND is sustainable. Having clean laundry delivered and folded every week helps!”

Do Your Personal Best

MM said that she also took a life mantra and applied it to her cleaning: "I'm doing the best that I can, and that will just have to be enough."

Letting go of an unrealistic or unreachable standard helped her be motivated to do what she could, even if it was less than she initially planned.

Tips for Successful Cleaning for Neurodivergent People

No one set of tips or skills will be the perfect fit for every individual, so try out different tips and tricks for cleaning, and notice what works best for you. If something works well for someone else but not for you, that is okay. The point is to figure out what allows you to function and exist in your living space, and there is no right answer to what that looks like.

Pro Tip

G shared that they use a trunk rather than a dresser for their clothes since drawers can bring out sensory issues. Trunks and suitcases keep their clothing off of the floor without the scraping and jamming that comes with drawers. They also look to other people for “cues” about what needs to be done most urgently.

MM shared that it is easy to get into a cycle of the space becoming very messy: “When my room has gotten to the point where I couldn’t see the floor,” and “That’s when I binge clean at 3:00 a.m. But then I would be burnt out and only clean maybe a quarter of what I intended.”

She addressed this by changing her perception and standards for how she “should” organize her space: “I created areas in my room, and I have lax rules compared to the rigid rules my grandmother held—I create a pile of my laundry in one corner and every Saturday I bag for pickup. I keep pants and sweaters within arm's reach, folded on a shelf, not on hangers or on drawers. I keep a large trash bag and make it a point to throw away wrappers and tissue and anything else I may absentmindedly drop.”

Thanks to this reframing, MM has been able to keep her bedroom clean for more than two months.

Pro Tip

Emily also noted that it can be overwhelming to do all of the cleaning at one time, so choosing small, manageable tasks can make things easier: “Just clean up a little at a time—from dishes to bins of clothing, often what helps the most is knowing it is meant to be accomplished over a period of time.”

Since MM has a diagnosis of ADHD, she tries to clean after she has taken her medication to help her focus and follow through on the tasks she set for herself. In addition, she has worked hard to let go of feelings of shame or worry that others will judge her because what works for her does not necessarily fit their expectations. 

That’s when I binge clean at 3:00 a.m. But then I would be burnt out and only clean maybe a quarter of what I intended.


Many standards we have for cleanliness are based on neurotypical standards, needs, and skill sets. If you are neurodivergent, you may struggle to meet these expectations, which can cause feelings of shame. It can be difficult to let go of these expectations to figure out what works for you, but this shift can be essential in maintaining your mental health and a living space that meets your needs.

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.