Marie Kondo's "Tidying Up" Method Can Benefit Kids with ADHD
Marie Kondo’s Netflix show “Tidying Up” is all the rage with families and especially moms these days, and I think I know why. We all need more joy and calm in this chaotic state of the world we live in.
But do you know who needs it even more than moms? Our kids. Especially those who struggle with executive function skills.
In Tidying Up, Marie Kondo goes to families homes, dives deep into their mess - parents and children - and organizes their lives. Every episode where Marie meets with the children, I smile. Do you know why? I know how the show will end and the huge impact it will have on them.
Learning opens the mind and begs it to play. A cluttered mind feels depleted, overwhelmed, and shuts down peak performance. When you declutter, you increase the learning space.
Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, introduces her idea that cleaning and organization are best done category-by-category instead of room by room. Guess what? She’s right. Our brains are innately wired for categorization.
That’s right, researchers have conducted MRI’s on the brain and found that they made “semantic neighborhoods,” which essentially are just categories of things that the brain finds similar to each other.
Along with finding out how the brain organizes different categories of objects, the researchers also found out that while people differ, people’s brains organize things in similar ways. That’s to say, we all organize our understanding of the world around us into categories. To do this well, we need mental space to sort and organize our perceptions and thoughts.
What does this mean?
IF WE WANT TO INCREASE LEARNING WE NEED TO DECLUTTER OUR HOMES AND OUR CLASSROOMS!
Let me tell you a story about Jack. He was a bright, gifted third grader, who was diagnosed with ADHD and executive function disorder. Jack’s parents were at their wits’ end trying to deal with the situation.
When I asked what they wanted to work on first, they told me their morning routine. Jack was causing the family to be late for school which led to them to be late for work. To understand why this was happening, I questioned them about their morning routine. A typical morning went something like this: They would go into Jak’s room to wake him. Jack would acknowledge the parent who came to wake him and say he was getting up.
Both parents would then go about their business getting ready but then suddenly realize Jack had not come out of his room yet.
They’d yell up to his room and Jack would reply that he was coming down but, inevitably, he’d still not appear.
The third attempt always had Jack’s father storm into his room, yelling threats, and warning of the consequences of being late. Finally, Jack would be moved to jump to his feet and scramble to get ready and get out the door. This happened day in and day out which left everyone’s energy depleted.
What they didn’t realize that Jack’s brain was conditioned to initiate activity only when the third attempt to get him up was made.
There are a lot more lessons from Jack’s story regarding executive function and morning routine, but for the sake of this article, I want to focus on a very important detail.
When I asked Jack how he would solve this morning routine problem. He said, “I wish I could wake up every morning at my grandma’s house”. Now some may think, “Well of course, wouldn’t all kids want to live in Grandmaland where you get spoiled 24/7, eat what you want, and play for days?”
But in my line of work, it is very important NOT to make assumptions. So I didn’t. Instead, I asked Jack to describe the space where he slept at grandma’s house.
He told me his bedroom there was clean, had gray walls and one picture hung over his bed. Beside his bed was a nightstand and directly in front of the bed was a set of drawers for clothes with a mirror over it.
I asked him if there was a television in the room. No, he replied.
I asked him if there were things sitting out on top of the set of drawers. No, he said again.
I asked if there was anything on the nightstand by his bed other than a lamp? Yes, he said, a clock.
Do you know what I told Jack next? I told Jack that I wanted him to tell me about his room at home and better yet, I wanted him to show me his bedroom.
You probably know what Jack’s room was like when I paid my visit. Yes, Jack’s room was full of all of his favorite things. Everything was scattered about, and lots of pictures and items hung on the walls. He had basically created a space that mimicked his brain - a whirling, busy, circus.
I imagined at this moment the times I that parents would explain how frustrated they were when they would tell their child to clean their room and 30 minutes later they would return to the same messy room. Do you know why that happened? If you struggle to organize your brain, you will struggle to organize your life. That is why you need assistance and to be taught HOW to organize your life, not just told to do it.
Which brings us back to Jack. Like other kids, he didn’t know how to create the space that calmed him down, but he sure knew where to find it, and that was at Grandma’s.
This told me a lot about Jack and this is where we began solving the morning routine problem for Jack’s family.
We had to start with the space before we could teach the strategies. Waking up in chaos created chaos.
When instead jack woke up in a relaxed space, he was more likely to organize, plan, and focus on the steps required to get to school on time.
Sure he needed to be taught strategies for those skills as well, but if I had gone out of order with Jack, my teaching would not have been sustainable. He would not have “caught what he was taught”, and he would have remained in an anxious state. Thus transferring that negative energy throughout his home.
Marie Kondo’s method is all about JOY. I ask my clients all of the time to choose the Inside Out character that best describes how they feel in a particular moment. I asked Jack the same question when we discussed his morning routine. I will never forget his answer. He said, “Honestly, there are two: Fear and Anger”.
I immediately felt sad for him, but listened as he explained. “When my dad comes in the room, and yells at me to get up I’m afraid, so I jump out of bed, and then become angry”.
Jack was right. He had conditioned his brain to respond to those two emotions to get into action. Guess what? That same conditioning carried into other areas of his life like starting on homework, or anything else he struggled with.
I asked him if he could choose to be any character in the movie, which one would he be and his immediate response was “Joy, doesn’t everyone want to be her”.
Yes, Jack, they do. And my goal is to get you there.
The good news is that was two years ago, and Jack is now thriving in the home and in school. His parents followed my plan, he found a new area in his home for his “creative space” but his bedroom is calm and relaxing and looks a lot like his bedroom at grandma’s house.
Check out Marie Kondo’s show to learn how to apply her method for your home. Jack’s issue was his morning routine, but I have a lot of students whose issue is in the classroom. I will address those concerns in a follow-up blog. Stay tuned!
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