Neurodivergent Cleaning Hacks

Jul 7, 2024

This week, we’re covering evidence-backed tips and tricks for cleaning and homecare that come from neurodivergent communities.

If you're not familiar with the term "neurodivergent", it’s a nonmedical term that refers to individuals whose brains process information differently from the "normative" cognitive patterns observed in most people. This encompasses a range of conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, dyslexia, and others. 

If you have ADHD, or other neurodivergent brain patterns, then you know that cleaning systems that work for so-called “neurotypical” people are often not effective, and can even feel stressful or anxiety-inducing for people with neurodivergent brains.

This week, we’ll talk strategies that can help turn daunting and seemingly insurmountable chores into processes that work for your unique brain — and even ways to make them feel fun and energizing!

P.S. Even if you don’t identify as neurodivergent, there’s a lot to learn about cleaning and organization from the 5 strategies we're sharing this week.

#1: Create a motivating soundtrack

This tip is all about setting the stage for a productive cleaning session — by first building our soundtrack! 

We know that upbeat, faster paced music can help boost energy, but playing music that’s meaningful to us can be especially effective. Music that makes you feel like you’re in a scene from your favorite movie, a super nostalgia-inducing playlist, or music from your favorite video game can be extremely helpful during cleaning sessions.

Making sure to choose the right tempo for you, whether it’s energetic or upbeat when you need a boost of motivation, or something more mellow or steady to avoid becoming overwhelmed, can be really helpful. You can organize playlists around themes — such as ‘Bathroom Ballads’, or ‘Laundry Lullabys’ to make the tasks feel more exciting. 

You can also use music to structure your tasks. One fun idea is to create “song-based” tasks, by assigning specific tasks to be completed within the duration of one or two songs to create a sense of urgency and accomplishment.

Four tips for building your best cleaning soundtrack:

🎬 Play music that makes cleaning feel fun (from your favorite movie, nostalgic moments, or your favorite video game). Here are a few host picks:

⏩ 🎶 Experiment with different genres and tempos to see what works best, and adjust the volume to a comfortable level to prevent sensory overload.

🕒 Use timed playlists to break down cleaning sessions (e.g., 30-minute playlist for a 30-minute session).

🧹 Assign specific tasks to be completed within 1-2 songs to create urgency and a sense of accomplishment.

#2: Establish a Reward System

Implementing a reward system for cleaning can be very helpful!

It’s totally okay to do something fun before, during, and after we start cleaning! In fact, it might help unlock the dopamine needed to build momentum and actually feel ready to accomplish a cleaning goal.

You can try earning rewards before you even start cleaning by establishing some delightful pre-cleaning activities — such as watching an episode of your favorite show, playing a quick round of your favorite game, or listening to a favorite song in order to ease into a positive mood. 

Don’t forget sensory rewards — enjoy a favorite snack or drink after completing a task, or light a candle or use essential oils to create a pleasant environment for cleaning. Consider wearing something comfortable, or taking off your shoes as a reward once you finish a cleaning task.

Four strategies to design your cleaning reward system:

🧹 Establish pre-cleaning activities to boost your mood and build momentum, such as watching an episode of your favorite show, playing a game, or listening to your favorite pump-up song before getting started

🍪 Include sensory rewards in your reward system, such as taking a break to enjoy your favorite snack or drink, creating a pleasant environment by lighting a candle or releasing essential oils, or changing into comfier clothes once you’ve completed a task. 

⏳ Establish a duration of time for your reward activity so you can stay on track with your cleaning goal

🌱 Build momentum back up after enjoying a reward by starting with smaller cleaning tasks

#3: Try the ‘Burst and Rest' Strategy

‘Burst and rest’ is a strategy where we clean in short, intense bursts of time, and then rest

The benefits of this ‘burst and rest’ method include:

  • being more efficient and creative in our task completion,

  • reducing overwhelm by breaking tasks into smaller chunks,

  • managing our energy better by alternating between activity and rest, and

  • feeling motivated by knowing a break is coming soon.

These strategies can all help with starting and continuing tasks. 

Cleaning like mad while promising ourselves a break is coming soon can be a great way to get cleaning tasks done, little by little!

Four strategies for using the Burst and Rest method:

Use a timer: clean intensely for a short period (10-20 min) until the timer goes off. Once the timer ends, take a break regardless of whether the task is complete.

🛋️ Schedule rest between cleaning bursts to prevent burnout and maintain motivation. Use a timer to keep rest periods brief and prepare to start the next burst when the timer ends.

Create a cozy resting area with comfort items you enjoy. Don't feel guilty about taking breaks; they are essential for maintaining productivity and well-being.

💡 Try KC Davis's "5 Things" method: sort each area into trash, dirty dishes, laundry, items that belong elsewhere, and items without a designated place. Tackle them in this order. Learn more:

#4: Establish a beginning and end

If you’ve been a member for a while, then the idea of establishing a beginning and an end to a task may be familiar to you. 

Getting really specific and realistic on what we want to accomplish, as well as creating a sense of urgency around our tasks can be super helpful — especially for neurodivergent folks. 

Instead of saying: “I’m going to clean the kitchen” — which is too vague and perhaps too overwhelming — try saying instead: “I’m going to clean the kitchen for the duration of this song,” or “I’m going to put away all the things on the kitchen counter.”

Breaking tasks down into super small bits and celebrating when they’re done is a great way to reach sustained motivation. When tasks are broken down into distinct beginnings and endings, each phase creates a sense of urgency to complete the task within that defined period.

Four tips to incorporate time limits and urgency:

📺 Put on a podcast, music, or show that has commercial breaks. During the commercials, clean something. Little by little, you will have a clean space.

👩‍🍳 Enjoy cooking or baking? Try baking, marinating or preheating your oven while you clean for a sense of urgency until the timer goes off, and one step closer to a yummy reward

👫 Invite someone over or give a friend a call! If you hate people seeing your messy space - this is a good one for you. You can also ‘body double’ by talking to someone on speakerphone while you clean (or join a Focused Space Community Session!)

🗑️ Break cleaning down into 20-item increments. Count as you go, and pick things up and put them where they need to go. When you get to 20 items, take a break.

#5: Make cleaning easy and accessible

I would like to close out this week’s theme with the fifth and final neurodivergent cleaning hack — and that is making cleaning easy and accessible. 

Making sure your cleaning products are visible, and reducing obstacles in your cleaning routine can really help.

Being able to easily locate, see and reach for cleaning products not only makes the process easier but also minimizes frustration and burnout.

By organizing and arranging tools and supplies in a clear, uncluttered manner, cleaning tasks become more straightforward, quicker, and efficient.

If you need to climb over clutter and other obstacles to reach for your broom, consider keeping it out in plain view or an easier spot. Having it readily available makes it simpler to convince yourself to start sweeping with, rather than facing the additional effort of trying to find it behind a pile of laundry!

Four strategies to make cleaning easy and accessible:

🧽🪣 Put everything you need to clean in a row. Vacuum, disinfectant, rags, etc. Now that you can see them, you are reminded of what you’re doing and can maintain better focus.

🧺 Create a "drop zone" like a basket or toy chest for accumulating items. When it gets cluttered, put items back where they belong. This is especially helpful in small spaces where things get easily misplaced.

📦 Use an 'other room' box to collect items that don't belong in the room you're cleaning. Move the box from room to room, distributing items as you go to stay focused on the current task and streamline cleaning.

🔍 Identify areas prone to clutter and make a plan: use transparent containers for organized storage or install door hooks or cubbies near the entryway for convenience.

Final Thoughts

Feeling overwhelmed can easily drain your motivation, so it’s a good idea to simplify chores to make them more manageable — and also more rewarding and fun!

Even if you don't identify as neurodivergent, we hope you enjoyed this week's Cleaning and Organization hacks. Let us know if you gave any of them a try, and tell us what you think!

See you around some of the sessions this week,

Farah, focused space host