Hi, my name is Steph, and I have a messy room! Phew, that feels good to get out there! If you come over, you probably won’t see it. I’m really good at tidying up if I know someone is coming. But, most of the time, thanks to my executive functioning difficulties, my apartment can be described in just two words: organized chaos.
Why I live in “organized chaos”
To the untrained eye, it looks like I have no idea what cleanliness is. There are piles of mail, clean and dirty clothes, and random collections of things. There are jumbles of cords, bag of randomness, and well, you get the idea, right? Believe it or not, I usually do know where most things are. Although I have spent far too long searching for something that I swear was right there just a second ago. Sound familiar?
Why I struggle
Now, before you start silently judging me (just kidding!), I do know how to clean my room. In fact, I like it when it’s organized. I even sometimes wonder how do I let it get “so bad”? Then, I remember that part of having autism means I struggle with executive functioning. Basically, that means I have trouble sometimes accomplishing daily life tasks and staying on top of everything I need to do.
Following my own rules
As messy as I can let things get, there are certain things that I refuse to let get messy, no matter what! For example, my kitchen has to stay clean! I need to know that every spice, utensil, appliance, etc. has a home and is put away. It drives me crazy when I can’t keep up with the dishes! I may have simply stared at my kitchen when clean-up is done, marveling at its organization and tidiness.
I also have certain ways I like to store leftovers, including certain meals that have to be stored in a certain container or the world just feels off. It may sound weird if you’re neurotypical, but if you have autism, you can probably relate. There are very strict “rules” for certain things, even if these rules only make sense to me.
Accepting the struggle
So, how can you better cope or help someone with autism cope with the struggle of executive functioning?
The most important thing is to first accept yourself or them for who you/they are. It took me a long time to get to this step, so don’t expect it to happen overnight! I feel like it’s something I’ll always be working on, but I’ve realized that I will always have a messy room (short of going to minimalism, but, as always, a story for another time..) because my brain struggles to keep up with everything, and that’s ok! In other words, if you don’t put laundry away quickly or your kitchen floors aren’t spotless, life goes on. Accept that you or the person you love has a mind that struggles with daily tasks and that’s ok!
How to help
Once you have accepted this, the next thing is to see if you can help yourself/someone you care for get things done. For example, if I want to increase the chances of laundry actually getting put away, I try to do it on days with more free time. That way, I won’t feel the pull of needing to do a million other things that my brain prioritizes over laundry.
Also, I pick days where I already have leftovers or easy to prepare meals. What does food prep have to do with laundry? A lot more than you might think! First, if I know what I’m having for my post-laundry meal, my brain won’t be fixated on figuring that out and distracting me. Second, if I need to do a lot of prep work, I’ll have a pile of dirty dishes to wash (and sadly, at the time of writing this blog, no dishwasher…). Since one of my rules is that the kitchen needs to be clean, I know I will prioritize cleaning the kitchen over putting away laundry.
Those scenarios may or may not apply to you. If they do – great, glad I could help! If not, try to think of obstacles to success that you can remove to make getting a less-pleasant/”not super essential, but still needs to happen eventually” task done. For example, if you have a child with autism and you’d like them to put away their toys, don’t ask them to do it when their favorite show is on. If you are an adult like me with autism, make sure there are no tasks that you would rather do that could get in your way.
What a messy room with weird rules really means
Here’s what I’ve realized: Find the path of least resistance while realizing not everything will get done and that’s ok! We all struggle with all the demands of modern daily life, but that struggle is often magnified for people with autism.
Here’s what I know: my room is messy, my kitchen is spotless, and that’s my life for right now. More importantly, I am ok with this! I will always be improving my executive functioning skills, but I accept where I am right now.
Thanks for reading, for visiting the blog, and for any comments or questions below! I hope you enjoy your time here!