Helping Your Child Get Rid of Stuff!

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Opening presents over the holidays was fun and exciting, but now just a few short weeks later those presents have probably just been added to the mound of "stuff" that is cluttering your child's space and your home. For kids with ADHD, this extra stuff can make it much harder to stay organized, keep track of their things, and find what they need when they need it. As disorganization increases, so does frustration over lost and misplaced items, arguments over messy rooms, and difficulty focusing on important tasks like getting ready in the morning and getting homework done. For kids with ADHD, tackling clutter and staying organized is especially challenging, and most of the time it's not something they can manage on their own. They need extra help from parents to create and stick with an organization plan that works. The first step involves helping your child whittle down the amount of stuff that he or she has have until he or she is left only with the things that that he or she really needs or enjoys and uses regularly.

It's very common for kids with ADHD to want to hold on to more stuff than they can manage simply because the process of sorting through and getting rid of things feels mentally and emotionally overwhelming. So, how can you help your child learn to let things go and get rid of the stuff that he or she doesn't really need or enjoy?

  1. Help your child understand why it's important to get organized. Talk to him or her about things that aren't really working for him or her right now, and why you need to make some changes together. Sit with your child and look at pictures online of kids' bedrooms or playrooms and talk to him or her about what their dream room would look like. Does the room he or she has now look like that? Could it ever look like his or her dream room if he or she kept all of the stuff he or she has now?
  2. Donate to a charity. Let your child know that there are kids out there who don't have enough clothes or toys, and that they would really use the things that your child has outgrown and doesn't need anymore. So instead of sitting unused in a pile of clutter in your home, these toys and clothes could be used every day by someone who needs them. Find at least two charities in your area that accept donations, and let your child pick the charity that he or she would like to donate to. If it's possible, have your child go with you when you drop off the items so he or she can see the impact that he or she is making.
  3. Earn points. Motivate your child by having him or her earn points for each item that he or she gives away. Then, allow him or her to turn in these points for a special activity. Make sure the activity is something that he or she will really enjoy and is not something he or she gets to do every day. Maybe it's going ice skating, a trip to the pool, a round of mini golf, or building a fort in the living room. Whatever it is, let him or her pick the activity and remind him or her of the reward that is waiting for him or her after his or her hard work is done.
  4. Consider starting small. If your child is very resistant to getting rid of things then start with only a few items. Have your child pick out the items on his or her own. Then, one or two weeks later, talk to your child about how it feels to have given away the items. Does he or she miss them or even remember what he or she got rid of? For most kids they will find that they don't even miss their donated items after a little time has passed. Then take the next step by getting rid of a few more things, gradually increasing the amount until real progress is being made.
  5. Try a step down approach. For some kids the idea of getting rid of something permanently feels overwhelming at first. So, put items into a box that you can store away temporarily. After a few weeks, ask your child if he or she needs any of the things that were put in the storage box. Does he or she even remember what was put in there? Then remind him or her of steps 1, 2, and 3 above, and help him or her donate the items. This 'step down' approach can take some of the emotional sting out of the process, and eventually your child will be more open to getting rid of things right away.
  6. Take pictures. Offer to take pictures of special items before they are given away. Sometimes the hardest part of getting rid of something is dealing with the fear that you will lose all of the memories that you made when you were playing with or wearing the item. Having a picture makes letting go a little less scary.
  7. Be a good role model. Show your child that everyone needs to get rid of clutter in order to stay organized. Model good organization techniques by getting rid of things that you no longer need or enjoy. Talk to your child about the things you are getting rid of and what the process feels like for you. If it's hard, let him or her know. But also share with him or her how much better you feel when you have less clutter in your room too.

Getting rid of stuff is hard for everyone, but it's an important first step in helping your child stay organized. For kids with ADHD who struggle with organization, learning to reduce clutter is a skill that they will use throughout their lives. So, the effort you and your child put into this now will continue pay off for years to come!



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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