Something that has always been a trigger in my marriage is the issue of clutter. My husband has ADHD, which was undiagnosed until last year. What we didn’t know before his diagnosis was that the clutter was a direct result of his ADHD brain. Because my husband’s ADHD causes him to go “blind” to clutter and mess, he is prone to leaving giant piles of detritus all over the house and completely forget it’s there. I have anxiety and some OCD tendencies, and I simply cannot function in a house that feels chaotic and cluttered. I made this clear to him on many occasions, but nothing changed.
Before his diagnosis, this became a topic of major friction between us. I felt like he wasn’t concerned about my needs, as though he was deliberately disregarding my desire for order in the house. He, on the other hand, couldn’t understand what the big deal was, and felt that I constantly nagged him over little things.
When my husband got his ADHD diagnosis, things suddenly became a lot more clear. I learned that he wasn’t deliberately disregarding my needs. He wanted to honor my need for a clean house, but just couldn’t execute it. I needed to learn some patience, understanding, and compassion toward him when it came to the mess in the house. In turn, he needed to adopt some tools and skills that would help him at least keep his chaos in check.
After doing some research into how couples cope with ADHD in their marriage, we learned about DOOM boxes. DOOM stands for Didn’t Organize, Only Moved. I think the idea originated on TikTok, but I could be wrong about that. The idea of the DOOM box is that people with ADHD often have a hard time knowing where to put things that don’t have an obvious “home.” Instead of finding an organized way to deal with those items, people with ADHD end up moving those things around from place to place, creating clutter and the tendency for things to get lost.
The DOOM box is a place for people with ADHD to put things that they don’t really know how to organize so that it’s all in one designated, predetermined place.
We decided that the DOOM box was a great idea, but it was far too small for my husband’s very big ADHD. We decided to give him a DOOM room, instead. Our apartment is small, but it is blessedly imbued with two enormous walk-in closets. We put all of our clothing (our and our small children’s) in our closet, and turned the kids’ walk-in closet into my husband’s DOOM room.
The DOOM room is the designated place where my husband puts all his homeless things. It is his space. I have no jurisdiction there. This means that he can keep it in whatever shape works for him. The thing about some people with ADHD is that they can operate just fine in a disorganized environment. My husband knows where every last godforsaken thing can be found in this house, no matter how chaotic it is. So, his DOOM room can be messy and chaotic (at least, according to me), while feeling perfectly functional to him.
It’s his place to put things that don’t have an obvious home, where he stacks paperwork that he needs to go through, where his mail can pile up until he has a chance to open it, where he can store his decades worth of cables and wires he’s collected over the years.
When he knows he has a place to put all of his homeless belongings, he can better help me keep the rest of the house clutter-free, the way I need it to be to feel functional.
Sometimes, I find things piling or cluttering up around the house. When I find those things, I deliver them to the DOOM room for him to look through later. This has been a god-send for us because, finally, I have a designated place to put his things. For many years, I got fed up with his clutter and decided to organize it myself. I tried to bring structure to his chaos, putting things in an arrangement that I thought made sense. I am ashamed to say that sometimes I threw things away, too, which I learned later was a huge betrayal to him. Sometimes those piles that sat for weeks at a time and looked “useless” to me had a real purpose — one that he was putting off until he had the executive function and attention available to focus on it. It seemed like junk to me, so I threw it out. And this kind of thing created enormous anxiety and stress for him.
I’ve asked his forgiveness for that. When you know better, you do better.
Now that we can deposit his piles and stacks into the DOOM room, we are both functioning much better. I am more compassionate and understanding, recognizing that his mess is never about disrespect toward me. He wants to keep the house organized, he just doesn’t always have the attention or resources to do so. Learning that his clutter isn’t a sign of disrespect but, rather, a signal that he is in a state of ADHD-related overwhelm and burn-out, I am able to show up for him instead of getting angry. I can try to figure out how to support him; I can approach the mess with understanding and a dose of humor.
And, now that he has seen how much happier, peaceful, and more functional I am in our clutter-free home, he finally understands that I was never just nagging him about the mess. It was a pain point for me — something that made me feel not only disrespected, but incredibly overwhelmed. He gets it now, and has made a point of keeping his clutter tucked away in his DOOM room where it doesn’t affect the rest of the family.
It’s so important, as the spouse of someone with ADHD, to educate yourself about their inner world.
For years, we didn’t know about my husband’s ADHD, and it led to a lot of unnecessary fighting and frustration. Even after his ADHD diagnosis, I didn’t do the work and research I should have done to understand him more fully. It’s a process, one I’m still working on. But it’s a good work, a work that helps my husband feel more understood and that leads to a happier and healthier marriage.
ADHD doesn’t have to be a problem in your marriage. In fact, my husband’s ADHD is one of my favorite things about him! It brings all sorts of fun, spontaneity, curiosity, and magic. He is gifted in more ways than I can count. I love his beautiful, sometimes chaotic mind. We just needed to work on communicating, on understanding each other, and on finding middle ground. Most importantly, we needed to find the humor. Laughter as we navigate these complex but funny moments has been the greatest gift of all.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.