Dear Kathi,

Here’s the scene: I have three kids and a husband who constantly bring stuff into the house and dump it on the kitchen table, counter, and kitchen desk. I like these surfaces to be clear of “stuff,” yet every day I’m the one who spends a good hour or two sorting through these things and sending them off in bags to everyone’s rooms. I’ve tried giving each offender a mail sorter tray, as well as designated baskets and drawers.

My husband and oldest daughter are both ADHD compromised and complain that if I toss their things in a basket or drawer where they can’t see it, then they most likely will forget about it. Can you give me any other ideas to help cut down on the “dumping ground” in my kitchen? What rule of thumb can I give my family to help them to be more responsible for putting things where they belong, and not in piles on the first cleared off surface they come to?


Meg, NC


I commend your efforts so far to try to keep your home space free of clutter. With the challenges at hand, you’ll have to enforce a new habit with your loved ones for at least 6-8 weeks. It normally takes this long to change a habit and could take possibly longer with your family members.

You’ve said that baskets and trays have not worked on the past. If I could tour your house, I would walk through and determine the trafficking patterns of your family. For instance, do they enter through the front door, the garage or back door? Where is your kitchen in this flow?

If they have to walk through the house to get to the kitchen and then dump their items, it could be that they do not feel comfortable in the entranceway foyer and want to beeline it to the kitchen where everyone spends their time. They might feel that if they leave their items in the front foyer they truly will forget them because they never go there throughout the day, only when passing in and out of the house. The same could be said about the garage entryway.

There was a time when everyone had mudrooms to collect the outside weather before it came into the house. Have you noticed that mudrooms are coming back into style? With organizing such a hot topic now, people are appreciating the fact that mud rooms not only collect rain and snow they also provide a natural place to collect family items as they enter and leave the house. They serve beautifully as ‘family central’ for correspondence, shoes, back packs etc.

Even if you don’t have the space to create a mudroom, you can mimic this idea by installing a long bench seat with storage baskets, back pack hooks etc close to the area that your family enters the home. Make it cozy and comfortable; add seat cushions to the bench.

If space prohibits even a bench at the entryway, I would create a dumping ground where they frequently hang out. Your kitchen is probably attached to a great room and serves as the hub of family life. If this is the case, find an area within this space and place long shallow basket for each family member here. You can actually find basket shelves. These might work well for you. Keep these baskets shallow for starters so that they don’t have the “out of sight, out of mind” excuse. Each person should have his or her own basket or tray. They alone will be responsible for loading and unloading it, not mom.

You stand a better chance of creating new habits if you arrange these baskets conveniently and make them attractive, i.e. with an easy chair beside them so they can learn to plop down and unload. Or position these baskets at counter height.

Remember that now they have it easy. You are serving as their clutter concierge and their items are conveniently making their way to their rooms with little effort on their part. So, in order to create change you will need to change your own habits. Bite the bullet when things aren’t as neat as you would prefer. At least you will have your counters back. Insist that they ‘do not pass go’ and drop before they make their way to their new dump space. If items land in your kitchen space, you move them directly to their designated dump zones, not to their rooms.

It might get messy and out of control for a month or so while they learn. You need to hold tight, stick to your guns, do not enable or handle it for them. Insist that each person take responsibility for his/her items. If their baskets overflow, so be it. They will eventually learn that they need to deal with their personal clutter or they will be lost and have to forage in the mornings to find their belongings.

Keep at it and enable them to keep track of their possessions. This is a habit that will serve them for life, especially for those with ADHD. Remember that ADHD is a challenge but should never serve as an excuse. Good luck! Let me know how it works out in a few months.

Thanks for writing and don’t hesitate to write with any other specific questions.

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San Diego Professional Organizer