What would happen if a large wooden barrel filled with olive oil suddenly split apart? The oil would spill all over the ground, spreading out as far as it could. Very little of it would be recoverable.What would happen if a balloon filled with helium burst? The helium would escape into the atmosphere, dispersing far and wide. None of it would be recoverable.

The barrel and the balloon provided structure that contained the olive oil and the helium. When the barrel and balloon were no longer there, the oil and helium lost their structure, or at least they lost the ability to stay in the shape the structures that contained them had provided.

Living things such as lobsters, shrimps, and crabs are also held together by external structures called exoskeletons. Since a living creature will eventually outgrow its exoskeleton, it needs to shed it and grow a new one (protecting itself from predators, especially while in the transition).

Humans don’t have physical exoskeletons because our structure is provided by an endoskeleton – the bones and cartilage within our skin and tissues that support us and provide a place for muscles to attach. Endoskeletons provide shape and support and allow us to move around.

Whether we find structure inside or outside, we all need to create or find structure. Without it, things spill, float, drop, or spread randomly.

Most people seem to have a natural ability to create order out of chaos and structure out of formlessness! When they see a pile of things or experience a barrage of thoughts, they almost effortlessly see a way to order them. Very quickly they create structure from the mess. I think of them as having endoskeletons. There is something inside them that sees and then creates structure for them.

Most people with ADHD, on the other hand, rarely have such an experience.


Order doesn’t seem to come naturally

to those of us with ADHD.


Some of us can even be in the middle of a chaotic scene of scattered books and clothes with papers and food on top and not see a problem. At least we don’t see the problem until a parent or supervisor stops by with a raised voice and demands that the area be cleaned and brought into order.

What can you do if your brain doesn’t work in an orderly way? What can you do if your mind doesn’t seem able to imagine a system for making sense of all that stuff, all those thoughts, or all those emails? You try your best to straighten the space or the desktop, but no matter what you do it never quite meets the required standard and it certainly won’t stay “fixed.”

If this has been a challenge for you, you may have sought out books or blog posts on this topic. One such book that is particularly highly regarded is Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized by Susan C. Pinsky. 

But what if you have given up on books and articles? You feel discouraged about your ability to create order out of chaos. There is another option you may not have tried. You may want to reach out to another human being for support – moral and physical! That person could serve as your temporary exoskeleton while you are growing one of your own.

You might seek out a friend, relative, colleague, or coach who can serve as an organizing buddy or a structure-building buddy. This would best be someone whose brain works in a more orderly way than yours. But the main characteristics you should look for in your buddy are patience and an open mind.

If you choose someone who think he or she knows exactly how your new organizing structure should look, you will end up with a system that works for that person’s brain, not yours. Whatever you’ve just organized and given structure might look great for a few days, but it’s not likely to stay that way.

Your buddy needs to ask you lots of questions to help you figure out what type of structure works best for you! For example, do you think your brain might respond well to

  • a row of file cabinets
  • lots of flat surfaces covered with orderly piles
  • shelves of color-coded boxes with photos of the contents on the ends
  • a growing Evernote application into which you are scanning everything to free yourself of paper
  • open shelves with all of your clothing visible in relatively neat piles arranged according to function (or season, or color, etc.)
  • baskets of clothes organized in a way that works well for you
  • or some other creative structure?

We all need structure. If you have a whole day with nothing scheduled (can you even imagine that?), how does that work for you? Even our days need markers to provide structure. That marker could be a morning ritual or an evening routine. Or you might schedule at least one appointment, even if it is with yourself, one fixed appointment to provide a focus — something to which to which you can relate other activities.

For some of us, creating structure will never come without some planning and forethought. But remember that you don’t have to do it all alone!

Who might be able to work with you for some time each week to help you create structure and then later to help you maintain it? How might you repay your friend by helping them in some way? Your ADHD creativity is sure to come up with something!




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