The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: November 2014

Living a rich life with less: why I love our small(er) house

small home benefits infographicBefore I take the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving, I want to talk about gratitude. Creating a peaceful, low(er)-sress life. Learning how much is truly enough.

How living in a small house keeps our family more organized, less stressed, and more financially stable.

Our home can become our identity

We assume, as we move through our adult lives, that we should purchase the biggest and best house we can. We ask our mortgage broker for the magic number: how much can I afford?

The amount of our pre-approved loan dictates which houses we can look at, which neighborhood we can live in, how much pride and excitement we can feel about hosting Thanksgiving.

Realistically, how many of us look at that pre-approved number and say, “that’s too much? I don’t need that much debt. I don’t need that much house.”

More likely, we quest for the most square footage, the nicest neighborhood, the biggest yard we can find within our budget.

What does more house really buy us?

Paradoxically, our homes can be major sources of stress: we struggle to keep up with cleaning, repairs, curb appeal, mortgage payments.

Certainly we should aspire to do better. Maintaining our homes makes us feel like successful adults.

But we need to reexamine our need for more.

As I pare down our possessions to only those which add real value to our lives, as I strive to use each of our 1300 square feet of living space effectively, I feel less and less like we’re outgrowing this home. A classic three-bedroom, single-family home in a lovely neighborhood shouldn’t feel inadequate for a family of three. Or four. Or maybe even five.

I’ve watched neighbors leave our block for more space, and I’ve contemplated the things they leave behind: a short walk to several great restaurants. A built-in outdoor playgroup for the kids on almost every pleasant afternoon. A safe and friendly neighborhood. The best elementary school in the city.

Should I leave that behind so my children can all sleep in separate bedrooms while I retain another room for my office? Should I increase my cleaning, lawn, and garden time commitments when I already feel overstretched? When keeping on top of these tasks is already not my strong suit?

The gift of less

Task execution and home maintenance are only the tip of the iceberg for many ADHD adults. Many of us also struggle to keep on top of our finances. Perhaps we or our spouses have an impulse purchasing habit that undermines what little long-term financial planning we’ve managed to put in place.

I’m not an accountant, but I know this much: we’re on track to be mortgage-free by the time R. graduates from middle school. We don’t need to pay someone to clean our house. If the impulse shopper among us has a late-night affair with Amazon Prime, we have a buffer. It doesn’t start a fight over how we’ll pay our bills at the end of the month.

Certainly, ADHD’ers need to learn restraint and accountability. We need to maintain our homes at a basic level and resist buying everything that excites us in the moment.

But we also need space to be compassionate with ourselves. If you live below your means, If you don’t spend every dollar before you’ve even made it, it gives you freedom. Freedom to reign in that spending habit without ruining your credit or alienating your spouse. Freedom to shop around for someone who will do a top-quality repair job when your roof leaks. Freedom to make those inevitable mistakes on your way to self-improvement with a little less pressure.

Freedom to lead a calm, uncluttered, and grateful life.


Too much of a good thing: know when to stop the momentum

ADHD is so often a problem of inertia. The stereotypes say we can’t get the ball rolling on anything, but we know the truth: stopping can be as difficult as starting.
When we get on a roll, our brains mightily resist any effort to disengage.

Sometimes we justify it by looking at our past failures and saying, “I’m actually making progress — I can’t stop now or I may never come back to this.”

We spend so much time feeling behind, we can’t imagine stopping the momentum, even if it’s too much of a good thing.

But we need to.

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal gets at the neuroscience of why overdoing it is such a bad idea in her wonderfully engaging book The Willpower InstinctWillpower, that keystone of executive functioning, is a finite resource. If you max out on one thing, you may find yourself powerless to resist the next temptation that walks in the door.

Overextending your brain leaves you open to willpower failures

I recently experienced this firsthand. I planned my evening out so neatly, accounting for putting my son to bed, cleaning up and doing the dishes, and spending an hour on an essay for my monthly critique group.

Surprisingly, this all went great until the essay. It had frustrated me for days. At long last, I’d generated some momentum and the words came freely.

Before I knew it, the clock struck 9:15: the time I’d told myself I would wrap up, take a shower, do a few final chores, and turn my light out by 10:15.

I decided to skip the shower and work on the essay a little longer.

A natural stopping arrived when I still could’ve gotten into bed by 10:15, and I saved and closed the file.

At around 10:30, I finally pried myself away from Facebook.

Where did I go wrong here?

I’ve learned, through trial and error and plenty of misused hours, that I max out at 60 minutes of writing productivity — and that’s on a good day.Then I need to switch contexts and come back later.

On this particular evening, I experienced a willpower failure — I failed to pull myself away. Instead, I ran my brain ragged with too large a block of nonstop writing time. When I saw one temptation on Facebook, down the rabbit hole I went.

If I had budgeted 45 minutes and allowed myself a small window of extra time to wrap up, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Know your limits…and respect them above all

The key to learning your limits is to observe, observe, observe. When do you start encountering resistance to staying on task? When do you start pushing yourself because you’re “on a roll?” When does your rational mind realize you’re tired, but something else propels you forward, eager for a reward?

Chances are, if you get to know yourself, you’ll learn your tipping point — the time when it’s best to stop and make a note to come back later. Developing a trusted system so you actually will come back later helps a lot.

Not only that, setting boundaries may help you make more reliable progress on your projects. I started limiting myself to 30 minutes per day in our basement, where I’m cleaning out clutter and preparing to turn it into a real living space. Some days this means stopping before I feel ready, but that left me with the energy to clean up any messes I’d made. Other days, setting a timer for 30 minutes forced me to stick with it even though I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Don’t keep working for the sake of making progress

It takes discipline to stop before you truly need to, and it can seem counterproductive. It’s not. You’re making sure you give the task your best effort while leaving some cognitive energy behind to deal with other aspects of your day. You’re pausing to reevaluate, asking, “is this how I want to spend my entire day, or is there something else I’m neglecting?”

Is this a skill you’ve been working on? Where do you feel stuck, or what tricks have you found to stay on track?


Gamify your goals with One Task, One Stone

One Task, One StoneHere’s one for the gamers among us: a way to use your video game addiction for good, not for distraction and self-medication.

Several years ago, my friend Matt Agnello of Hungry Gamer wrote about a motivational system called One Task, One Stone.

One Task, One Stone (let’s call it OTOS for short) layers a leveling system (like those used in role-playing games) onto real-life situations. Has the number of hours logged on a World of Warcraft character or a Pokemon game ever made your jaw drop? You can harness that for real-world productivity.

The idea is simple. It requires a marker, a mason jar, and a few bags of glass stones. Draw lines on the side of the jar as shown. Number them however you like, but I enjoyed spacing the levels farther apart as I went up. This mimics the increase in XP required to gain successive levels in many role-playing games.

For each task completed, place a stone in the jar.

As you fill the jar with stones, you’ll “level up” at regular intervals. This capitalizes on our pre-existing relationship with games to maximize real-life productivity.

Image via Hungry Gamer

Image via Hungry Gamer

I recommend using this system to work toward a specific goal: decluttering your home, staying on top of chores, getting out of debt, learning a new skill, or starting a freelance career. Just make sure you award one stone for each discrete task, no matter how small.

Not only should you work toward a specific goal, you should identify a prize for reaching a target level. When I tested OTOS in my own life, I promised myself a new couch when I hit level 12 at the top of my jar.

My generation is the first to have grown up with gaming. The concept of progressing toward a goal by leveling up — and of receiving XP for successfully turning in a completed objective — is a natural concept for many adults under age 35.

One Task, One Stone

OTOS inspired a huge, immediate shift in how much I got done and how many goals I achieved. Instead of gravitating toward the path of least resistance — ironically, often playing more video games — when I reached a stopping point on one activity, I found myself eager to identify a new to-do item so I could drop another stone in my jar.

I ended up getting my new couch, and it served as a tangible, prominent symbol of my personal victory.

I now use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which provides enough stimulation and motivation for me to stay on track most of the time. This is not true for everyone. If you’re looking for an extra push, and especially if you enjoy playing games, I highly recommend checking out  Matt’s original post for more details on the concept and execution. He invites you to tweak it and expand on it, and so do I. Share your results, keep working toward that prize, and don’t forget to put recharging time on your to-do list!


7 ADHD-friendly purchases we actually use

We’re two ADHD adults with an Amazon Prime subscription. I don’t have to tell you how challenging it can be to reign in impulse purchases.

That said, among the duds we’ve made some indispensable ADHD-friendly purchases over the years.

Every individual and every household has different needs, so your list may look different. I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!

P-Touch labeler

David Allen recommends automatic labelmakers for more successful filingI balked at this when my husband first bought it. A fancy label maker felt extravagant when we already owned perfectly functional pens and pencils. However, I’m now sold on the benefits — espoused by organizing guru David Allen — of printing labels for file folders as opposed to hand-writing. The labeler makes this quick and easy, which makes us more likely to file documents in a timely manner.

Not only that, I’ve started labeling every storage container in our home. Remember, your ADHD spouse may not intuit where something goes, even if it seems obvious. You may not even remember your system a month later. Creating a clear system encourages everyone to put things away in their proper homes.

Pill case

I’m paranoid about forgetting my meds. I’m also paranoid about forgetting I’ve taken them, then accidentally double-dosing. We have seven-day pill cases (different colors for each of us!) that hold our meds and vitamins. I’m diligent about taking pills only from the case. This makes it very clear whether or not I’ve taken my stimulant meds for the day. It also helps me track how often I’m remembering to take my vitamins.

Electric razor

My husband has used an electric razor for years, but I only recently discovered the ladies’ models. I take short, irregular showers, especially in the winter when my skin is dry. Shaving in the shower was not working  at all because I needed to remember to leave time for a longer shower. The wet/dry electric razor allows me to take care of this pesky task whenever (and wherever) I think of it and have a few minutes.

Spray bottles

I keep spray bottles of homemade multi-purpose cleaner spray bottles(a 2:1 water:vinegar solution with a little squirt of dish soap) hidden all over the house, most notably under the bathroom sink. Like the electric razor, this allows me to clean whenever I notice something and have a minute. It’s cheap, easy, and convenient — all good news for ADHD homemakers.

Post-it notes

I use a lot of post-it notes. I keep them in almost every room of the house, in my glove compartment, and in my purse. People have asked me why I’m obsessed with post-its when I have a smartphone with multiple list-making and task management apps.

It’s simple: sticky notes let me write things down distraction-free. The moment I unlock my phone, a whole pile of shiny apps scatter my focus. Almost invariably, I forget what I wanted to write down in a matter of seconds. Post-its save my sanity. I toss them in my inbox and record them on my to-do list later.

Time Timer

time timer

This timer provides a visual representation of time that many ADHD’ers find immensely helpful. I use it almost daily to curtail my social media use. The disappearing red segment forces me to ask myself, “is this how I want to be spending this time?”

Christmas is right around the corner. This is a great gift for all your loved ones with ADHD, and there’s an app for Android and iOS if you don’t want to invest in the physical timer.

Document scanner

I rolled my eyes when my husband ordered this one because we already own a nice flatbed scanner. However, I now use the document scanner almost daily. It’s fast, easy, and has allowed me to eliminate so much paper filing from our lives. Do you have a big stack of papers “to file” somewhere in your home or office? Thought so. Make sure you have a backup service like Dropbox or Crashplan set up, then give one of these a whirl.

A document scanner is a fast, easy way to reduce paper clutter



Now vs. Not Now: keeping perspective when parenting a toddler

There’s a cliche out there about ADHD’ers having two kinds of time: Now and Not Now.

This may equip us to relate well to our toddlers. For them, going inside for dinner feels like going inside forever.

Be careful, though — it also equips us to act more like our toddlers.

When I first experienced stimulant medication, I remember the flood of relief when realized a bad week was just a week long. A new one would begin on Monday. Truly revolutionary.

Let’s face it: parenting a toddler is hard for anyone. Toddlers are adorable, brilliant, charming, and loads of fun. They also grin at you while doing something you just told them not to do. They say no to everything just for fun. They’re prone to protracted emotional meltdowns, and they’ll push every button just to get a rise out of you.

I’m no parenting expert, but if you have both ADHD and a toddler, you’re going to love this little trick.

Your happy toddler memory jar

Remember sweet moments on a tough day

Firstly, allow me to confess I’m blatantly stealing this idea from a post about cooling heat-of-the-moment despair in adult relationships on You and Me — and Adult ADDPerhaps we’re continuing our ADHD relationship theme from last week, but this applies just as well — if not even better — to parent-child relationships.

The concept is simple: you’re saving those joyful, charming moments of toddlerhood for a rainy day. When your child does something to melt your heart (or fill it with pride), write it down on a colorful post-it and drop it in the jar. Some examples we’ve already dropped in R.’s positive memory jar:

  • The day he finally mastered “stop and turn around” while playing outside, after many days of reinforcement and time-outs
  • His love of “squeeze hugs,” where he hugs us as tight as he can while saying “squeeeeeeeeeee”
  • When told him our neighbors had just planted a baby tree and he needed to be gentle near it, he walked around exclaiming “baby tee!” for the next several minutes

When you’re having a rough day, fraught with tantrums and opportunities to beat up on your parenting skills, the notes in your jar can remind you of the Not Now. Sometimes that’s all it takes to see the bigger picture and break out of all-or-nothing thinking.

I even managed to turn our whole afternoon around by pausing to write a positive memory from earlier in the day. We’d had a challenging hour or so, and the morning’s fun activities seemed a lifetime away. After I stopped to inventory those sweet moments, I immediately felt calmer and more equipped to continue our day on a positive path.

If you’re diligent about writing the date on your notes, you can even scan them to your computer or save them in a baby book after you empty your jar. When I invited my husband to sit and read the notes with me when R.’s jar got full, he asked, “do we have to wait that long?” What a great way for ADHD parents to appreciate these small joys.

How do you maintain balance and perspective during tough parenting moments? Share them in the comments — we could all use a little help!


Book review: Is it You, Me, or Adult ADD?

A version of this review first appeared in Mix Tapes and Scribbles.

Gina Pera You Me Adult ADD cover imageGina Pera’s Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD is an absolute must for any long-term relationship with one or more ADHD partners. Even without a formal diagnosis, I recommend it to anyone who’s been called irresponsible, lacking common sense, disorganized, or plain old hard to live with. What you read might just change your life.

Back in my undergraduate days, I remember one of my art professors advising his female students to keep our names when we got married. Having a marriage fall apart was, he warned, going to be more likely for us than the average person, and our careers were built on name recognition.

And why might our marriages be destined for hard times? We could thank our dedication and drive, our chaotic lives, our inability to prioritize anything over work. We may not come to bed until 3:00 a.m. We may not pay the bills on time or remember to pick up the dry cleaning. But we’d always have attention to spare for our work.

That sounds an awful lot like ADHD, which affects a great many creative thinkers. In fact, my husband — a computer programmer — fits this description exactly.

When I read Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?, I gave it to him immediately and said, “this is a book about us.”

He pursued an ADHD diagnosis shortly thereafter and credits this book with altering his whole perspective on life.

Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? doesn’t just focus on ADHD adults’ obvious task completion issues. Pera digs into the executive functioning deficiencies that undermine relationships and render typical couples’ therapy and communication strategies ineffective, including:

  • Listening — really listening — to your partner and comprehending what they’ve told you
  • Empathy
  • Seeing a situation from your partner’s perspective
  • Comprehending cause and effect, including the impact your behavior has on your partner
  • Emotional regulation, biploar behavior, and/or heightened emotional responses to everyday situations
  • Handling adult responsibilities and being reliable when your partner needs you

The book also hits on the surprising manifestations of hyperactivity and inattentiveness in adults:

  • Hyperfocus — getting absorbed in a project to the exclusion of anything (or anyone) else
  • High-risk behavior, including substance abuse and aggressive driving
  • Picking fights, then blaming your partner for becoming upset as a result of the conflict
  • Blurting out private or inappropriate information about your partner in social settings
  • Insatiability — an inability to feel satisfied with anything (or anyone) in your life

Pera’s extensive research and real-life anecdotes will help make sense of an ADHD partner’s “confusing ups and downs of selfishness and generosity, irritability and sweetness, brilliance and boneheadedness.”

For many readers, Pera’s research will bring together disparate pieces they never knew belonged to the same puzzle. For those with unrecognized/undiagnosed ADHD, it will be a revelation. My husband commented that he couldn’t believe everything he “didn’t like about [himself]” had a common root — and could be managed with coping strategies and medication.

For that sense of hope alone, I recommend this book to any adult who suspects ADHD in themselves or their partner. These people know they’re not reaching their full potential but feel powerless to get their lives under control. Because they’re perfectly capable of focusing — hyperfocusing, even — on things that deeply interest them, partners and colleagues conclude that they just don’t care.

If you fear losing a piece of yourself by trying stimulant medication, Pera concisely debunks the perception of mental disorders as a “gift.” Instead, she stresses that our “strengths are independent of [our] ADHD” and our “ADHD fog can obscure the best of qualities.” Treating ADHD with stimulant medication doesn’t remove our capacity for innovation and brilliance. Quite the contrary: it frees us from our feelings of helplessness and lack of control.

All in all, Stopping the Roller Coaster combines just enough science for the lay reader with a wealth of real-life stories from people in ADHD relationships. It can feel disorienting to read anecdotes you thought were unique to you, your marriage, or your partner. In the end, though, that commonality opens the door to hope. ADHD adults can reduce the baseline of anxiety and frustration in their homes take control of their lives in ways they never imagined. I’m sure this powerful little book has saved more than a few marriages.


#LWSLClutterFree: final reflections on a month of decluttering

#LWSLClutterFree getting organized in 31 daysWell, that’s a wrap, on October and on the #LWSLClutterFree 31-day challenge.

My conclusion: #LWSLClutterFree’s goals may be attainable for the average person or household. Ours is not the average household.

We’re the kind of home where we can make a mess of a room one day, shut the door in utter overwhelm the next, then pretend the room doesn’t exist for over four months. We can take that same room down to the bare studs and leave it that way for a year and a half.

We dream big here. We start strong, and then — well, and then.

One discrete decluttering project per day was just too much to sustain for an entire month.

I’m glad I recognized this and backed off before I made too much of a mess. And while I only completed one third of the daily projects, but that doesn’t mean I got nothing done. It just means this wasn’t an ADHD-friendly challenge.

31 days of decluttering: what I wanted

Before I embarked on #LWSLClutterFree, I took a few minutes to write down some key areas where I wanted to see improvement:

  • The basement, which is a dumping ground for unused items and things I don’t know what to do with
  • The kitchen, which is very small but has plenty of under-utilized space
  • The portable closet in my bedroom (it has to go)
  • The office (it’s a mess)
  • Pantry
  • Freezer

I also noted my concerns:

  • Fitting #LWSLClutterFree projects into my everyday life without shortchanging my regular household maintenance
  • Making the checklists and tasks manageable for ADHD attention and focus — would there be enough structure and supports to make the projects feel doable?
  • Too much “just do it” mentality
  • Hyperfocus traps — how would I keep the projects within their time budget and avoid tangents?

I began the month feeling energized and optimistic. While I doubted I could solve all my clutter problems in one month, I hoped the added structure would help me tackle the most intimidating areas.

What #LWSLClutterFree gave me

By the end of the month, I had some successes to report:

  • I put out enough junk to qualify for a medium-size charity pickup (as opposed to a small one).
  • I decluttered the kitchen counters and moved a few things around in the cabinets to make life easier
  • The portable closet is now empty
  • The pantry is now well-organized and no longer overflowing
  • We thinned our book collection significantly, and I came up with a great technique to help my husband choose which books to keep
#LWSLClutterFree tiny kitchen after photo

My tiny kitchen: definitely a great place to focus decluttering efforts.

I didn’t touch the freezer or the office, and the basement wasn’t included in the challenge so I just worked on it in my spare time.

#LWSLClutterFree may not have helped me solve our home’s biggest problems, but I did make some high-impact improvements. I’m especially pleased with the entryway and R.’s toy area.

I also experienced some pleasant side effects. Cleaning out the pantry inspired me to implement a food budgeting system, which reduced our food costs by around 30%. I’ve also noticed a big drop in our weekly food waste.

While we’re talking about money, I don’t know about you, but I find cash nearly every time I do a major cleanout. I’ve never quite figured out how this happens. It’s never a paltry sum, either — on the first day I took stimulant medication, I cleaned up a previously abandoned room in our house and found enough money to buy a rug and several other decor items. This time, I found $70 as I chipped away at the mess under our basement stairs.

Little success, but little regret either

Overall, I’m glad I attempted #LWSLClutterFree. Getting into the minimizing spirit just before the holidays will definitely help as I make our Christmas and birthday wish lists. Also, the projects I did complete were, by and large, ones I wouldn’t have thought to put on my list. I’ve been deterred from any minor spruce-ups because the office and basement are hanging over my head.

Much like Erin Doland’s Unclutter Your Life in One Week, though, the timeline makes this challenge unrealistic for ADHD’ers. Many of the projects could well have been expanded to a week to break them down sufficiently.

Years ago, I may have let my lack of quantifiable success demoralize me, but I’ve learned to see the bright side by now. I made (and found) some money, got a lot of stuff out of the house, and made my living and dining room areas look considerably nicer than they did a month ago. Is my entire house clutter free? Absolutely not. Am I a few steps closer to achieving that goal? I sure am. That’s good enough for me this time.

Now, if you don’t mind, it’s time for me to plug in a space heater, queue up a playlist, and return to the long, slow project that is cleaning out my basement.


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