The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: December 2014

Here’s to a peaceful holiday

A few years ago, I stopped looking forward to the holidays. However, as I’m signing off today, saying farewell until after Christmas, I’m feeling downright excited again.


When I was younger, I loved this time of year: first we had Thanksgiving, then my birthday, then Christmas and New Years. The weather got chilly and the smell of wood smoke greeted me when I stepped out the door.

In college, the holidays meant nearly a month home from school, visiting with friends and picking up shifts at my old job.

Even in the real world, I got a job that provided paid time off between Christmas and New Years. Friends and family eyed that free vacation time with envy, but I rarely enjoyed it. We spent the whole time traveling, trying to make sure we visited each branch of our family for equal time. My husband, who didn’t receive such a generous leave package around the holidays, turned down opportunities to take summer vacations so he could save his vacation time for Christmas.

To be fair, to be able to do all of this was a blessing. And maybe some people — some families — can do it all. Maybe this is sustainable for some. Not for us.

For ADHD families especially, traveling has a steep cost: projects and maintenance stagnate while we’re away. We lose our daily routines. Regular chores are left undone as we prepare for our departure. We have to remember to stop the mail, tell our neighbors we’ll be gone, shut off the water to the washing machine. Even if it doesn’t overshadow — or even begin to compete with — the benefits, these costs create stress.

This year, I decided to stop making our holidays about stress. I decided to be real about our family — who and where we are at this moment — and focus on spending quality time with the people we love. Period. That means we’re seeing fewer people this year, or inviting more of them to come to us. It means not overstretching ourselves. Learning to say no. Prioritizing our family over my desire to do it all and my fear of disappointing others.

With so many distractions removed this year, I can finally look forward to Christmas with an open heart.

And sometimes that’s what we need to do: simplify. Remove distractions. Stop measuring ourselves against others’ standards.

I may not have that job anymore, but I’m giving myself some time off anyway. The ADHD Homestead will resume its regular schedule on December 29. Until then, I hope you have a lovely Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, or whatever celebration you’re planning. Don’t forget why you’re there: to fill your heart and be a light to those around you. Keep stripping away the distractions until you get there.

Happy holidays!


Put a basket on it: how to work with an ADHD visual thinker

The clothes were everywhere.

Despite my best efforts — which included, interchangably, nagging, reminding, insisting, or just cleaning them up myself — my husband managed to keep several surfaces in our bedroom covered with clothes. The top of his dresser was the worst: always concealed under a heap of shirts, jeans, and hoodies.

“But I’m going to wear them again,” he said when I pressed him to put them into the hamper or his drawers.

Sound familiar?

Many ADHD households struggle with clutter, and it’s not always the result of too much stuff. Sometimes the stuff is stored in a way that makes someone uncomfortable.


Our clothing mess was my first window into the world of visual thinkers: if something was on active duty, my husband felt considerable resistance to putting it away where he couldn’t see it.

So how did we tackle that resistance, here and in other hot spots in our home?


You can find attractive baskets just about anywhere: Target, craft stores, and IKEA, to name a few. Some are pricey, but the most affordable — usually plastic or metal, not wicker — can often be found in that little $1-$3 area just inside Target’s front door.

If stuff keeps collecting in the same spot, there’s a reason — and that reason isn’t likely to disappear. While legitimizing it with a pretty container may feel like letting the terrorists win, it’s not. It’s effective problem-solving, and it’s going to remove an unsightly clutter pile from your home forever.

Take a look at your home’s most junky surfaces: are your husband’s shaving supplies constantly strewn all over the bathroom counter? Clothes on the bedroom floor? Mail taking over the dining room table? Find a way to collect these items in a more visually appealing way — without moving them completely out of sight. For your visually-oriented spouse, out of sight may truly mean out of mind.

We now have a nice basket to store wear-again clothing in our bedroom, a toiletry bin on the back of the toilet (not in the medicine cabinet), and several more strategically placed baskets throughout the house.

Just one word of caution: make sure your baskets are single-purpose only, and police them regularly to make sure no stray items are sneaking in. Once the basket becomes a repository for junk, it’ll be all to easy to toss things in there rather than take a few seconds to figure out what to do with them.


Why I’m not buying my kid nice things for Christmas

Unsurprisingly, I’ve been doing some toy shopping lately, adding an inventory of enticing playthings to R.’s Amazon wish list.

Does anyone else find this incredibly overstimulating?

As I pored over the Amazon product page for a popular play kitchen, I got that familiar feeling in my brain: there was just too much going on. The kitchen boasted stove burners that clicked, plenty of decorative stickers, and bold, bright colors.

Reflecting on my quickly tiring brain circuitry, I closed the tab. If I felt that way looking at this play kitchen, surely it was more sensory input than my toddler needed. I ended up choosing a plain, simple kitchen from IKEA for his Christmas list.

IKEA play kitchen

R.’s brain is active enough, he can fill in the blanks. I mean, the other day he set a triangle of his peanut butter and jelly sandwich on end and announced, “dog! Woof! Woof!”

Surely he doesn’t need a barrage of stickers and colors and noises to direct his imaginative play.

We all want the best for our kids. We want to give them an environment that is stimulating enough but not too much so, structured but not overwhelming. As you’re shopping this season, take a step back. Think about your favorite memories, your favorite toys from your own childhood. My happiest times as a young child were spent playing in the woods surrounding our family’s home, inventing fantasy worlds and engaging with no toys at all — just a collection of treasures I found outside.

A lot of what I’ve read this year points to a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to parenting. Thinning the hoard of toys to a less-overwhelming quantity can have delightful effects on your children’s behavior, play, and attention span. More and more evidence shows that unstructured, kid-directed play — the kind that was probably plentiful in our own childhoods but has been replaced by a rigorous schedule of activities for our little ones — is critical to development of executive function.

Don’t worry about bells and whistles when you’re shopping for the perfect toy this year. Instead, try something your child can make his own. A simple toy that will engage the imagination, not zone her out.

In other words, relax: it’s still a gift to be simple.


Book review: Getting Things Done

David Allen Getting Things Done coverWhen I first read David Allen‘s Getting Things DoneI was about to abandon the structure of my office job for the self-directed world of stay-at-home work and motherhood. I have Getting Things Done (GTD) to thank for every household and personal management success I’ve had since.

Regardless of the level of external structure in your work and life, ADHD adults need an intentional, airtight system to organize time and tasks. GTD is a great place to start. Allen’s book offers a detailed framework for setting up your personalized organizational system — one that may feel like magic.

Recently, my husband (who also has ADHD) and I engaged in a heated discussion about time, and his apparent lack of it. I kept pushing GTD as a solution until he demanded, “yeah, but does it actually give you more time? Whenever you talk about it, it’s like time magically appears out of nowhere so you can get your stuff done.”


Then, my response: “well, yes, that’s pretty much how I felt when I first read the book. I wasn’t working harder, but my projects just started getting done.”

Allen challenges readers to gather every loose end, from the mundane to the enormous, and put it all into a central, trusted system. ADHD adults will benefit especially from the continued assertion that your brain is the worst place to store just about anything.

That kind of common-sense approach pervades the book and the GTD system. Allen knows how the brain works, and he knows how to work with — rather than against — our innate strengths and weaknesses. While ADHD isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, Getting Things Done should be required reading for all of us.

Potential ADHD pitfalls

Of course, GTD is not a cure-all. ADHD adults in particular will need to stay vigilant so as not to get off track.

For example, processing your inbox without actually doing all the tasks immediately may be exhausting. It’ll be tempting to “catch up” as you empty your inbox, especially if you find something urgent and long-forgotten. However, it’s best to keep Allen’s two-minute rule in mind: if you can’t finish it in two minutes, put it in your task management system and keep moving. If these tasks keep distracting you from reaching the bottom of your inbox, you’ll stop trusting the inbox as a place to put important to-dos.

Given that this initial inbox dump may create a drain on your stamina and willpower, I’d caution against Allen’s advice to work long days. If you do choose to go this route, I recommend recruiting a friend to help you stay on course.

My biggest daily struggle with GTD is remembering to create projects in my task management system. In our haste to get tasks onto our list and move on to the next thing that catches our eye, it can be tempting for ADHD’ers to add actions like “get new tires” to our to-do lists. Though I endure significant resistance from my brain on a regular basis, forcing myself to think through the tasks required to complete a small project is a major key to my success with GTD.

Common sense where we need it most

In what feels almost cliche for ADHD adults, Allen insists that “trying to approach any situation from a perspective that’s not the natural way your mind operates will be difficult.”

For those of us contending with ADHD, that’s an understatement.

However, there’s wisdom for everyone here: feeling overwhelmed and out of control is inevitable. Digging your way out to a play of calm and productivity is not. You need to use common sense. Allen gives us a step-by-step guide to implementing a common-sense task management system for every level of our lives. If you haven’t read Getting Things Done yet, do it this week. You won’t regret it.


You are your problem coworker


If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ve encountered some difficult personalities. Even in the loveliest work environments, someone makes life difficult from time to time.

In your relationship with yourself, you are that problem coworker.

Practice being fair to yourself

Let’s face it, you do find yourself difficult to work with, don’t you?

The trouble is, we tend to hold ourselves to a different standard than our troublesome officemate. We beat ourselves up over mistakes, we scrutinize awkward conversations long after others have forgotten them, and we constantly remind ourselves of how we should be different — and better.

If you thought and felt this way about everyone around you who wasn’t perfect, you’d drive yourself crazy. And, though we’ve all wasted energy stewing over a tense working relationship at some point, most of the time we say “that’s just how he/she is.” Our approach to professional interactions can provide some important wisdom.

Accept, strategize, and move on

Despite my relatively poor social skills, I often felt I had an easier time working with my office’s difficult personalities. When it’s your job to collect important human resources documents or present a new health care plan, impasse isn’t an option. The work simply must get done correctly and on time.

How did I do it? By accepting people as they were and creating strategies to give them what they needed from our interactions. If someone managed email exceptionally poorly, sending email reminders would lead to strife and missed deadlines. If a colleague couldn’t stand being interrupted, I wouldn’t get anywhere by approaching her at her desk to discuss her incomplete timesheets — even if that was the method preferred by the office culture.

I learned how people operated, how they saw things, and what their priorities were, and I worked from there. The people weren’t going to change, no matter how much I berated them or set them up for negative consequences. The best thing to do was create a strategy for working with them.

Then, I moved on. I didn’t waste my time or energy complaining — aloud or to others — about how problem coworkers could stand to improve. If I stumbled in my dealings with them, I refined my strategy and kept going.

Developing a long-term working relationship

Would our lives be different if we remembered more, got distracted less, exercised better judgement, managed our calendars more effectively? Sure. Are we likely to start making these dramatic improvements tomorrow? Certainly not.

When things go wrong, don’t assume it’s because you just need to “get yourself together” or “learn how to manage that type of situation better.” That rarely leads to anything but negative self-talk, and it deprives you of the opportunity to figure out how to do better next time.

Instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect, figure out what went wrong. Learn what situations trigger your temper and irrational behavior. Learn whether you communicate best via email, text message, phone, or face-to-face conversations. Learn when you’re most likely to overindulge in sweets. When you know what steers you toward trouble, you can figure out how to keep yourself from getting there.

For my coworkers, sometimes it was as simple as catching someone by the coffee maker and talking through what felt to them like an impersonal, tedious process. For myself, sometimes it’s as simple as putting a pad of sticky notes in my glove box so I quit forgetting important things between the car and the front door.

Whatever you do, don’t write yourself off. You still have to work with yourself tomorrow. You’d be smart to make the best of it.


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