The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: Household Maintenance (page 1 of 2)

Applying the ADHD brakes during a huge project

Life at the ADHD Homestead is about to get crazy: we’re renovating our kitchen.

This is our biggest, baddest project since we did in vitro fertilization almost five years ago. Like IVF, the payoffs will be fantastic — we got a kid last time, and this time we’ll get a kitchen larger than a closet — but getting there might be rough.

A major renovation, like purchasing an expensive science baby, requires us to keep a lot of balls in the air. We need to pay attention to multiple angles at once, meet a bunch of deadlines (big and small), and play a massive game of Don’t Mess It Up.

To pull it off, I have to allow some moderate hyperfocus and forget most of my regular projects.

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An uneasy truce with hyperfocus.

I complain about hyperfocus a lot, both because I find it annoying and because my ADHD falls at the other end of the spectrum. However, now’s the time to channel my inner hyperfocuser and say no to everything else.

My ADHD makes it hard to prioritize. When it’s not driving someone crazy, this can be an asset. My many responsibilities to our home and family require comfort with a lot of irons in the fire. I’m the point person for planning an annual reunion of our college friends, I care for our lawn and garden, and I help my dad’s side of the family maintain a house at the beach. I pay our bills and clean our house and RSVP for our social events.

Now, it’s time to shut all that out. It’s going to be hard. The other night, I sat down and told myself, “there are two important things: finishing my novel by August, and renovating this kitchen.” That’s it. There will be no planning of friend reunions, no playgroup outings to the zoo, no impromptu dinner parties. No reconfiguration of our retirement accounts, weekends at the beach, or sewing myself a new dress. No progress on other projects. Just fiction and a kitchen, that’s all.

Saying goodbye to all the things.

Less than two hours after making this decision, it already felt uncomfortable. Every time I notice something that can be done, I want to do it. I want to make sure we’re not overpaying on our car insurance. I want to plan a writing retreat,  research stand up paddleboards, and have lunch with a friend. I want to do all the things.

Of course, if I do all the things, I’ll enter June feeling despondent about my lack of progress on my novel manuscript.

“It’s okay,” friends will tell me. “You were renovating your kitchen!”

Well, sure. A huge project always feels like a fair excuse for stalling on other things. But it’s not a fair excuse for failing to prioritize.

It doesn’t come naturally, but I’m going to try. I just have to remember: Writing and kitchen, writing and kitchen, writing and kitchen.

And when a new project or task crosses my path, I need to force my first reaction to be, “no.”

Has a big project ever redefined your priorities? How did you deal?

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My ADHD Home: A Visitors’ Guide

My attempts at effective homemaking with ADHD could fill a memoir. I long for a tidy, peaceful home where guests always feel comfortable and welcome. My grandmother would tell you I make this look easy.

We should all have someone like my grandmother in our lives. For everyone else, I give you this visitors’ guide. I do like you, and please don’t let me drive you crazy.

 

Never be afraid to ask.

Before I say anything funny, allow me to say: I want to be a good host. I try to provide the essentials: towels, toothbrush/toothpaste, a bed, and fresh coffee in the morning. I’ll even pick the coffee mug I think suits you best today.

I’m also forgetful. I miss social cues. Some aspects of my lifestyle are a little weird. If you want it, and I haven’t offered it, I guarantee I a.) have no idea and b.) want to make it happen. A polite request for something to make your stay more comfortable is always welcome.

You’d be surprised by what throws me off my game.

Once, my mom brought her own pillowcase to my house. I had a newborn, and she wanted to save me some laundry. I spent the next four years searching for one of the pillowcases to that sheet set. Apparently, I cannot handle washing part of the set without losing the rest.

I recently found it. I wish I could tell you where, but this happened a couple weeks ago, and I forget. I know I found it somewhere in my house.

Also, now I have anxiety every time someone suggests using a partial sheet set. Guests have said, “oh, it’s just me, you didn’t need to use two pillowcases.” Or, even more terrifying, “I don’t really need the top sheet.” I always wonder: should I admit that I’m afraid of losing the unused piece of the set?

Don’t worry, I love going out. I just hate getting ready.

I love showing you around town. I love thinking about my guests, and what they might enjoy, and designing a weekend to suit them.

That said, I hate getting out the door. I fuss over departure times, even when they don’t matter. I overthink how many and which cars we should drive, or whether we should walk or take public transit. I get cranky with my family for taking too long to pack up. Generally speaking, I don’t go with the flow.

I apologize. I’ll try not to be unpleasant, but I have a terrible track record. If (when) it happens, it’s not about you, or my desire to do the thing. It’s about getting out the door, which is not my favorite.

Keep me up late at your own risk.

I have a bedtime, just like my kid has a bedtime. It’s around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. If I stay up too late, I’ll be a hot mess the next day — especially if we need to get out the door for anything. Lack of sleep intensifies pretty much every ADHD symptom, and sometimes I feel like it increases my meds’ drowsiness side effect.

However, most social nuance is lost on me. I have no idea how to extricate myself gracefully from a conversation. If you’re up, and you’re talking to me, chances are I’ll stay up until you say it’s time for bed. If you want to be super helpful, try to wrap up our friendly chat around the aforementioned time window. Say something like, “alright, well, I’ll let you get to bed.” Everyone will thank you in the morning.

I love offering you a private space…for both of us.

I feel rude even typing this, but I get a little batty about clutter. I find it visually overstimulating, and it makes my brain go haywire. I spend a lot of my life battling clutter, if only to clear my own head.

For our first several years in our house, we didn’t have a dedicated guest room. By necessity, guests tended to spread their belongings throughout the house: a keyring here, a newspaper there, a colony of duffle bags in the corner. I hated myself for how cranky this made me.

Now, I offer guests a semi-finished basement room with their own futon, side table, and bathroom. A handful of guests have told me, “oh, you don’t need to set all that up for me. I can just sleep on the couch.”

Trust me: I love making you a little nest, and it makes me feel like a nice friend. It also gives you a place to put your stuff without cluttering my living space. I’m not a terrible person, but my neurochemistry places certain demands on my environment.

Before Coffee vs. After Coffee.

There are two kinds of time in my day: the time before coffee, and the time after coffee. Before coffee, I like to hang out in the kitchen, cook breakfast for everyone, listen to NPR (or music, or nothing), and put a kettle on the stove. Then I eat my egg and toast and take the remainder of my coffee to the couch to read a magazine.

During this time in the kitchen, I feel happy and pleasant — unless someone harshes my mellow. This isn’t the time to start an important conversation. My brain isn’t warmed up yet. While I’m measuring out the coffee or pouring water into the French press — this is an especially bad time to throw me off-kilter with idle chit-chat. If I pour too much water and have to start my coffee-making routine over, I can’t promise I’m going to be able to deal.

Decompression is a good thing.

After all the drama of pre-coffee chit-chat, lost pillowcases, cluttered side tables, and expeditions out my front door, I need a breather. Seinfeld put it best: it’s not you, it’s me.

I’m an introvert with ADHD. This means I’m easily overwhelmed and worn out by all the hurly-burly. My kid no longer takes a nap in the middle of the day, but I still appreciate a slice  of quiet time. If I sneak off to my office to read a book on the loveseat, or to a backyard hammock for a 30-minute rest in the sun, I probably don’t want you to come keep me company — though I do want you to find me if you need anything! Likewise, if there’s something you want to do — take a walk, read a book, spend some time checking your email — feel free to set aside some time for it. I won’t be offended if you want a little down time that doesn’t involve me.

I like you, please come back.

Bottom line: I love having guests. It’s way more relaxing than getting my entire family out the door (see above) for a weekend away. I love sharing my home and my city. I don’t always have my act together, and sometimes that makes me feel disappointed and angry with myself. It’s not because I don’t want you there, it’s because I have this internal struggle happening: I want to cling to my routines and my familiar environment (ADHD’ers don’t always deal well with change, and someone leaning back in a reclining chair can feel like too much change for me). I also want to be the world’s best host, and I don’t want my ADHD to make me look like a failure as a friend or a grownup.

So welcome to my home. I hope you’re 100% comfortable and happy and well-fed, but if you’re not, I hope you’ll ask for whatever you want. I also hope you’ll be sensitive to the fact that I might act weird sometimes, or seem overly rigid about the little stuff, or get cranky and overwhelmed while we’re getting out the door. I don’t mean to be off-putting. I appreciate you, and I hope you’ll come back.

Review: HelloFresh meal delivery

Home-cooked meals nourish our bodies, our minds, and our budget. I have a pretty solid meal planning routine, but this summer I welcomed a little help from meal delivery service HelloFresh.

For the purpose of this review, I used HelloFresh for around six weeks. I received one free box , but all opinions are (as always) my own. This review is based on the veggie box. I tried to keep it concise, but I welcome your questions in the comments.

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Flavors

I enjoyed every HelloFresh meal. The flavors were on point for summer: fresh, light, and seasonal. Many meals were based on our household favorites — beans and rice, quesadillas, stir fry, etc. — but offered a new twist.

ADHD sabotages impulse control, so pre-portioned meals were a plus, especially after overeating on several vacations this summer. However, meals with greens had too many, and some salad-based meals felt too light to stand alone for dinner. I enjoy vegetarian meals, but that doesn’t mean I’m on a diet.

Families with allergies or extreme pickiness should know, HelloFresh doesn’t offer meal preferences unless you order the 3-meal Classic Box. My husband is mildly allergic to tree nuts, but I could usually leave the nuts off his portion.  I don’t recall receiving anything with peanuts, but many meals contained tree nuts, gluten, soy, and/or dairy.

Ease of preparation

HelloFresh boxes are stocked with everything you need to prepare your meals. Expect to stock staples like salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s about it. None of the recipes require a microwave (good, because we don’t have one), and all clean up easily without a dishwasher (don’t have one of those, either).

The meals were so easy to prepare, I took HelloFresh on vacation.  There’s no contract and it’s easy to change your delivery address week to week. Changing or pausing the service is no big deal (great for ADHD-affected families, where these details are often overlooked). I had a box delivered to our beach house and combined meals to make a two-course feast for friends.

While I thought preparation was a breeze, my husband found meal preparation “so stressful.” He’s my cooking opposite: he’s a novice, he’s fastidious, and his ADHD makes multi-tasking almost impossible. The recipes were easy, but some required multi-tasking: having two pots on a flame at once, broiling veggies while sauteeing onions, etc. That said, he successfully cooked 2.5 of the 3 meals I assigned him to cook without my help.


HelloFresh changed the way I think about meal preparation. Since the birth of our son, I’ve relied on big batches. I’ll make meat sauce for spaghetti in the crock pot, then freeze it in three-cup portions to use later. My rotation of big batch recipes is big enough to eliminate from-scratch cooking on weeknights.

With HelloFresh, I learned to simplify from-scratch meals and get them underway quickly. Each meal has its own labeled box with ready-to-use ingredients: tiny jars of honey, vinegar, or other condiments; peeled, wrapped cloves of garlic; a single carrot. I had no idea how much time I was spending collecting ingredients, putting containers away, and measuring tablespoons of oil! I plan to save some of those little jars and build my own meal boxes for non-HelloFresh nights.

Freshness

We had a few nasty heat waves last month, and some of our produce arrived in poor shape. On a particularly punishing afternoon, I opened my box to find the food inside already rotting. I’m glad I never ordered a box with meat inside. As long as temperatures didn’t exceed the low 90s, everything arrived fresh.

HelloFresh provided excellent support when I emailed a complaint about this. The representative who wrote back was prompt, friendly, and quite apologetic. She applied a credit to my account for the full cost of my box, even though many of the ingredients had been usable. However, I continued to receive distinctly un-fresh perishables on hot days. Throwing away food makes me sad, and I ended up pausing the service for a week because of the heat. (For reference, our delivery carrier in Baltimore is LaserShip — others’ experience may vary.)

The verdict

Overall, I think I’m hooked. HelloFresh adheres well enough to my pre-existing dietary preferences: simple meals, whole foods, no synthetic dyes, etc. Although I’d love more organics and whole grains, I’m willing to compromise because HelloFresh is so delicious, convenient, and economical.

Though it won’t magically transform a non-cook into the family chef, HelloFresh is a snap compared to a service like Blue Apron. It’s perfect for folks with ADHD who enjoy cooking because meal planning demands so much of our executive functioning.

Interested in trying HelloFresh for yourself? Use the code JACLYNP35 to get $35 off your first box. Tell me what you think (or ask me anything about my HelloFresh experience) in the comments!

Chores, gender norms, & ADHD

ADHD sabotages marriage relationships on (at least) two fronts: the emotional and the practical. One can precede or exacerbate the other. Sharing domestic responsibilities is far from mundane. When we feel unsupported — or worse, cut off at the knees — by a partner, our relationship can drift toward a parent-child dynamic. Not good news for emotional intimacy.

Partners of people with ADHD often complain about division of labor in the home, but it needn’t remain a sticking point. It’s easy to restrict ourselves to two options: continue to nag and get angry, or do it all on our own. Our ADHD household has taken the road less traveled. The house stays relatively clean, most urgent maintenance is addressed in a timely manner, and the bills get paid. Sometimes friends look at me funny, and one fellow at-home parent even told me, “I’d never put up with that [behavior].” But it’s not about “putting up” with anything. We’ve figured out what works for us, and we’re doing it.

If you’re struggling to maintain domestic peace and basic sanitation, you’re not doomed. You just need to figure out what works for your family. This often requires us to reject gender norms and other meaningless expectations. We need to experiment, be realistic, and find our ADHD superpowers.

Chores, gender norms,and #AdultADHD

What’s your ADHD superpower?

ADHD superpowers aren’t gifts. ADHD doesn’t make us special or superior. In his book, I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not, Dr. Wes Crenshaw describes superpowers as places we depart from the diagnostic criteria. For example, ADHD’ers are stereotypically terrible with money. I’m not. I could write a series of posts about finances, and maybe I will someday, but for now, know this: no matter how small my paychecks, I’ve never been broke. ADHD has crippled me in other areas, but not my bank account. ADHD superpowers are more like dodged bullets than gifts.

At home, this means my husband and I — both ADHD’ers, but very different people — break down responsibilities by strengths, not tradition. His perfectionism and hyperfocus — sometimes a terrible Achilles heel — makes him a great fit for jobs that require a fine touch. My ADHD makes me the bull in the china shop. That same hyperfocus makes my husband completely time-blind. If something needs to happen at a specific time, it’s my job: taking out the trash, verifying bills are paid on time, mowing the lawn. I rarely force myself to do nit-picky jobs, but if I get him started, my husband can’t put them down until they’re done. He won’t vacuum without moving all the furniture, and he’ll spend an entire day tracking down an error in our accounting ledger.

You may have noticed, I end up with many of the “man” jobs. I need physical activity to function, and my body type makes me the muscle of our small operation. My husband is the engineer. He’s the person reminding me to slow down and make sure the job is done right. Dividing tasks along gender lines feels arbitrary at best, intensely frustrating and counterproductive at worst. Why set each other up for failure? Why not let everyone have the job they want? Both failure and success have inertia, dragging us toward learned helplessness or self-efficacy. We choose the latter, even if people look askance at a woman mowing the lawn.

Experimentation is key.

Our household may be up and running now, but we learned most things the hard way. For example, we began with my husband managing our online bill-pay accounts. He insisted mailing payments was antiquated and silly, but since it worked for me, I told him, “you want a new system, you set it up.” He did. We stopped getting bills in the mail because he got them via email. Would you guess that someone with ADHD can both forget to log into his bank’s bill-pay system and get behind on his email inbox?

These snags are best dealt with calmly, without finger-pointing. If your ADHD partner lets the grass grow knee-high or forgets to pay the electric bill, he knows it’s a problem (even if he won’t admit it). She feels bad about it (even if she won’t admit it, or even blames you). When we hit a snag, I try to remember it’s a clue to a puzzle we need to solve. Yelling at your spouse, expressing disappointment and shame, or telling her she needs to act like a responsible adult only damages the relationship.

May all expectations be realistic…

Above all, an ADHD household needs realistic expectations. This doesn’t mean resigning ourselves to a lower standard of living. It means being realistic about which responsibilities our partners can take on and how they’ll get the job done. Forcing a square peg through a round hole is a recipe for argument, resentment, and less stuff getting done. What works for me rarely works for my husband, and vice versa. Rather than dwell on the downsides, we use our strengths to fill in for each other’s weaknesses. My husband may never take the trash or recycling out on the correct day, but it’s all good. When I encounter a problem in the house and think, “I can’t even imagine dealing with that,” he’s my man.

Do you or your partner have ADHD? How do you manage household chores? Do you feel like you’ve hit your stride, or are you still looking for a solution?

Derailment, ADHD, & the Pit of Domestic Despair

Toward the end of March, my immune system sabotaged all my good habits. My son brought home a bug that hardly affected him, but — like the evil kid illness it was —  gave me 12 days of low-grade fever. I muddled through. Mostly. But I didn’t exercise, hardly set foot in my office, and got off track with my daily habits. Clutter piled up and projects stagnated. I lost sight of wellness and productivity and couldn’t imagine either being part of my life again.

I was headed straight for the Pit of Domestic Despair.

Fortunately, I’m aware of ADHD’s time blindness. Though it wasn’t deeply reassuring, I told myself I wouldn’t be sick forever.

I also repeated, over and over, “it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay.”

Habits break, systems break, and it’s not the end of the world — or even the good habit.

Or, rather, it doesn’t have to be.

Derailment,ADHD,& thePit of Domestic Despair

“No, thanks” to self-loathing. “Yes, please” to equanimity.

ADHD does more than make it tough to stay on course. Through years of repeated failure, we teach ourselves that failure is inevitable. New habits and projects excite us, but only to a point. By adulthood, our cynicism always lurks in the shadows, reminding us that success is fleeting. Yes, we’re doing it, but only for now. Only until the next time everything falls apart.

I’ve spent years learning to stay organized and form intentional habits, but my most important lesson has been in accepting failure. Everyone gets off track sometimes. Even people without ADHD. The key isn’t staying on the wagon, it’s knowing how to climb back on.

When a habit breaks or a project stagnates or a deadline gets missed, it’s not a confirmation of all my self-doubt and self-criticism. Letting the house get messy one week doesn’t signal a return to my “real” (i.e. unhappy, unfocused, disorganized, unproductive) self. It means I messed up. Or I had a fever for 12 days. It’s just a thing that happened.

This brings me to my favorite word: equanimity. It means remaining neutral in the face of life’s gains and losses, and it’s a skill I’ll be honing for the rest of my life. In this case, it means looking at my messy house and my broken habits, saying, “okay,” and moving on without much fanfare.

There’s usually something beyond Right Now (even if we don’t believe it).

I eventually felt better — obviously. And for the first time, I didn’t spend my first day on the mend beating myself up or lamenting the impossible task in front of me. I just got up and kept going. Slowly.

With the energy I saved by not spinning myself up to a state of intense despair, overwhelm, and self-loathing, I started to dig out of the Pit of Domestic Despair. I (finally) changed the sheets on our bed. I spent a week chipping away at my overflowing inbox. I attacked the accumulated clutter, bit by bit. I refused to start on any projects until I’d gotten back to a workable baseline. I spent my energy getting to a place where I could feel good again.

It’s taken me a long time to learn this. To learn, for example, that instead of sitting in the house and complaining about my bad attitude, I should put on my shoes and go for a run. ADHD is often a problem of inertia. Overcoming inertia, even if we only take one itty-bitty, tiny step, is half the battle.

Everyone gets stuck. The more gracefully we can accept this and move on, the better. ADHD tempts us to believe Right Now is all there is. That makes messy surroundings and broken habits feel overwhelming and permanent. The Pit of Domestic Despair becomes a black hole. It’s taken me almost 32 years, but I’ve finally taken a leap of faith. I don’t always believe something better is waiting around the bend. I’m  just willing to inch my way over there and find out.

You vs. the world: lets discuss ADHD for at-home parents

“Our family needs a homemaker.”

I love to be needed, but those words stung.

I was trying to convince my husband to keep our twice-monthly cleaning service, but he wouldn’t budge. It was a temporary arrangement for a tough time: during the first nine months of our son’s life, my husband finished a master’s degree and broke his collarbone.

I needed help.

The problem was, once things returned to normal, I viewed this extra help as a small price to pay to get my writing business off the ground. My husband reminded me of our agreement that one of us would be a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t seem fair for me to claim I “didn’t have time” to clean the house.

Maybe it wasn’t, but providing sanity and order to an ADHD household, day in and day out, is exhausting.

Because it’s true: our ADHD family does need a homemaker. We need one adult holding down the fort full-time to keep everything from exploding (or imploding) into chaos.We need someone cleaning, coordinating home repairs, paying bills, opening the mail, and making sure everyone eats — among many, many other things.

But I have ADHD, too, and I have big plans for my life. Specifically, I want to do all the things, and I want to do them yesterday.

In the two years post-cleaning lady, I’ve found a better groove. I’ve forced myself to keep trying. I figured out a way to keep writing while (usually) keeping the house (relatively) clean. R. grew up into a little boy and stopped nursing, which meant I could resume taking my ADHD meds. I’ve mapped out a longer-term plan for my writing that allows me to feel like I’m making daily progress. I’ve learned to accept incremental progress, even if I want instant gratification.

Being the homemaker is still hard. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for more reasons than I can count. My husband has unbeatable job security, and my salary wouldn’t have supported us. I prefer to be in charge. I’m better at structuring my own projects and time.

Our family doesn’t just need a homemaker, we need me. And to be there for our family, I need to be there for myself, too. That means making time for my writing, but also taking care of our home and family. Taking time for myself, but not leaving everyone else to pick up my slack.

It’s a lifelong pursuit, finding balance. I’ll never quite get there. I’ll never perfect the art of slowing down, of accepting imperfection, of resting, of moderating — in any of my roles. All I can do is try.

Lately, I’m trying to be honest with myself about what it means to be a workaholic homemaker with ADHD.

And what does that mean, exactly? If you have ADHD and you’re a stay-at-home parent, I’d love to hear about your experience. How do you make it work? Have you struggled to reconcile your partner’s expectations with your own? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned?

Home economics: small hacks make a big difference

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

If you feel like you’re working too hard to maintain order at home, there’s hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

When it comes to ADHD in the home, the key is to work with it, not against it. Let go of expectations and figure out what really works for you.

Most importantly, make it easy on yourself. When something’s not working, don’t beat yourself up, refine your process.

Here are a few tips for a more peaceful, organized home.

Create supports where you need them

If you or your family struggle with the same thing(s) every day — like picking out clothes in the morning — you need strategy and communication, not tough love.

Example: after reading a parenting book that told me a five-year-old should be able to pack his own lunch, I decided my husband should, too. Except he often didn’t. Instead of berating him or just continuing to do it myself, I put a dry erase board (pictured below) on the fridge. He uses it for lunches, but I actually appreciate it most on weekends and on nights when he gets home late. Instead of interrupting me to ask, “what can I eat?” or “what can I give R. for snack?” he can assemble something from the food categories on the list.

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Keep rags, cleaner, and an old toothbrush under your bathroom sink…

…and if you have young children, clean during bath time. Every ADHD parent has gotten bored during bath time, so why not fidget with something productive?

Even if you don’t have kids, keeping all the supplies within arm’s reach allows anyone to clean up when they see a mess. Often, ADHD’ers notice the toilet could use a quick swish with the brush, but we’ll forget by the time we open the bathroom door. Once you remove this barrier, you might be surprised at the cleaning help you receive!

Use a highlighter

A highlighter can help you slow down, mark things you need to remember (like deadlines or supply lists), and catch important details.

I learned about highlighters’ magic powers in college. It was senior year, and we were learning to write grant proposals in Business of Art. Our professor suggested color coding with highlighters: using a different color to call out phrases we should regurgitate in the proposal, documents we’d need to attach, important dates/deadlines, etc.

In the years since, I’ve used this strategy to win thousands of dollars in grant funding, file my tax return, complete complex banking documents, and bring all the required items to our orientation meeting with R.’s preschool teacher. It’s probably the most practical skill I learned in college. Go figure.

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Fill donation bags as you receive them in the mail

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never trust yourself to drop anything off at Goodwill. We live in the city, and we often receive printed plastic bags from charities seeking clothing and houseware donations.

The charities mailing out these bags will pick them up — full of distracting, unwanted clutter — right from your doorstep. The bags are preprinted with contact information to schedule your pickup. It doesn’t get any easier.

Every time you receive one of these bags in the mail, unpack it right away and look for things to put into it.

Contain clutter and distractions (literally)

Baskets can save an ADHD household. Whenever I see a clutter hotspot forming, I ask myself, “would a basket solve this?”

For example, my husband used to store a lot of clothes on the floor. His reason: he planned to wear them again, thus they belonged to neither the closet nor the hamper. I bought him a basket for his in-use clothes and the clothing-on-the-floor issue disappeared.

Baskets and other open-top containers also help with out of sight, out of mind issues. If your family resists putting something away, they may just want to be able to see it (i.e., remember it exists).

If you feel like you're working too hard to maintain order at home, there's hope: you may be right. Minor tweaks can lower tension and chaos exponentially.

A less conventional idea: create a home for distracting objects to get them out of your hands. Smart phones can kill your focus, not to mention family dinners. Our cell phone bin invites anyone in our home to deposit their phone, reduce distractions, and enhance our time together. It has made a huge positive impact on my everyday life.

What about you? What small change has delivered huge benefits to your household?

Prevent your next unfinished home improvement project

Whether it’s large or small — new living room furniture or an addition on your house — nothing beats the rush of a new project taking shape in your head.

I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but before you jump in, stop and take an inventory of the unfinished projects already surrounding you. Then read on for some tips to make sure your new project doesn’t end up among them.

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Sketch out a road map

Sometimes, the first, best reality check is to sketch your new idea into your existing plans — or create those plans if you don’t have them already.

Our family recently created a set of home improvement road maps. We decided on priority projects and set deadlines for accomplishing specific benchmarks. For example, we’re repainting our dining room, and we set goals for getting rid of old furniture, spackling holes, and picking a color.

A big, overall road map provides hierarchy for our projects: paint the dining room before the living room, replace the basement door before considering a kitchen remodel.

When the excitement of a new project catches you in its grip, sit down and write a road map. Write out all the steps: planning, prep work, execution, and cleanup. Will you need to hire a contractor? What will you need to do before you break ground, literally or figuratively?

Sketch out a rough timeline. Fit it in projects already in your queue and consider other obligations in the months ahead. Will you be traveling? Busy at work? Hosting a holiday dinner? Volunteering at your kids’ school? If this project stresses you out in light of those pre-existing commitments, don’t do it.

If making a concrete plan or road map sounds intimidating, check out David Allen’s Getting Things DoneStephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleor even Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parentingwhich inspired our family’s road maps.

Consider how it fits in

Our road maps inspired me to abandon a longed-for bathroom rehab project. When we listed our home improvement goals and values, I finally considered the why: what value would a new bathroom add to our family life? How did that stack up against other projects on the list?

Despite previously swearing I wouldn’t remodel our kitchen, which is the size of a small walk-in closet, I ended up choosing it over the bathroom. The kitchen is the heart of family life. I can picture our son doing homework at a breakfast bar while I make dinner, giving us time to talk or to pass the time in amiable silence. A bathroom is, well, just a bathroom.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve started tearing apart the bathroom because it’s more fun. Given a chance to reflect on my values, I instead chose to create a special place for loved ones to gather.

Use road maps to think your project through. Make sure it’ll add significant value to your life, and make sure you can quantify that value. If your best defense is “because it would be nice to have” or “because I really want to” or “because I can’t stand my moldy pink bathroom,” hold off.

Wait a week

As you form a mental picture of the sweet reward — a new bathroom, a deck in the backyard, a playroom in the basement — the excitement will snowball until you feel compelled to begin right now.

Slow down. You’re high on life, and that’s no way to start a major project.

Write down all your ideas, create a Pinterest board, and let it go for at least a week. Hard as it may be to believe, this project isn’t an emergency. Nothing bad is going to happen if you wait until next week — or even next month — to start finishing your basement. Let the initial high fade, then assess whether or not you feel like putting in the (likely tedious) work required.

A waiting period also gives you time to talk the project over with your spouse. Don’t forget this step! Bonus points for doing it in a calm, controlled manner. Don’t push him for immediate answers or make it sound like an emergency. Give her time to get used to the idea and present any concerns.

How about you? Do you or your spouse struggle to look before you leap into projects around the house? How do you convince yourself to slow down?

Decorate with mirrors for better behavior

For ADHD adults and kids alike, better behavior at home can feel like an impossible dream. While you can’t make self-improvement easy, you can add passive support with some deceptively simple brain hacks.

One example: incorporate mirrors into your home decor.

Self-monitoring: our behavior vs. social context

To understand why mirrors might help improve our behavior, we need to understand self-monitoring, or the ability to regulate our behavior to match our current social situation. High self-monitors may feel ‘phony:’ always in character, never out of control.  On the flip side, low self-monitors wear our hearts on our sleeves, often to a fault. Our behavior provides a direct window to our internal state, regardless of social context.

If you have ADHD, this probably sounds familiar. Our mouths, facial expressions, and sometimes even our bodies love to jump ahead of our brains, sometimes with disastrous results.

Mirrors as a self-monitoring tool

Mirrors in your home add a set of watchful eyes: your own. As Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin states here and in her book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Livessome studies have shown that people behave better in the presence of a mirror. We’re literally watching over ourselves.

Why not add some attractive mirrors to your decor? If you’re living in a small home, they’ll have the added benefit of making your space feel bigger.

If you’re as interior-design-challenged as I am, check out these suggestions from HGTV, House Beautiful, Real Simple, and Elle Decor to get you started.

Have you ever tried using home decor to influence your habits and behavior? Please share!

Loosen task paralysis with one small thing

There are many reasons not to start on a task — more, I’d bet, than there are reasons to get started.

Excuses include:

  • I don’t have enough time or energy to do the whole thing.
  • It’s a big project and I don’t know how or where to begin.
  • Conditions aren’t ideal for starting today.
  • I’ll worry about it tomorrow.
  • I’d really like to buy some more supplies first.

The list goes on.

So it’s been with our basement workshop, a well-established hub of clutter and disorganization. Tools cover every horizontal surface. Cabinets overflow with piles of random stuff. Sometimes the floor gets involved and I climb over a saw to access the washing machine.

Sure, we could fix it this weekend, but our new workbench isn’t built yet, and we can’t install a new organizing system until we remove the old bench, and…see above list.

hanging tools

That’s why I was so impressed when I walked downstairs the other day. There, on the wall behind the workbench’s temporary home, hung a neat row of tools.

The next day, I saw a few more. And the next, yet another.

Stop stalling and just do one small thing.

When I asked my husband about this new development, he confessed he’d finally gotten sick of knocking tools off his work area. He stuck a French cleat to the wall and made a hanger for a saw. Then, as he stood back to admire his work, a level clattered to the ground. He made a hanger for that, too.

It’s easy to become paralyzed in the face of real-world conditions: it’s not a perfect time to do it, you don’t have the perfect tool for the job, etc. The problem is, if you wait for the ideal time to get it done, it’s not getting done anytime soon.

Next time you get stuck, ask yourself what one quick, small, seemingly-insignificant thing you can do to make the situation better.

For us, it was hanging up a few tools, even though we’ll have to move them to a new spot in a few months.

Sometimes it’s not about creating the beautiful, gratifying, impressive final product right there and then. It’s about moving forward one tiny step at a time.

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