The ADHD Homestead

Create the life you want with the mind you have.

Category: Organizing (page 1 of 3)

Does having ADHD mean I can’t succeed?

People often ask me about getting organized with ADHD. I like chatting about organizing at home, too. Recently, my husband said something interesting.

He told me, “But these [strategies] don’t work for me — that’s what ADHD is.”

But is it?

There are scores of apps and organizational systems out there. Does having ADHD mean we’re doomed to fail with all of them?

I’m doomed, but not hopeless

My answer: yes and no. Yes, we’re doomed to fail. No, ADHD doesn’t consign us to a hopeless and chaotic existence. Everyone fails sometimes, perhaps people with ADHD more than the average. Whether that makes us feel “doomed” is a matter of resilience, as long as our symptoms are under control.

For all my praise of David Allen’s Getting Things Done — my ultimate organizing go-to — I’ve failed with GTD many times. But that’s the key: many times. I’ve had to train myself to start over, and over, and over. In order to succeed, I’ve had to make peace with failure.

Of course, sometimes I do feel like having ADHD means I can’t succeed, or I’ll never be as successful as someone without ADHD. I think anyone with any disability feels this way sometimes. It can feel like I work twice as hard because I need to keep my ADHD under control. That’s it’s own project, and it only gets me to the starting line.

Symptom management: always the first step

However, there are ways to make life with ADHD easier.

First and foremost is symptom management. As I’ve said before, I know GTD works for me. It feels right. My project/task management app, Toodledo, feels right. Neither feel easy, but they feel right. And when both became impossible — that is, I truly felt doomed to fail, and became increasingly ineffective — I knew something else was broken.

As it turned out, the medication that worked well for me before I had a kid was no longer effective (this isn’t uncommon — changing estrogen levels can have massive impacts on women’s ADHD symptoms). I went through a brief trial and error process to find a new medication that worked for me. Maintaining my organizational systems became possible again.

I think of this like eyeglasses for my brain. For most of my life, I lived with severe nearsightedness — the “I need my glasses to find my glasses” variety. While I still had limitations with my glasses, I could see well enough to function in the regular world. ADHD meds don’t magically turn me into a “normal” person, but they approximate it well enough, just like strong eyeglasses.

Even if a system like GTD or Bullet Journal or an app like Toodledo is perfect for me, I can’t maintain it with out-of-control ADHD symptoms. In this way, my husband was right: effective symptom management is the first step to implementing an organizational system. Skipping it is like trying to read a tiny-print textbook without glasses.

The right tools for my brain (and no one else’s)

As highly as I value symptom management, I don’t believe meds make me a superstar at every organizational system. I still need to work with my brain, and I can’t impose my favorite tools on the rest of my household. While having ADHD doesn’t stop me from using a system like GTD or Bullet Journal, I’ve had to learn what works for me and what doesn’t. Even if a friend swears by a specific app, cleaning schedule, visual filing system, etc. — I have to know that if it doesn’t feel right, I’m not going to use it well.

And that may be the most critical point: many people can get by with a half-system. Many people can force themselves to get organized with a system they don’t love, or that doesn’t mesh with their thinking style. People with ADHD cannot.

We’ve had to think about this a lot in our home. I bristle at clutter and gravitate toward closed storage. My husband, a visual thinker, dislikes putting anything away if that means he can’t see it. To contain the amoebas of junk that push me over the edge, we use a lot of baskets.

Likewise, you might think Gmail’s Priority inbox, starred messages, auto sorting features, or new Inbox app would help people with ADHD. Maybe they do, but they don’t help me. They make me freak out because they don’t mesh with the way I need to manage my email. Rather than listen to the rest of the world tell me how great they are, I’ve disabled all of it, and I plan to keep it that way.

When you find what works, don’t let it go

That’s how I have to be if I want to succeed as an adult with ADHD. I have to defend and stick to what works. Having ADHD means my field of of stuff that will work is pretty narrow. It means what works for some people might not work for me, and what works for me might seem silly or weird to others.

My system isn’t perfect, and sometimes it fails despite my best efforts. But having ADHD doesn’t mean I have to label myself a failure. It just requires me to be ever-vigilant, making sure I’m using the right tools to control both my symptoms and my inboxes.

How about you? Have you found a system that works for you yet? How do you manage ADHD burnout, and the fear that you’ll never get it right?

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Organizing & ADHD: what’s in my library?

A reader recently asked: do you have any resources for decluttering or journaling with ADHD?

What a wonderful question to be asked! I write often about organizing because I find cluttered, messy spaces stressful and overstimulating. A chaotic environment begets a chaotic mind, and vice versa. I suspect I’m in good company among people with ADHD.

Along the way, I’ve written about everything from note-taking on my bathroom mirror to reducing my junk mail, from participating in an online decluttering challenge to getting my visual-thinker husband to put his stuff away.

Of course, I’m a writer, and I’ve kept a notebook since the seventh grade. I’ve shared a peek inside my Bullet Journal once, and I’ll probably do it again.

What I’m reading now & what I’ve read along the way

My journey has been populated with life-changing writing from other people — that’s the reason I have so much to write about! I’ve read a few books about organizing and ADHD, and a few books about organizing in general. I also check in with some favorite minimalism-focused blogs when I need to re-center.

ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life was my first ADHD-specific organizing book. I read it years ago, and I recall it being especially useful for visual thinkers. I’m not a highly visual thinker, but I’m married to one, and I’ve had to learn a whole new world of organizing strategies to combat “out of sight, out of mind” anxiety. Many people with ADHD share this problem. There’s also a book called Organizing Solutions for People With Attention Deficit Disorder, which I know I got from the library several years ago but can’t remember much about. Rather than breaking strategies out by category, it has a section for each room in the house. It’s written by a professional organizer who works with ADHD clients, while ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life is co-written by a professional organizer and a renowned ADHD expert. If you can only get one, I’d recommend ADHD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

As for general organizing books, I got a lot out of Unclutter Your Life in One Week. I received the author’s follow-up, Never Too Busy to Cure Clutter, for Christmas, and I’m psyched to read it. If you can’t snag the book, the accompanying Unclutterer website has lots of tips, too.

Speaking of blogs, I keep a few in my list to catch up on from time to time. My favorites are Becoming Minimalist and Be More With Less.

If you struggle with emotional attachments to things, or if typical organizing literature feels cold and unapproachable, I recommend Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up . Some of Kondo’s advice feels like a stretch, especially for adults with ADHD, but it’s definitely worth a read. It helped me navigate my own feelings of guilt and attachment around stuff I don’t use or enjoy anymore.

And now, for what I consider the bookends of my ADHD journey. Many years ago, I read a book called It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. It changed my life. It doesn’t focus on ADHD, though the author does mention it. The writing exercises spoke to me through my love of journaling and writing things down. As I progressed through the book, the text guided me through an inventory of everything my disorganization was costing me — emotionally, physically, and financially. It was a sobering moment, and the beginning of my realization that I needed help. Later, when I sought diagnosis and medication for my ADHD, this quantification of how it affected my life proved invaluable. It’s Hard to Make a Difference also taught me, then a recent BFA graduate, that extreme disorganization wasn’t an indicator of creativity. I could be a creative person without living in chaos, and I could be happier and more productive.

Finally, I owe the biggest debt to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If It’s Hard to Make a Difference turned on the lights, Getting Things Done showed me the way out.

Enough from my library. What are your top life-changing reads about getting organized with ADHD?

Personal organizing case study: Bullet Journal

Organizing my daily life: it feels like both the starting point and the impossible dream with adult ADHD. It’s also a basic expectation of adulthood.

Most ADHD’ers know we need an organizational system, but feel like nothing works. We struggle to find answers to the all-important question, “but how?”

A naturally organized person with a manageable schedule might answer, “you just do it.” Adults with ADHD rarely “just do” anything.

Today, I’ll share a simple, low-tech, flexible way to stay organized. It’s called Bullet Journal. First I’ll provide a look inside my notebook, then I’d love to answer questions in the comments. Personal organizing has been a pet project of mine for many years. If you want to talk about the nitty gritty, I’m your girl.

bullet journal ADHD

What is Bullet Journal?

Bullet Journal isn’t an app or a product. It’s an idea, best explained in this short, engaging little video:


I use apps to stay organized, but I appreciate a tactile element. Screens can feel too abstract. I’ve carried a notebook everywhere since the seventh grade. I’ve dallied with day planners, but fallen away from them since the advent of smart phones. Nowadays, I use my notebook for everything: Grocery lists. jotting down ideas, drafts, or outlines for writing projects. Taking notes at meetings. On-the-fly to-do lists. Goal-setting exercises. Everything imaginable.

Bullet Journal helps me organize those elements and keep me from losing track of what I write down. Because I have ADHD and a very poor memory, I write nearly everything down.

Adults with ADHD are individuals — Bullet Journal is flexible.

I love Bullet Journaling’s infinite flexibility. I chose the size, feel, and contents of my notebook to make it something that works for me. This is especially important for adults with ADHD. If a system or tool isn’t easy, comfortable, and even fun to use, it won’t last long.

I keep my Bullet Journal in Moleskine’s extra-large ruled notebook. In the spirit of Marie Kondo’s KonMari methodI use postcards — mostly collected from art shows — to make the notebooks special and joyful to use.

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I always add an entry to the index or add a page number to an existing entry before adding the content. Otherwise, I can get distracted and forget to update the index.

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Bullet Journal’s flexibility extends inside the notebook, too, allowing me to integrate new concepts while ditching what doesn’t work. For example, I never look at my Future Log. I’d love to examine my six-month view more often, but I’ve come to accept — with compassion and objectivity, of course — that it’s not going to happen with this life and this brain. My next Bullet Journal won’t have a Future Log. Instead, I may beef up the Monthly Log, which I include in my weekly review.

I also added pages to the front of my Bullet Journal to remind me of my many responsibilities and spheres of influence. Stephen Covey calls these “roles and goals” in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In Getting Things DoneDavid Allen refers to them as “areas of focus and accountabilities.” Either way, I maintain a space in my notebook to reflect on my roles in the world and my goals for each. I skim over these pages at my weekly review.

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Using my Daily Log with Google Calendar

I use Google Calendar to track all events, meetings, and time-sensitive tasks. I copy entries from my Google Calendar to the Daily Log as part of my weekly review. I never add directly to the Daily Log, always Google Calendar. It’s critical for me to respect my primary resource/repository for a specific kind of information.

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You might be wondering why I recopy rather than print my calendar and paste it into the notebook (or look at the widget on my phone’s home screen). The tactile experience of writing helps me encode/process information. I also never take notes on a laptop or tablet, only with pen and paper, because I remember conversations more clearly that way.

Taking time to write down my schedule, deadlines, and obligations for the week helps me think it through. I wouldn’t get this from skimming my Google Calendar.

Notice the lack of to-do items under each day? My to-do list is long, and nowhere near my Daily Log. I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system, which discourages “daily to-do lists.” I only tie a task to a day if it really must happen then: in other words, it becomes irrelevant or incurs a late fee.

Let’s chat in the comments.

When I say I use my notebook for everything, I mean everything, from grocery lists to a race bib from a recent 5k run. The Daily Log and Monthly Log pages keep everything in a rough chronological order, and the index lets me return and add to previous entries.

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Have you tried something like this before? How did it go? Are you hesitant to try it because you think it won’t work? Please share your questions and experiences in the comments. I’d love to chat!

Canaries in the coal mine

Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m managing my ADHD effectively. After all, the right type and dose of stimulant medication should feel pretty unobtrusive. It doesn’t make ADHD’ers feel drugged, hyped up, or otherwise not ourselves. Once the novelty wears off, we don’t sit around and say, “wow, things seem awfully normal around here!”

Those of us with supportive, ADHD-literate spouses can benefit from their outside perspective. Sometimes only they can tell us when our ADHD is out of control.

As medications, hormones, and life have evolved over the years, I’ve also improved my self-observation skills. It’s an advanced-level ability. Pre-diagnosis and treatment, I had zero self-awareness.

Now I’ve identified what I call my canaries in the coal mine: little indicators that reflect the overall success of my ADHD treatment.

canaries coal mine ADHD

Observe with detachment, not judgement.

Objectivity is key to spotting canaries: observing my own behavior with equanimity and pragmatism, and not getting carried away by emotion and judgement. This has required a lot of work. We late-diagnosis ADHD’ers reach adulthood without positive language to describe our struggles. It takes time, effort, and compassion to eliminate negative self-talk and start believing in ourselves. My default reaction to falling off the wagon used to be, “this was inevitable. I can’t sustain anything good. I’ll always fail eventually.”

Now, I try to approach my life like a scientist. I observe, I keep detailed notes (ADHD and motherhood have wrecked my memory), and I try to keep my own biases at bay. When a system begins to break down, that’s a clue. I’m becoming a detective in my own life — a problem-solver, not a basket case.

My canaries: more than a stressful week.

One of my canaries is my weekly review, an every-Monday ritual that keeps me on top of active projects and open loops. I once noticed myself skipping it for weeks in a row. I eventually ended up talking to my doctor about switching medications.

Likewise, when I haven’t even opened my to-do list for over a week, something isn’t right. When I keep looking at my list, but never find anything I feel like I can do, something isn’t right.

While some of life’s details can slide during a high-stress time, others indicate a bigger problem.

Staying organized is possible — if ADHD symptoms are under control.

Staying organized is possible with ADHD — when it’s well-managed. When something slips out of balance, my previously-airtight systems begin to collapse. ADHD makes it hard to notice it happening before it’s too late. I may not feel different right away, or I may wave off red flags with excuses about sleep or a busy week.

The key, for me, has been to disconnect my emotional reaction from the content of my observation. Put-downs and criticism, directed inward or outward, stop problem-solving before it begins. Rather than figuring out how to fix the problem, our brains fixate on the problem itself, and how big and awful it feels.

When a system malfunctions, I ask why, and figure out what adjustments will fix it. Sort of like a car: what’s going to keep it safe, running smoothly, and doing what I need it to do? I once had a car that sputtered out right after starting unless I gave it a very specific amount of gas. Once it settled into a good idle, it was fine. The next owner couldn’t figure this out and thought the car wouldn’t run at all. I probably could’ve gotten several more years out of it.

Now I apply this approach to my entire life. It’s how I knew my medication changed effectiveness after having a child, and I wasn’t just suffering from so-called “mommy brain.”

When I spot one of those canaries, the early warnings that tip me off before my entire life derails, I don’t make excuses. I recognize them as canaries, not black swans. The earlier I recognize a problem, the better my chance of minimizing the damage and getting back on track.

What are your canaries in the coal mine? Have you discovered any early warning signs of poorly-managed ADHD? What do you do when you spot one?

Ditching video games: more than making time & space

Around the turn of the new year, something amazing happened in our house: we got rid of most of our video games. This means less clutter, and I’m excited about the benefits for our family’s energy and willpower.

Mind you, no one really played these games, but my husband wished he could play them. I call this psychic drag, and it’s one reason I love decluttering.

When we hold onto certain kinds of things we don’t use — books, musical instruments, craft supplies, even video games — we don’t just hold onto the thing itself. We hold onto the idea of the thing, and our expectations for how it should be used.

video games

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, organizing expert Marie Kondo illustrates how excess stuff hinders self-awareness: “We aren’t sure what would satisfy us or what we are looking for. As a result, we increase the number of unnecessary possessions, burying ourselves both physically and mentally in superfluous things.”

Video games usually harbor less emotional baggage than, say, once-cherished musical instruments or a box of old love letters. That makes them a great place to start. Letting go is a learned skill. As we practice (and start reaping the rewards), we get better. We gain confidence to say goodbye to more things, and figure out what we want to make space (and time and money) for.

As Kondo says, “the best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.”

Leaving our willpower in the bank.

Removing temptation from our home — be it video games or candy — also sets us up for success with other challenges.

That’s because willpower is a finite resource, just like money in the bank. As Stanford University professor Kelly McGonigal writes in The Willpower Instinct, “people who use their willpower tend to run out of it.” Dozens of studies have confirmed this. “Trying to control your temper, stick to a budget, or refuse seconds all tap the same source of strength,” explains McGonigal. “Because every act of willpower depletes willpower, using self-control can lead to losing control.”

Knowing this, I don’t bring cable television or candy into our house. Getting rid of the video games was another big step in the right direction.

Visible, easily-accessible temptations give us a choice. Choosing not to indulge spends a precious resource. I’d rather use that self-control elsewhere: not yelling at my kid, for example.

Everyone can benefit from learning about the science of willpower. I’m especially mindful because people with ADHD start with a lower balance in our willpower bank. We can thank the prefrontal cortex: the part of our brain responsible for “controlling what you pay attention to, what you think about, even how you feel.” In the end, it controls what you do.

This area of the brain — the home of our so-called executive functions — is also where ADHD wreaks its havoc.

The big takeaway for me: more than the average family, it’s critical for us to define our priorities, then systematically remove distractions. Remove the option of channel-surfing or using the television as background noise. Remove the option of playing video games instead of board games with friends. Make sugary snacks unavailable. Strive, as much as possible, for a minimalist lifestyle.

Remove temptation, but also clutter, noise, and distraction. Make choosing the right thing just a little easier.

Science, not edicts.

When it comes to managing our household — setting routines, creating the weekly menu, decorating, deciding which possessions may stay and which must go — I try to back up my decisions with brain science. It’s harder to argue with science than a declaration of “I don’t want you wasting time on video games.”

The video games felt like low-hanging fruit: removing temptations and clutter at the same time? That’s what I call making room for what matters. It’s a simple change with a nice payoff, not to mention extra cash in my pocket after I sell them.

How about you? What have you let go of lately? Is it time to say goodbye to something that siphons off your time, money, or willpower?

What does ADHD cost you?

cost of ADHDWhen we think about New Year’s resolutions, we imagine ways we’d like to improve. Things we promise ourselves we’ll do better this year than last.

But why?

Really, why do we want to change? Specifically?

Because it’s a good idea? Because we know we’re not perfect? Because our spouse asked us to?

Not good enough.

In my experience, change doesn’t happen when motivation to do so is abstract.

One of the most powerful agents of change for me — and the beginning of my journey toward proper ADHD treatment — was an exercise from Marilyn Paul’s It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. Paul (no relation to me) challenged readers to inventory the real costs of disorganization and personal ineffectiveness.

My list looked a little like this:

  • Money
    • Late fees on bills I forgot to pay (despite having enough money in the bank)
    • Lost interest on checks I forgot to deposit (or lost money entirely if the check was so old the bank wouldn’t take it)
  • Health (medical appointments I forgot to schedule)
  • Hobbies (never have/make time for them)
  • Piece of mind in relationships (anxiety, guilt, feeling others’ trust is misplaced)
  • Serenity (no calm, orderly place to retreat to in my home or office)
  • Social outlets (never have/make time for friends)
  • Personal and professional skill development
  • Long-distance friends and family (didn’t keep on top of correspondence)

When I took stock like this, my heart felt heavy. I feared I’d never reach my potential. Worse, others would see me as aloof, uncaring, disorganized, and irresponsible.

But it was kind of like the time I multiplied the cost of my daily latte habit over the course of a year: the process necessitated an “oh, s&$#” moment.

There’s a famous Maya Angelou quote, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

It’s easy to brush off an overdraft fee here or lost check there. One failed friendship might have any number of explanations. But taken together, I couldn’t deny the pattern. My ADHD — though that’s not what I called it at the time — was costing me a fortune, in more ways than one.

And once I really knew better, I resolved to do better.

It’s been a long road, fraught with switchbacks and wrong turns, but I think I’m getting somewhere.

Have you ever tried to quantify the costs of ADHD? Has it helped keep you motivated, or just demoralized you? (I definitely experience both on a regular basis!)

7 ADHD-friendly gift ideas

I keep trying to convince people that gifts stress us out too much, but it’s a tough sell at Christmas. Here are a few suggestions if you’re shopping for someone with ADHD.

FitBit activity tracker

299757-fitbit-oneDon’t let the gadget factor fool you — the FitBit is more than just a fun toy. Of course, the fitness-features — including activity and sleep monitoring — will come in handy for anyone hoping for better self-care in 2016.

However, I love my FitBit most for its silent alarm. It’s the only way I’ve found to remember my twice-daily ADHD medication without disrupting anyone else. Using my phone alarm for medications has always felt awkward to me, but my FitBit‘s vibrating alarm gives me a reminder without attracting unwanted attention.

Pill case (or timer cap)

41Lv8S3sV2L._AC_UL320_SR256,320_A minute after I take my medication, I start thinking, “did I remember my meds today?”

Accidentally double-dosing is no good, but missing a dose can be just as bad. While I see timer caps for pill bottles recommend all the time, you can save money with an old-fashioned plastic case from the drug store. I prefer these anyway because when I load mine up at the beginning of the week, I get an early warning if I’m running low.

A timer or two

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD's "time blindness"

The Time Timer can help combat ADHD’s “time blindness”

We use timers a lot in our house: for the Pomodoro Method, potty training, Facebook,wrapping up in the workshop before dinner, remembering something’s heating on the stove, and much, much more. Tools like the Time Timer represent time visually, which can be a godsend for the particularly time-blind. It works great for kids, too, because you can introduce the concept of time as a little red pie slice that gradually disappears.

Because timers are so critical for us, I love Suck UK’s Kaboom! timer because it looks cool enough to leave it out downstairs. The loud bell is impossible to miss and its cute design makes it a conversation piece.

Document scanner

I rolled my eyes when my husband ordered this because we already own a nice flatbed scanner. However, I now use it almost daily. It’s fast, easy, and has allowed me to eliminate most of our paper filing. If you go the scan-and-shred route, make sure you have a backup service like Dropbox or Crashplan.

scanner

P-Touch labeler

A fancy label maker felt extravagant at first, but I’m now sold on the benefits — espoused by organizing guru David Allen — of printing labels for file folders instead of hand-writing them. 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. My husband (like many ADHD spouses, I’m sure) doesn’t always intuit where something goes, even if it seems obvious. I’m even guilty of forgetting my own organizing systems. Tidy-looking printed labels help everyone stay organized.

The new Getting Things Done

81cRgCpieTLConfession: I bought this as a gift to myself already, though I haven’t cracked it open yet. My ADHD made me disorganized on every level as a young adult: from my physical surroundings to my thoughts to my long-range plans (such as they were). We all know we need to be more organized. David Allen’s GTD system answers the question, “but how?” The original book saved my hide as I left full-time employment and created my own structure as a stay-at-home mom and writer.

A helping hand, or a few more minutes in the day

Yes, I’m serious. No one in our family excels at a.) coming up with gift ideas or b.) waiting for Christmas instead of running out and purchasing everything for ourselves.

If more stuff is the last thing your favorite ADHD’er needs, is there a way you can give him something more valuable? I’d give up all my Christmas gifts for someone else to do my top five most-procrastinated housekeeping tasks. Just once! Or how about this: two days of babysitting so I can catch up on…whatever?

Other ideas include: a few hours of cleaning or organizing help (from a professional or, if you’re good at it, from you for free!); a meeting with a financial planner; a few sessions with an ADHD coach, personal trainer, or nutrition counselor; a thrill-seeking day of skydiving, hot air balloon rides, or rock climbing; or a special yoga workshop.

What about you? What do you want for Christmas this year? Are you planning anything special for an ADHD family member?

Want to remember everything? Write it on the wall.

People with ADHD forget a lot — a lot of things, and very often.

We frustrate ourselves. Even worse, we frustrate, hurt, and disappoint the people we love. ADHD is cruelly egalitarian, in that we forget our spouse’s birthday as easily as our dry cleaning.

Even if we lived in total isolation, we’d still generate the same ideas over and over again, wishing we could remember them at the right time.

My solution: shorten the distance between myself and a good container for my thoughts. I call this “storing my brain outside my head” because my brain is such an unreliable container.

I’ve learned it the hard way, again and again: I need to write everything down. Everything. If I catch myself thinking, “that’s too important, I know I won’t forget it,” it’s a huge red flag.

Not only do I have to write everything down, I have to do this before I forget. It happens in a matter of seconds. As a result, I maintain writable surfaces all over my house: post-its, dry erase boards, chalkboards, you name it. Even the bathroom mirror. If there’s anyone out there who considers me a good friend, spouse, parent, or relative, it’s because I never trust myself to remember anything.

Instead, I remain vigilant for ideas — pen in hand.

Collecting ideas

There are some potty training methods that — bear with me here — require constant vigilance, so you’re ready to airlift your naked naked toddler to the potty just as he empties his bladder onto the floor. I picture my brain as this naked toddler. The moment it thinks of something — anything — I need to whisk it to a writable surface.

I should mention I use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system religiously to process all my notes. Allen insists that you need to be able to trust your system — or else you’ll get discouraged. “One of the main factors in people’s resistance to collecting stuff into ‘in,'” Allen writes, “is the lack of a good processing and organizing methodology to handle it.”

When I’m running a tight ship with my GTD system, I’m much more enthusiastic about writing down my thoughts. If you haven’t read Getting Things DoneI highly recommend it.

Our home’s writable surfaces

Bathroom mirror

DSC_3367-001There’s a reason you have so many ideas in the shower. You’re relaxed, relatively free of distractions, and experiencing a nice dopamine rush from the hot water. Your brain is primed for idea generation.

I keep dry erase markers near the bathroom mirror so I can write a quick note before I’ve even dried off. The mirror is also a great place to leave a loving note or drawing for your spouse. When I worked in IT, my mirror notes reminded me to do early-morning server maintenance from home. Visitors occasionally spot our markers and join the fun, too.

Pantry door chalkboard

Our home is on the small side, making a big, common-area dry erase board impractical. Instead, I created a cute and functional chalkboard on our pantry door. It’s not as easy as tossing a few dry erase markers in the bathroom, but it’s a project pretty much anyone can do. I sanded the finished wood lightly, added a couple coats of primer, then applied this Rust-Oleum chalkboard paint. My son has taken over the bottom panel, and we use the larger top panel for grocery lists, reminders, fledgling Spotify playlists, and anything in between.

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 Small dry erase board

I purchased a small dry erase board for my dorm room door when I left for college. Somehow, I managed to keep it for over a decade and through several moves. This former clutter object now hangs on the side of the fridge and collects phone messages.

Post-its, post-its, and more post-its

I keep a pad of post-it notes in almost every room: on my nightstand, on my desk, in the basement, next to the coffee maker, in the car. I order sticky notes in bulk packages meant for large offices. Walking more than 10 steps to the nearest sticky note feels like too much.

Isn’t there an app for that?

I didn’t include any electronic note-taking tools here. There are some great ones available — Evernote, Toodledo, Google Keep, and PlainText, for example — but I find computers and smart phones too distracting. When I unlock my phone screen, I rarely make it to my note-taking app. Several minutes later, I realize I’m checking my Instagram feed and have no idea why I grabbed my phone in the first place. A simple pen and paper works best.

How do you capture ideas, especially when you’re in a place where you can’t easily write something down?

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

life changing magic book reviewEver since I made the uncluttered space – uncluttered mind connection in my home, I’ve loved tidying up and paring down.

It’s still the most overwhelming project ever.

If you feel the same way and you’re looking for a different angle, try Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpFor those who find typical minimalism or organizing self-help books off-putting, prepare for a breath of fresh air. Kondo helps readers deal with the guilt, emotional attachment, and indecision that prevents so many of us from cleaning up our homes.

That said, even though the author insists you not do this, I’m giving you permission to take this book with a small grain of salt. More on that later.

First, the good: Kondo anthropomorphizes pretty much everything, which — to our American sensibilities — can feel almost silly. This may strike a pleasant chord with quirky, abstract-thinking ADHD readers. It got me out of my rut and out of my head just enough to make some tough decisions about my stuff. It’s easy to think circles around your complicated relationship with an object, but what if you just asked the object? What if it had feelings? How does that affect your decision to keep it in your home out of a sense of guilt or obligation? You get the idea.

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Likewise, Kondo’s central question — does it spark joy? — provides a refreshingly simple barometer, especially for sentimental items. Kondo gives the reader permission to let go. Those old love letters will live on inside us forever, and we don’t need to cling to them in the present.

The book’s prescriptive nature may put off some readers. Many of Kondo’s instructions sound like a tall order for larger families and/or people with small children. Including more of these families in the anecdotes may have made the book more approachable. From Kondo’s descriptions, most of her clients seemed like single people living on their own.

I wouldn’t write off the possibility of adapting the strategies to larger families, but Kondo insists on making no modifications to her program. I understand why  — she wants to promise her KonMari method will work for you — but I ended up feeling inadequate for the task. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say, and people with ADHD must be especially creative with their solutions. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up promises to change your life, but only if you do things exactly as the author says. I’m not 100% sold on that.

For whatever reason — family, financial, or just because you have ADHD — you may not feel like you can achieve a flawless implementation of Kondo’s method. I think that’s okay. This book makes an excellent companion to other organizing books, including the more nitty-gritty, but also somewhat drier, ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has, indeed, changed my life. It cleared some major roadblocks in my journey to a tidier home, and for that I’m quite grateful. It’s a fast and easy read, and well worth it for ADHD adults seeking a more tidy and tranquil home.

Former art student seeks minimalist lifestyle; giant paintings intervene

Last week, I opened my Feedly to a fun surprise: my question was featured on the Unclutterer blog’s Ask Unclutterer column! As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a big advocate of minimalist lifestyles, especially for ADHD adults and families.

Having experienced the rewards of minimizing, it now brings its own little dopamine rush. It’s like a game! But for the past few months, I’ve been struggling with a big puzzle: what to do with my old drawings, paintings, and prints left over from art school.

Here’s my dilemma as described in Ask Unclutterer:

I have a bachelors degree in fine arts. Even though I graduated what seems like a lifetime ago, many of my old drawings, paintings, and prints lurk in a basement closet. I recently framed a pair of lithographs to hang over the couch, and they are a delight. However, I live in a relatively small house and have no desire to upsize any time soon, so even if everything felt worthy of public display, I wouldn’t have space for it. Some of my paintings are so big, I’m not sure I know anyone with a large enough home to accommodate them.

To my delight, the answer to my question, while not clean cut, included plenty of tips for storing, gifting, or creating a display rotation for my art. I highly recommend reading the original post. Much of the information applies to sentimental clutter in general, not just old drawing studio homework.

As for me, I’m still puzzling — for now. I’d love to hear your stories!

Do you have any sentimental items that you don’t use or display, but can’t seem to part with?

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