The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: home improvement

Caught up in the excitement

There are people who think ADHD is a gift. I’m not one of them.

Just today, I read this sentence in a comment thread: “I have reached the conclusion that ADHD persons are are blessing to the world and that having ADHD is a gift rather than a curse.” Not to be judge-y, but I bet this person doesn’t have ADHD. If he does, he’s in a near-delusional state of denial.

That said, I’ve had some time to reflect on my gifts this week. I’ll admit, ADHD isn’t 100% doom and gloom. Lots of us grow up to be emergency room doctors, firefighters, or professional snowboarders. Our lust for high-stress environments leads us to careers our laid-back counterparts would rather avoid.

We have dopamine to thank for this. The neurotransmitter of pleasure, reward, and motivation. I reject the “ADHD is a gift” narrative because dopamine has no conscience. It doesn’t nudge us toward becoming an emergency room doctor rather than a drug addict. It doesn’t care whether we balance our brain chemistry by running marathons or picking cruel fights with our spouse. I imagine it costs society at least as much as it provides in so-called gifts.

But for today, I can appreciate it a little more. Because I’m existing in a time of great inconvenience.

Roughing it with ADHD

Our kitchen renovation is officially underway. Last night, our downstairs looked like this:

Living with me on a normal day isn’t always a treat, but right now, I’m cool.

I prepared for this renovation like crazy, thanks to my flair for crises, over-planning, and roughing it. I’m the person who breaks out in goosebumps before hurricanes and snowstorms. I stockpile canned goods, put the kitchen matches near the stove, charge up the camp lanterns, and try to hide my disappointment when the electricity stays on.

Of course, every ADHD “gift” has a dark side. Mild over-preparation easily tips into hoarding and obsession for some.

But taken in moderation, we folks with ADHD can turn inconvenience into fun. We thrive on novelty. Many of us spent our youths getting into trouble for weird behavior and clowning around. Most people I’ve talked to assume we’ll be surviving on takeout this month. Not so. I happily carried my camp stove to the front porch and ignored the funny looks from neighbors as I cooked dinner. I threw myself into advance food preparation with an enthusiasm I rarely possess for normal dinners. We’re existing in a weird, different, and somewhat extreme situation. It’s not just any old night when I have to make dinner in a normal kitchen. I’m in my element.

A rare note of gratitude

I rarely talk about the upsides of ADHD on this blog. There are enough yahoos doing that on the internet already. I’m not grateful for my ADHD, just like most well-adjusted people wouldn’t be grateful for bipolar disorder. But every once in a while, I encounter a situation that forces me to admit, “hey, I’m actually an asset to this project. My unique combination of traits, some of which are rooted in my ADHD, really bring something to the table.”

People with significant ADHD-related impairments know, I don’t have the opportunity to say this every day. To be able to acknowledge a gift — that’s a gift unto itself. I’m going to try to appreciate it, if only for the duration of my self-induced, kitchen-less hardship.

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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.

brake pedal image

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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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.

unfinished projects

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?

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