I received a message on twitter about ADHD and Organization/Disorganization. The response twitter thread has been screenshot and shared around on Facebook, but I thought I’d put some of the tips into a blog post for you!
There are lots of tools and tricks, but a big step is accepting that you will forget things, and that you’re not disorganized, you just organize differently.
This is how I experience it: I describe it as a database.
Imagine that your brain is like a computer system.
Rather than organizing things in a linear way, you organize by key words. You use piles like reminders, visual cues to remember things.
Remember back when you had to defrag your computer? Fragmentation occurs when files too large to be installed in one space split, and install themselves into available empty spaces. Defragging would rearrange files to put them back in order.
Fragmentation is what happens when you come home. You take off your shoes and leave them where they fall, you take off your coat and throw it over the nearest chair. Your keys end up on the first empty surface you see, even if that’s the top of the fridge, and so on.
You’re not disorganized, you’re actually very efficient.
You’re finding ways to do what you need to do with the least number of steps possible. Just like a computer. The solution isn’t to reorganize, its to look at the system and see what isn’t working for you.
So let’s stay with the example of coming home. Do you have a key hook, right at eye level, on the inside of your door when you first come in? I mean no time to put your keys back in your pocket. Right there. If so, is there an empty hook for you?
Is there a closet in the entryway? Are you supposed to take off your coat, open a door, pick out a hanger, hang the coat on the hanger, put it back in the closet, close the door, and remember that you’re trying to put away groceries? That’s too much. Get a hook or a coat rack.
Where do shoes go? On the floor in the closet? Is there a pile of them? If you were to just kick them off would you get dust, dirt, mud, water, or snow on all the other shoes? Too many variables. Find a way to store shoes exactly where you take them off.
Do you carry a bag? Is there a place to put it? Are you expected to carry it to your room even though you don’t need to unpack it? Put a hook by the door. Or a small table. Make a little “command center” where you can dump all your stuff.
For forgetting stuff, you’ve got too many tabs open.
Make appointments on the spot, whip out your phone and put it in your calendar right away. Especially things like medical appointments. You can always reschedule when they call to confirm if you need to.
There are lots of apps that can help with things like daily routines and to-do lists. The trick with these is that you will get excited about them and so into it and then you will get bored. You’ll be less bored if others get involved with you.
I like Habitica, my husband and I are in a party together. This helps with daily chores type stuff, and it reminds me every day to check off my tasks. I’m leveling up and getting loot and it’s totally adorable.
You rely on visual cues to remind you to do stuff.
That’s why you have piles.
That pile of unfolded laundry reminds you to do the laundry, and also keeps a running tab in your mind of how much clean laundry you have so you know when to do laundry next.
When stuff is hidden away in drawers you might not notice until you open the drawer one morning that you’re out of shirts. So you’ve actually developed these “disorganized” systems to keep you organized, in a way that works for your brain.
The trick is figuring out what the barriers are to using traditional systems and eliminating the barriers. Maybe you need wire baskets instead of drawers. Maybe hangers just aren’t worth the trouble and you need hooks instead. Or maybe you need to take the doors off your mug cabinet.
Everything in its place is actually a really good rule for ADHD brains if the place makes sense to you.
Someone else saying “this is where this goes” won’t necessarily work for your brain.
So it’s not something to beat yourself over the head with. If you use the coffeemaker every day then it doesn’t make sense to put it in a cupboard when you’re done. Make a coffee station.
This tip kept me alive in my 20s: get a credit card if you don’t have one. $1000 limit should be enough. Put all your bills on that credit card. Schedule an automatic transfer from your bank account to the credit card that covers those bills in the middle of the month. No missed/late bill payments, no credit card debt, no phone or internet getting cut off cause you just didn’t get around to it. Also I strongly recommend getting into a budgeting habit, disorganization will show up in your money habits. I like YNAB (You Need A Budget).
Don’t commit to anything until you check your calendar. Don’t schedule things for “soon”. Put a deadline on it. Always check the calendar. This one is hard, because it’s probably a new habit. Repeat after me: “Let me just check my calendar.”
Basically, disorganization, or the feeling of disorganization, is overwhelm. You’re running too many active processes. You want to streamline them so that you don’t have to think about them all the time.
People think that ADHD brains just forget things once. We don’t.
We forget and remember a hundred times but there are things in the way because we struggle with putting tasks into a linear order.
I walk in the door and remember that I need to do dishes. But I have to take my shoes off first, and put away groceries, and I need to do dishes and dammit I should check the mail cause it’s been a few days, and I need to do dishes but the cat is hungry and someone texted me…
This is exhausting. And you’ve been doing this your whole life and you know things are constantly flying out of your brain or getting knocked out of the to-do lineup so you’re constantly anxious about them. Of course you’re disorganized! You’re overwhelmed!
So my best advice is to stop looking at stuff and start looking at processes.
Not just “I need to file those papers” but “why did I put them there in the first place?”
When my husband and I first moved in together he kinda took over the entryway. I bought myself an over the door hook for the closet door. Presto, no more coat on the sofa arm. One day he hung his coat on it and I burst into tears. I promise you, you don’t want to be messy. I know you don’t want to feel this way. You don’t enjoy frantically looking for things. You just don’t have the right system. Once you do, it won’t be an effort at all to adapt to it because it’ll be the more efficient option.
Once you find a better system, one that works for you, you’ll find that process doesn’t run in your brain anymore. I don’t know where my keys are (in my brain) because they’re always on the key hook. I don’t have to think about it anymore.
More brain space!
Something I hear a lot is: “How do you know when it’s a disorder vs. when it’s not caring?”
When it’s causing emotional distress, it’s not just an “I don’t care”. I think the key is whether they say “I don’t care” or “I don’t know”. “Why are the car keys in the fridge?”
“I don’t care.” = strange. Okay? But “I don’t know.” = alarm bells.
I actively hate forgetting to do dishes. It feels awful, I hate the dirty dishes, I hate not having dishes. I hate when my husband asks me to do dishes and I spend all day remembering to do dishes and then I’m exhausted and he comes home and I didn’t do the dishes. I hate it.
It’s not that I don’t care. I care very much.
I just cared so much that I didn’t budget my brain energy properly and ran out of steam, or I had too many things in the way of me getting to it and I got lost.
Look for the systems, and adjust the systems. Look for the speedbumps. They’re already there, whether it’s a drawer, or an entryway, or a key storage system that just isn’t clicking for you.
Coping mechanisms are very important, and I’ll do a follow up soon on how sometimes our coping mechanisms can be harmful to those around us. You can get a head start by starting to identify what your coping mechanisms are, and whether or not you’ve built in bullying yourself as a way to get things done.