ADHD Secrets to an Organised Life

There is no denying that I’m a woman, and I spend a large majority of time cleaning and organising. (Lab gear counts, right?) But I have a confession to make:

I’m not the most organised person in the world. And, despite my disciplined upbringing of cleaning every Saturday morning before I could go play, sometimes it takes me two weeks to get around to cleaning my bathroom. My office accumulates half-done projects until I’m force to put things up just to find the printer. My lab gear gets (mostly) cleaned and put up all week, but I don’t stress if a bottle is out-of-place ─ as long as it’s either cleaned or labelled clearly.

But at home? The only room regularly cleaned is the kitchen. What can I say? I don’t like cross contamination or getting ill. It doesn’t help that my fiancé is a pack-rat and fairly lazy on top of it. He’s the sort of person that uses the pile system for storing clothes, uses a flat surface filing system, and cleans his bathroom only after it starts looking more… lively. So our home looks more or less like a clutter battle zone most of the time.

Sounds like a normal person, eh?

So what do I know about the benefits of organisation?

Everything, actually. Mostly because I battle with disorganisation on a daily basis so when I do have a tiny piece of that organised heaven, it feels far more peaceful. Clearly, I did not appreciate the efforts that were being instilled in me as a kid with cleaning and putting things up regularly. Whoops.

But, hindsight is 20/20 or better, so they say. And, now I use organisation as a semi-secret superpower. You see, people in the Insanitek community know that I work full-time, teach, do lab work, do admin work, and still do a bunch of “house-wifey” things, like cook, sew, clean, and keep a regular workout schedule. It floors them on how I do it.

It’s only semi-secret because they can’t figure out my system.

The Fierce Yarn Hunter

You see, I’m not a fan of the organisation “systems” out there today. None of them seem to work for my scattered, ADHD brain and methods of life. So, I invented my own based on the principle of “it has to work, which means it has to be flexible for all that work with the items/space.”

See, I start with the idea that the item in question is likely going to be mucked about with by someone or something else. For example, the yarn I’m currently using to make a shawl? It’s wool. That means my Charlie is likely going to end up stealing it at some point if I leave it out. Most other things? I can assume they will be moved by someone needing a work space or looking for things.

Stressors of things moving or having something dumped on them is planned in from the beginning.

From built-in stressors, a leap to accessibility. 

I’m a huge fan of building life into systems, as you can tell. So, things likely to mess up the plan come first (because you can’t predict those really well) and then things you can predict well enough. Thus, I think of what I need to access, broadly speaking, during the course of a project.

When I say “broadly speaking,” I mean broad. I don’t always know how many storage bottles I’m going to need, nor how many sheets of paper to take the printer, etc. But, knowing where things are at and being able to get to them efficiently is the key. Things not used all that often? Naturally, you put them up and out-of-the-way, while all the more readily used stuff in front of you.

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

I don’t recall where I first heard this phrase, but it’s something that I’ve been slowly integrating into my life with other people. Since you’ve already had a frank conversation with yourself  and others on where things go, here’s where labels come in handy. Communication is everything since, to put it bluntly, most people don’t see what may be obvious to you.

And then it’s on you. Put things back immediately after you finish using it.

Full disclosure, here. I’m soooo guilty of not putting things away right away when life gets busy. I’m well aware of how efficient it makes the systems to put things up, so I’m reprimanding myself with that statement there. But when I can pull of stints of actually putting things back? It’s gloriously efficient and stress reducing.

Take it a day at a time.

I have a minimalist friend, Pirti, who is always organised. Her place is sparkling clean, and her lab space is sterile even when she’s working in it. When I asked her how she cultivated this habit, she divulged that her parents were hoarders. She visibly shuddered telling me about the piles of stuff that fused together over time and how ill it made her. She became OCD the other direction as soon as she moved out.

Her sister, on the other hand, did not. She also hated massive amounts of clutter, but she also didn’t think minimalistically like Pirti. When I met the sister during a birthday party, I asked her how she became more organised. She said,

“A day at a time. It’s like dieting for me. There are good stints, bad days, terrible weeks, and months where I might hit a slump. In the end, though, I just take one day at a time. I’ll clean and declutter once or twice a year, but other than that I forgive myself for getting sloppy and clean up.”

That sounds like a reasonable approach. I tried it over the last year. It works  — with an addendum.

Reaffirm and communicate with your colleagues and partners regularly.

I put it on my calendar. (ADHD, yo. You schedule things like this or forget.) Once a quarter I work with my students, labmates, and fiancé about our dedication to an efficiently run system. This, after all, is our mission. From there, we talk about what has worked, what hasn’t in a specific area that has gotten really bad. Then, we tweak that area, straighten the rest, and go about life. It works.

So far this has what has worked for both the ADHD and those around me. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear it. And feel free to steal my ideas and let me know how they worked out for you.