My friends know this: my love of Mari Kondo (known here as KonMari) the writer of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up, is deep and unshakable.
Many of my friends have also known this: if I am hyper-focused on organizing to the detriment of other aspects of my life it might be a sign of my anxiety ramping up prior to a depressive crash.
Now we can add this layer to those knowns: I am an adult woman with ADHD and, like others of my ilk, I have a life-long complex relationship with the concept, and execution of, Being Organized.
Yup. My mental clinic doc agrees: ADHD. However, Japan has a difficult historical relationship with medical stimulants so there are only two available choices for ADHD: Concerta and Strattera. Ritalin exists in Japan but can only be prescribed for narcolepsy, it’s prohibited to prescribe it for the treatment of ADHD. My doc is wary of prescribing either of these due to the common side effects of nausea, loss of appetite, and sleep issues. For now I work on behavior modification and knowing this new part of me I’ve lived with all my life.
Back to my BFF, KonMari.
I’ve never viewed her as someone denying me things. I’ve never cast her as a bringer of stoic minimalism set on banishing my joy.
To me she’s one of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse friends we just never got around to meeting. Pee-wee, like me, enjoys joyous objects. He’s filled his playhouse with them. Like me, he thrives with some structure….I don’t wear only out outfit but I get the uniform impulse…but I don’t get the sense that he’s the sort of guy who came to organization naturally.
Thus, he had a KonMari somewhere who helped him learn how to organize his house, understand the feelings he has about each item in the place (like KonMari he’s literally speaking to his objects… although they answer verbally instead of having to spark joy) and not get overwhelmed. KonMari and PeeWee are friends. Friends of PeeWee are friends of mine. Period. Fight me on this.
I’m not alone in the ADHD world of having INTENSE FEELINGS about KonMari, positive and negative, a fact I’ve learned from scanning ADHD podcasts.
It’s time for me to glance back at KonMari through my emerging understanding of adult ADHD to see how my love of her is part of my neurological makeup.
First and foremost: Unchecked ADHD creates clutter. Let’s take that as a given instead of diving into how and why.
Fact: I create clutter and confusion. As a child it was rampant and as an adult I’ve got a lot of coping mechanisms for wrangling it when it’s reached certain levels…but I’m usually wrangling my chaos and very rarely just entering, functioning in, and leaving an area without MUCH WRANGLING.
My adult life has been one of actively looking for more answers to corralling object chaos. KonMari was just one of many things I looked into, but she was the first to really help make a large difference in my life…and keep me away from the cycle of trying and failing at the latest organizing trick…and disliking myself for my failure
Difficulty in prioritizing and properly sequencing steps in achieving anything is part of ADHD.
Knowing what step to take first is hard. Knowing what a finished step looks like is hard. Understanding the progression the steps must take….(brain shuts down)
This is an accurate graph of my mind starting on most things.
(Collect Underpants -> ??? -> Profits!!! Meme)
KonMari doesn’t take any chances.
She has steps. Lots of them. There is an order to those steps. She explains why that order is there. She explains why the steps yo’ve been told to use before aren’t going to work. She keeps reminding you that the order of the steps and doing the steps right is essential. There are clear steps.
For some people this is probably patronizing. I needed this.
People with ADHD are often afflicted with Time Blindness.
This is hard for an outsider to grasp. The idea that uninteresting tasks feel like they take longer and that interesting tasks create a time bubble where three hours can pass unnoticed is fairly universal. Everyone accepts it as facts.
But with ADHD that feeling isn’t limited to the extremes of interest and disinterest. It’s a constant expanding and constricting of time calibrated to the smallest fluctuations of thought and mood. It’s a time accordion given to a small child who isn’t losing interest in the squeeze box anytime soon.
It creates very real problems with estimating time. Period. How long will this take? How long have I been doing this? What time is it?
This problem is one I’m working on currently with a stopwatch and notes. Fun.
Attached to time blindness (when it’s not a known issue) are the feelings of shame and failure at not having managed time correctly…again.
KonMari tells you right off that there’s no way to estimate how long this will take. This undertaking will vary wildly. There are no estimated times to fail at meeting. There are just the steps.
She notes that things will look extra out of control for a while, because everything is out of hiding and can’t be ignored , but that’s a sign of the process and the steps being done, not a sign of failure. Adhere to the steps.
The wells of shame an adult woman with undiagnosed ADHD contains feel bottomless.
I’m immature. How can I be an adult and still like this? I’m lazy. Other people can do these things. I’m an imposter. The better I hide my true self the further I shall fall when it is revealed.
This is our soundtrack.
Confronting things we’ve failed at in the past, like being organized or cleaning our kitchen, increases the volume of this soundtrack.
This soundtrack gets even louder when we simply think about starting something perceived as difficult, increasing our distance from executive function and tying us tighter to procrastination (our most successful relationship ever).
KonMari has ways of addressing our shame…and a lot of them get called “woo woo”
Do I want to thank the items I’m getting rid of? No. I feel foolish.
But she’s right, I do feel shame about how much I’ve accumulated. I feel guilt about what I have and haven’t done with those things: the hopes they represented and how I felt they would define a future me.
So I have to find a way to process that shame. To look at something that cues up my soundtrack and not say “I failed” and instead say “I’ve learned from you. You taught me this isn’t where my priorities are. Thank you.”
“You brought the thrill of perceived change to me, thank you.”
“I wanted you to be part of my life but it’s not working. We deserve better. Thank you. Onward to your new life.”
Shame doesn’t just evaporate. you need to find ways to process it. Transform it. Bleed it off a bit.
If talking to objects gets me to process my feelings…and it did…I’ll do it.
I’ll procrastinate a bit but I’ll do it.
People with ADHD are very visual and as such we can be overwhelmed by visual clutter.
KonMari removing extra labels from boxes as not to be assaulted by too many words in a pantry or medical cabinet. Oh, I SEE you.
KonMari simultaneously suggesting we can line our closets and storage spaces with feel-good geeky images that we wouldn’t want on our main walls despite the fact this might count to some people as visual clutter. Oh, I SEE you too.
And I am seen.
I REALLY need places to be tidy and run on schedule. I can’t handle outside unnecessary clutter and disorganization throwing me off course because I’m expending so much energy just existing an staying focused.
I mean this only for places I need to do things in (home, class, workplace). I don’t care if I visit people who have messy houses.
KonMari: I get that…but if it’s not your space you can’t expend energy on it. Focus on your own things and place and stop trying to change others, you’ll only mess up interpersonal relationships that way.
Me: Buuuut I’m hyper focused on it and it’s driving me crazy and.
KonMari: Nope. Fix yourself. Know what your space is. Define it. Set it up. Defend the boundaries of your space. Let the world beyond that fall into chaos. It’s ok. you are master of your space and your space only. Now, please, go talk to those shoes you don’t wear.
She speaks to me and now I’m better understanding why and how.