MINIMALISM AND ADHD: HOW A MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE CAN HELP WITH ADHD
Simplifying life is not just a project you can tick off your list and be done with. It’s an ongoing and intentional choice to create more ease and less stress when coping with the ups and downs of daily life. In this article on minimalism and ADHD, we look at how a minimalist lifestyle and approach to home and life can help with ADHD.
The minimalist lifestyle has many wonderful benefits. Far from being just a design aesthetic, minimalism can help us create a home and life focused more on our needs, wants and what really matters to us.
How we go about doing that varies from person to person and there’s no right or wrong way to embrace a minimalist life. Instead, it’s about taking baby steps, a series of small decisions and actions and assessing how well they work for you.
Further reading: If you’re new to minimalism and want to learn more about what I think minimalism is (plus a few things it’s not!), you might enjoy this article on What Is Minimalism?
On my blog you’ll find plenty of tips and strategies to help you declutter and simplify your home, schedule and life – and you’ll probably find that some work better for you than others! It very much depends on your starting point, end goal and what challenges and opportunities come up for you along the way.
In this article (one of a series of articles on simplifying life with ADHD), my friend and reader, Laura, shares her personal story and thoughts on the relationship between minimalism and ADHD. How can a more minimalist approach to home and life support you if you have ADHD or know someone who does?
MINIMALISM AND ADHD – LAURA’S STORY
I found out I had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when I was in my mid-50s. Although this discovery eventually led to greater self-compassion and understanding, first I had to go through a mourning period.
The dream of finding that one perfect system or motivation or method that would let me keep my home gleaming clean went away. I couldn’t bootstrap my way out of it, or just tell myself to push a little harder, or stop being lazy.
This particular struggle was never going to end. My inability to get up and do the things I wanted to accomplish was going to stay with me forever.
However, once I accepted this unpleasant truth, the quest to find ways to function well became more like a game for me. The brilliant work of KC Davis, a therapist with ADHD (more on her in the Additional Resources section) let me see that I could use unconventional methods of cleaning and tidying to get the necessary things done. Her particular strategies aren’t a fit for me, but it has become an enjoyable creative exercise to figure out what alternatives do work.
WHAT IS ADHD?
To explain why minimalism can really help with ADHD, I must first explain a little about what ADHD is. Full disclaimer: I am in no way a qualified medical professional! This is a summary of what I’ve found in my own research.
In “neurotypical” people, there is a part of the brain that handles “executive function.” Executive function lets you focus on what’s important, decide what needs to be done, and then get up and do it. Oh yes, and while you’re doing it you discover that you’re nearly out of milk, so you remember to buy some while coming home from work the next day.
In someone whose brain is “neurodivergent” because they have ADHD, the executive function part of the brain is under-performing in some or all of these ways. This is why stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin can help – they boost the functioning of that under-performing part of the brain.
So in the stereotypical case of the hyperactive little boy, he stops bouncing off the walls when put on Ritalin. It’s because his brain is now able to filter and assess the importance of the constant onslaught of environmental input, instead of trying to respond to a million tiny things at once.
Girls are often under-diagnosed, because in girls, ADHD can often present as daydreaming, being a million miles away mentally instead of focusing on the task at hand. But both ways of ADHD presentation are symptoms of the same thing – not being able to maintain attention on what’s important.
Oddly enough, people with ADHD are often capable of becoming deeply immersed in a task. I can sit down to write an article or business proposal, and suddenly realise that it’s lunchtime and I urgently need a bathroom break! But it seems to be an all or nothing proposition.
Many of us become very successful employees, because we can “hyperfocus” in this fashion. In addition, the structure of a work environment can be most helpful in keeping us on task. I’ve always been known for the sheer volume of work I can get through in a day, because I hyperfocus on it.
Except – then I get home. I’m tired, I’ve been pushing the executive function area of my brain to its limits for eight hours (though it probably said To heck with this, I’m out of here, somewhere around hour 7), I’m hungry, and the last thing I want to do is dull, messy, unpleasant tasks that involve cooking, cleaning, tidying, restocking, you name it.
So I give my brain and body the break that they need… and my home gets worse and worse. Maybe I get some things done that evening, maybe I tackle them on the weekend. Or maybe they just sit there until my home looks like hoarder heaven!
HOW MINIMALISM CAN HELP WITH ADHD
To me, everything that is visible has its own tiny little voice. Wash me. Dust me. Wipe me. Put me away. Put me in the car. Donate me. Take me to the trash. Organise me. Put me in the recycling bin. And I mean EVERYTHING.
I recently began a new job, working from home, and I adore not having to do the commute, and being able to control my environment for my own comfort. But when I got the job, I knew that I had to make it my goal to clear my visual field for when I’m sitting at my desk, to make the tiny voices stop.
Did I succeed? Ha ha ha ha no. Fortunately for me, my ability to hyperfocus at work kicked in while I was on the job, because I was learning something new. That’s always deeply pleasurable for me, so I remained fully engaged.
But the struggle I’m still having is that I have too much clutter around me, and with thousands of little voices all competing for my attention, my non-work hours find me rapidly overwhelmed. So my goal remains the same, to clear my visual field.
What minimalism means to me, as someone with ADHD, is reducing my possessions down to the point where everything has a place. When I can stow everything where it belongs – and in my younger years, I did at times manage that – that tiny chorus of voices stops competing for my attention, because nothing is out of place and needing to be dealt with. It becomes blissfully silent inside my mind. I cherish those moments. I always stop and savour them, because I don’t get them much these days!
Minimalism to me means being able to put things away. It means less time cleaning, because I have long sweeps of bare space, whether countertop or floor, instead of having to dust or sweep around the edges of a pile of clutter. It means that if I want to sit down with a cup of coffee and relax, I have an empty chair to sit in, an empty table to put my coffee on, and nothing in front of me demanding that I deal with it.
It means that without clutter constantly requiring my attention, I can use what executive function I have that day for more important tasks, or for pleasurable pursuits. It means less brain fatigue, because there’s less environmental input to attempt to process.
If you find that beautifully planned checklists like Antonia’s make you feel overwhelmed instead of motivated, don’t despair! The ADHD brain prefers a certain level of the right kind of stimulation, and often needs to become creative, or do things freestyle. You can still use Antonia’s excellent work as a starting point, particularly her articles on prioritising what’s important to you, and finding time for self-care.
I offer some of my own strategies for decluttering and managing the home in other articles which are linked below (thank you, Antonia!) or you can find in the simplicity and ADHD collection.
In the meantime – hang in there and give yourself compassion. You’re doing your best, whether you know it yet or not.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
Do you have any thoughts or experience which you’d like to share with others that build on some of the points covered in this article? How has simplifying, decluttering and a more minimalist lifestyle helped you or someone you know who has ADHD? Have you found any of these particularly difficult to do? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!
I hope you enjoyed this article on minimalism and ADHD. Here are some more resources which you might find helpful.
- KC Davis How To Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing
- KC Davis’s podcast Struggle Care
- Elaine N. Aron The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
- Jenara Nerenberg Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You
- ADHD Cleaning Tips: Gentle, Practical Ways to Help Keep a Clean and Tidy Home With ADHD – Many of us love to have a clean and tidy home but struggle how to make this happen. It can be even more difficult if you have the extra challenges of ADHD. In this article you’ll find some ADHD cleaning tips and gentle, practical ways to help you towards keeping a clean and tidy home with ADHD.
- Decluttering With ADHD: 9 Tips to Help Clear Clutter With ADHD – Clearing clutter can be a struggle for many of us. In this article we explore some of the particular challenges of decluttering with ADHD and offer some helpful tips on how to clear your clutter – ADHD style!
- Why Minimalism Is Not Just About Your Stuff – Minimalism involves decluttering and getting rid of things you no longer need, want or add value to your life but the minimalist lifestyle is also so much more. Here are some reasons why minimalism is not just about your stuff.
- Thoughts on Minimalism for Real Life – Minimalism sometimes feels unattainable or unrealistic but I don’t think it has to be this way. Take a warm-hearted, gentle approach to living an intentional life, full of purpose and less full of stuff. Here are some personal thoughts on minimalism for real life.