The ADHD Marriage, Part 2
This strategy has worked for Darcy and Eric Abarbanell of South Bend, Indiana. ”I’ve posted notes all over the house to remind us both to bring down the dirty dishes to the kitchen, to clean out the cat litter box, to empty the dishwasher,” says Darcy. “I attach cartoons to them, so it doesn’t seem like I’m giving orders all the time.”
Shared goals, different approaches
Both Darcy and Eric have ADHD. Given their shared diagnosis, you might assume they would think alike. In some ways, they do. “People with ADHD speak a subtly different language,” says Darcy. “Their thoughts are scattered around them, not in a straight line. Eric and I communicate on a level that people around us don’t, or can’t, always understand.”
But when it comes to big projects, their approaches couldn’t be more different. Darcy likes to break projects into small steps, following a schedule until everything is done. Eric prefers to plunge in with little planning, figuring things out as he goes along.
“We’re in the middle of redoing our bathroom,” says Darcy. “Eric’s approach was to start ripping down the wallpaper. Mine would have been to Google ‘wallpaper removal,’ write down all the steps, get the proper tools, line them up, and then strip the wallpaper. I admire Eric’s gumption and his willingness to plunge in, but often he gets in over his head.”
That’s exactly what happened last year, when Eric took charge of another remodeling project—this one involving his home office. “The room became so cluttered that he couldn’t work in there,” recalls Darcy. “I told him that once a week I would straighten up the room, then help him decide what he needed to do next to get the job done.”
Though grateful for Darcy’s help, Eric recognizes a downside to his wife’s meticulousness. “If she loses or forgets her lists,” he laughs, “watch out. She panics and feels like she can’t do anything without them.”
Darcy has learned not to impose her approach in every situation. Now that Eric’s office is finished, for example, she doesn’t nag him about his clutter. “That’s his space, where he works,” she says. “When clutter builds up, I shut the door.”
Clutter, clutter everywhere
Having separate spaces has been helpful for another couple who share an ADHD diagnosis, Lori and Scott Shattuck, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lori habitually left her clothes lying on the bedroom floor. That bothered Scott, who is a bit of a neatnik. Now she keeps her clothes in a separate dressing room. “This way, Scott doesn’t have to see them,” she says.
The best way for couples to avoid clashing over clutter may be to avoid clutter altogether. To do that, Zaretzky urges “pack rats” to ponder three questions when considering whether to keep an item: One, does the item have sentimental value? Two, does it have monetary value? Three, is it irreplaceable? “If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions,” says Zaretzky, “keep the item. If not, toss it.”
What else can couples do to reduce clutter? Stop subscribing to magazines you don’t have time to read. Take your name off mailing lists. Position a wastebasket near the front door, so you can toss junk mail immediately. To cut down on paper bills, set up automatic payments, and have no more than two credit cards. Maintain two in-boxes—one for bills, one for everything else—and sort through both boxes at least once a week.