Help for Hoarding, ADHD-Style

My husband saved everything, until ADHD medication — and I — helped him focus on the stuff he truly values.
Be Our Guest |
Dotty Young, Be Our Guest Blogger

I couldn't make my husband see how piles of meaningless objects were taking over our lives.

— Dotty Young

Dotty Young, this month's guest blogger, writes songs, stories, and skits, teaches gluten-free cooking classes, and battles her tendency to stay glued to Facebook.

Before treatment, my husband saved everything. And I do mean everything.

He had the first gold foil wrapper from the first hamburger he ever ate in the school cafeteria as a child. In grade school, he kept a “gold foil wrapper collection” in a cute cardboard box for years.

He liked gold foil wrappers — I had no problem with that.

However, when we had to keep the broken flowerpot, because it was my oldest daughter's “first flower pot,” the broken can opener because it was a wedding present, the old washer and dryer after we got a new washer and dryer “in case the new ones break,” and the burned-out metal frame of his first car, after it caught fire (and we paid to have it towed to storage on his family's farm), I had a problem with all of the hoarding.

Before our marriage, and as an ADHD sufferer myself, I coped with clutter by owning as few possessions as possible. I own four pairs of shoes — a winter pair, a summer pair, a dressy pair, and a set of running shoes. That's it. And that's all I want. I couldn't make my husband see how piles of meaningless objects were taking over our lives.

People with ADHD sometimes associate certain objects with a certain memory. It's not just a tennis racket — it’s the tennis racket his son used when he won his first game! When the ADHDer sees the tennis racquet lying on the floor, he doesn't see “clutter,” “mess,” or “pile of out-of-season sports gear,” he sees his son's accomplishment. ADHDers often rightly worry that, if the object goes away, the associated memory will go away, too.

People with ADHD may have trouble associating cause with effect. A baker who has ADHD may argue that she doesn't need to get rid of that whisk, since she uses a whisk every day. She may make detailed arguments about how useful this particular whisk is. She may mention how ridiculous it would be for a baker not to have a whisk. However, what she doesn't see is that she makes similar arguments for every item in her kitchen — including the 15 whisks she keeps as backup, just in case this whisk breaks. She can't see that arguing for this particular whisk is causing a bigger problem.

ADHD medication helps the brain makes these connections. Once an ADHDer is able to associate cause with effect, then he can slowly build new habits with his better-functioning brain.

A year after my husband began his treatment, my lifelong-hoarder came home from work and said, “I was looking through some pictures of our old apartment, and all I could think was, ‘Wow, there was clutter in every corner!’ Can we go through and get rid of some of this stuff?”

I almost fainted. Then I danced for joy.

We joined the “Forty Bags in Forty Days” decluttering group on Facebook, and took three vanloads of junk to Goodwill in a single weekend. Out went the broken flowerpot. I got a new can opener. The old washer and dryer went to happy scrap-metal scavengers. Within a month, we were able to clean up our living and dining room in less than 20 minutes — just because there wasn't so much stuff lying around. We even park our van in the garage!

We also took steps to preserve memories without the “stuff.” We've backed up thousands of digital photos on a hard drive. We've taken videos of special toys, in case they break. My husband bought binders to showcase developmental steps in the kids' school and art papers. He gladly throws the rest in the recycling bin.

Thanks to ADHD treatment, my husband no longer considers everything “special.” Now he is able to focus on what items he truly values. This means we no longer save everything, and we put more effort into saving what matters.

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