Manage Your House

I’m Not Irresponsible — I Just Lose Things!

I lost my purse at the age of 13. In the years since, I’ve lost more bills, laptops, and wallets than I can count. But though I still feel the weight of my misplaced possessions, my tendency to lose things doesn’t make me a “loser” — it’s just a symptom of my ADHD.

A row of purses from a woman who keeps losing things
Six purses, illustrations

I was in the eighth grade the first time it happened. I went into the National Air and Space Museum with my purse, and left without it. Inside was my Walkman, a Belinda Carlisle tape, a present I’d bought my father, and $40 in travelers’ checks. (My parents knew better than to send a 13-year-old on a weeklong field trip with cash.)

I told my parents that my purse was stolen, and I thought it had been. But a month later, when the Smithsonian mailed it to me — Walkman, travelers’ checks, and all — I realized what Mom and Dad already knew: There was no thief in the lobby, waiting for me to look the other way, so that he could take it. I’d left my purse on a bench.

The ghost of this purse has haunted me for more than 20 years, and forged my idea of who I am: someone who is constantly losing things.

In fact, I refused to carry a purse throughout my 20s. Instead, I used one of those wallet/key ring combos they sell in college bookstores — putting my keys, ID, and a credit card into one palm-sized contraption I could fit in my pocket or hook on to the belt loop of my pants. It’s unbecoming, my mother said, for ladies to carry a wallet. But wallets are harder to lose — they’re always on your person.

Keeping Up with Cash

To this day, I rarely carry cash. Having more than $20 makes me nervous. The value of travelers’ checks can be redeemed with a call to American Express. Credit cards can be cancelled. But cash, once gone, is lost forever.

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

For people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), keeping up with cash — managing our finances in general — is harder. I’ve seen the studies that CHADD, the Centers for Disease Control (C.D.C), and others have put out: We’re more likely to be poor. We’re more likely to get fired. We make less per hour than those without ADHD. I am not a statistic, and I do wish these statistics weren’t true. As I discuss a study with my doctor, he wonders if people with ADHD also have higher app charges on their phone bills.

Fortunately for me, I stay as far away from the app store as I can. Ninety-nine cents, over time, can equal the price of a purse. But I use my phone’s Twitter app enough to make it a life function: eat, check Twitter, call my mother, check Twitter, breathe. And at the end of the month, I know an email about nearing data limits is coming from Verizon.

I haven’t lost a purse since I was 13, but I have left the Verizon bill in the closet for weeks. As soon as I found it, I paid it, but not soon enough to avoid the late fee. My mantra becomes “I am not a purse-loser. I keep up with my things.” Through work and systems, this is now true. And it’s also true that my mother calls to ask if I paid the rent. It’s humiliating.

A Little Help from Mom

My mom’s saved me from angry landlords more than once, reminding me that, even though I’ve written the check, the envelope’s still in my purse and needs to be mailed. But I am a grown woman. I have started a business, grown it to international success, and sold it to a competitor. I have written three novels, and had breakfast with the vice-president of Ghana. But sometimes I forget to pay the rent.

[When Your Mess Is Causing You Stress]

To say that people with ADHD have a hard time managing or keeping up with our things is a cheap attack. (Yes, I once left my laptop at TSA and had to pay them to ship it back to me: $27. Yes, I left my makeup, too: $80.) But the implication is that we are irresponsible people: “Bless her heart, Terena’s mom still reminds her to mail the rent.”

Managing Money

We are not irresponsible. We are not derelicts or people who don’t pay our way. We are not too stupid to understand household math. The ethics and aptitude are there. The focus is not.

I was 13. Did I leave my purse on a bench, or perhaps in the gift shop, between Space Camp T-shirts and astronaut ice cream? I lost that purse, but I have carried it ever since. This was two years before my parents and I received a diagnosis, two years before this weight took on a name: ADHD.

I have never had a hard time managing my money. I understand that bills must be paid on time. I understand that lost items must be replaced. I’ve studied college economics. I have systems: Carry no cash. The bills go here. And sometimes these systems involve my mother, but they exist. I manage my money just fine, thank you, and have done so for years. The hard part is managing ADHD.

[I Am Joe’s Missing Keys]