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Now That I’m Organized, I Realize I’m Happier in Chaos

I’m not sorry that my house is clean. I just need time to adjust to a life where chaos isn’t conducting the orchestra.

My current organizational journey has been a rewarding, growth-inducing, inspiring endeavor — one that I’m proud of, one that has improved the lives in my household almost immeasurably, one that has made our home more welcoming and comfortable.

At the moment, though, it’s triggering anxiety for me in a big way.

Doesn’t make sense, right? Here I am organizing my life, and organizing is the gold standard for winning in life. It’s what we all, as people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), aspire to. It’s one of those magical things that people without ADHD do, that we yearn to master. Organizing will make you more relaxed! You will love your new life! Everything will be easier and you will garner the envy and admiration of friends and family alike!

Oh…but there’s so much more to it than that.

I understand that a lot of people with ADHD don’t like organizing and cleaning, and I understand why. It can seem overwhelming, or boring. Intimidating, even. Well, I like it. I like it as long as there’s a huge mess, I can just clean and organize at will, and I don’t have to think much about what I’m doing next. When the messes are obvious, I’m engaged and happy. When the messes get smaller and the workload gets smaller and maintenance mode kicks in, I have no idea what to do with myself and I turn into a bit of an anxious mess.

I’m happier in chaos. I’m confident amid a tornado. I have no idea what to do with a sunny day and a clear horizon. Chaos is authoritative, insightful, and directive, and it prevents a person with ADHD from having to engage executive functioning skills like planning and prioritizing — skills that may not be as strong for us. Sometimes the urgency that chaos brings makes it easier to engage skills like planning and prioritizing, because chaos is stimulating and makes our brains happy. It’s similar to how meds stimulate our brains…but far less reliable as a coping tool.

Now that I have my house more organized, and I have my family doing daily chores lists to maintain it, I don’t know what to do when I get home. I feel like I’m supposed to be hurriedly scurrying about the house, washing dishes, vacuuming something, folding laundry. But the laundry is already folded, the dishes are under control and the floors are clean.

[Take This Self-Test: Is Your Clutter and Disorganization Out of Control?]

I have no idea what to do with myself. It’s not that I have nothing to do. It’s just that there are no obvious physical messes grabbing my attention, telling me what to do next, and stimulating me to act. In the absence of a fire directing me what to act upon, I have to set goals and priorities for myself. I have to make choices. I have to deal with some things I’ve been putting off, too. Putting out obvious fires is a great distraction from bookkeeping, for example.

I’m not sorry that my house is clean. I’m not sorry that my dining room table is set with a beautiful tablecloth, and a vase of flowers on it, instead of piled up with clutter and projects. It’s beautiful.

I’m just in transition and I haven’t adjusted to my new reality yet.

For two days, I’ve been anxiously wandering around the house, slightly paralyzed. I’m waiting for my environment to tell me what to do. I’m looking for clues. I’m desperate for them. I wander into the same rooms over and over, waiting for a sign. I follow my husband around, feeling like I’m about to tell him something, and have no idea what I’m going to say. There’s no pressing issue to be addressed.

I bumbled around the house last night, checking to see if there were things we were running out of that needed to be ordered or shopped for. Nope. We have what we need. What a weird, unfamiliar feeling. I went online and ordered a box of six bottles of dish soap anyway. We do go through it quickly. I finally sat down and read a long article, online. It was interesting, and I enjoyed it.

[13 Clutter Hacks for the Easily Overwhelmed]

Leisure time is something that I have always struggled with. I resist it, because of this discomfort. I don’t like undirected time much. It feels weird to me.

I think I’m in a new place, though. I think I can move through this experience without trying to avoid it this time. I think I can get myself to sit down and do the bookkeeping. I think I might sit down and read a few more interesting articles. But I have to approach it consciously. And I’ll need to make lists.

It’s not easy for me to be one thing — busy — and then another — relaxed. It’s not easy for me to transition between modes of being. Happier living for me if a life where chaos is conducting the orchestra.

I’m proud that I got myself here. But…even in this admirable destination, there’s more work to do.

[Read This Now: When Your Mess Is Causing Stress]