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“Upcycling: My (Guilt-Free) ADHD Obsession”

“A problem for a lot of us with ADHD is the cost involved in our short-lived obsessions. The two kayaks I bought last summer — and proceeded to use exactly once — come to mind. The act of spending money can be as big a dopamine rush as the items we order. My solution to avoid buyer’s remorse and shame while in pursuit of my obsessions? Upcycling.”

Organic tomato plants growing from recycled plastic water bottles. Innovation for a sustainable urban garden with small space and recycled materials.
Organic tomato plants growing from recycled plastic water bottles. Innovation for a sustainable urban garden with small space and recycled materials.

My whole existence sometimes feels centered on flitting from one interest to another. My Pinterest boards are a graveyard of hobbies and projects that have come and gone in a frenzy of dopamine-laden hyperfocus.

There are the million recipes for the mini blender I was sure would save my sanity. And you can wash, rinse, and repeat for the pressure cooker and, more recently, the air fryer.

Some interests come and go in an identifiable pattern, like summer gardens, Halloween costumes, and birthday parties. Some are more fleeting, like the time I figured I could use the collection of empty toilet paper rolls in my bathroom to make…something. Or the fancy cocktails and s’mores collections that reside next to the healthy-eating board.

A problem for a lot of us with ADHD is the cost involved in our short-lived obsessions. (Just one of many examples of the “ADHD tax” at work.) The two kayaks I bought last summer — and proceeded to use exactly once — come to mind. The act of spending money can be as big a dopamine rush as the items we order. My solution to avoid buyer’s remorse and shame while in pursuit of my obsessions? Upcycling.

Why Upcycling Is a Must for My ADHD Obsessive Interests

Upcycling and reusing still allow me to follow my creative spark, but with less waste and less of a dent in my wallet. (I don’t have to rely as much on virtual shopping carts and same-day delivery for dopamine hits.) Thrift and scrap-reuse stores are playgrounds for my brain, which treats the array of second-hand items like puzzles. Sometimes I start with an item that is begging to become something else. Can I turn those old ceiling fans into giant flowers for house décor? Other times, I start out with an idea and hunt down the pieces to complete it.

[Read: “My Brief-But-Intense Obsession with Pressure Washing”]

Upcycling allows me to keep alive ⁠— albeit in a cannibalized form ⁠— previous projects that I’ve long abandoned. My most recent project began when I forgot to cover the kiddie pool one night and awoke to tiny, gooey clumps of eggs floating in it.

First, I went down an Internet rabbit hole trying to figure out what sort of animal laid them. By the time I figured out that it was some sort of frog, I was emotionally and intellectually invested.

I eyed a large heavy-duty plastic container in my garden. It started its life with me as a worm bin and then became a rain barrel after I killed said worms by accidental neglect. But the rain barrel idea, too, was a flop, and the worm-bin-rain-barrel-plastic-container sat unused since then as an icon of my failures.

But here was another chance. I poured water into the container and placed the frog eggs there. Next came a deep dive into the world of container ponds. Soon, I was collecting extra pond plants and more tadpoles from neighbors. I became obsessed with beautifying my garden, and perused thrift and scrap stores for ideas.

[Read: “My Earliest Memory of ADHD Hyperfixation Is…”]

When this interest inevitably fades, I won’t be left with the shame I tend to feel every time I glance at the ghosts of more expensive projects. Instead, I will simply empty the pond and let it sit as a tribute to pure potential as it waits for its next life — alongside the rest of the project detritus in my basement.

Upcycling and ADHD Obsessive Interests: Next Steps


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