Do You Have an Out of Sight, Out of Mind Problem?

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Many adults with ADHD live in a cluttered environment. Do you? There are a few common reasons for this.

It might be because you:

  • Leap from one activity to the next and forget to put things away
  • Find it hard to throw things out

However, there is a less well-known reason. 

  • You don’t want to put items away because you will forget about them. Out of sight; out of mind!

By keeping everything visible, you have developed (either consciously or unconsciously) a very clever system to support your prospective memory.

Prospective Memory

Does this sound like your home?

  • Empty containers of products you need to buy stacked by the door
  • Piles of folders on your desk
  • Scraps of paper with notes to yourself
  • Stacks of newspapers and magazines with interesting articles
  • Mounds of half-finished books to read
  • Household projects to be started (Eg. shelf to be put up)
  • A pile of bills to pay
  • Hobby projects, scattered around

Dr. Ari Tuckman describes prospective memory as ‘remembering to remember.’ When a person who doesn’t have ADHD remembers they need to post a birthday card to their Mom, it stays in their mind and memory until they have been to the mailbox. For someone with ADHD, something different happens. The thought of the birthday card pops into their mind and then vanishes. It doesn't stay long enough for them to take action on. When they remember again,it’s often too late.

Having visual reminders helps the prospective memory, though living in a cluttered environment has its drawbacks:

  • Being surrounded by ‘stuff’ makes it hard to focus (even if you think it doesn’t).
  • It’s hard to relax when you are being reminded of ‘things to do’.
  • You can appear disorganized to others. People make assumptions about clutter and think you are less competent and capable than you actually are.

Supporting Prospective Memory

Good news!

There are ways to support your prospective memory and have a tidy environment.

1. Create habits.

A habit is a routine done so often, you can do without consciously thinking. You can develop habits for everything from your morning routine to filling up your car with gas.

Here is an example of one of my habits. I don’t like filling my gas tank, but I also don’t like having an empty tank. When I realized I had a favorite gas station, I decided to create a new habit. Every Thursday morning, I have a meeting close to that gas station. After the meeting, I go to the gas station. My car never runs out of gas and the habit means the process is effortless.

2. Write Lists.

There are 3 types of list to help your prospective memory: Checklists and To Do lists and Shopping lists.

  • Checklists are a great tool to help you function effectively in your life. You might have a checklist of things to take with you before you leave for work in the morning. It may include keys, wallet, phone, lunch, etc. You can stick that checklist on the front door; then, check that you have all the items before you leave in the morning. Having a housework checklist and others are examples of useful checklists.
  • To-do lists are perfect ways to capture all the thoughts you have as they pop into your mind. But don’t use scraps of paper. Write everything in a notebook. You could use an app on the phone. Writing things down when you think of them is a good start; however, it’s best when you use it in conjunction with planning. Because then you know what to do and when you will do it.
  • Shopping lists. Whenever you run out of a product, write it on your shopping list. Using an app such as Our Groceries is a great idea. Because then, you always have your list with you when you go to the store.

When you use habits and lists in conjunction with planning, you are supporting your prospective memory without living in a cluttered environment!

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