Stuff, Stuff, Stuff

I’m one of those people who is always working on several things at once, and I have to have all of my task components out where I can see them.  This means that like millions of people out there, I use the famous File By Pile system.

The obvious problem with that method is that one always has a constant supply of messes.  And alas, one invariably loses Important Things under other Important Things, which can lead to the frantic I’m-On-A-Mission hunts to locate whatever.  (I have gotten smarter over the years; we now own about eight pairs of scissors, which means we can usually find two or three at any given time.  Of course, no one else ever borrows my lefty scissors, so they remain nicely sharp, but then I can’t blame losing track of them on anyone else, either.)

Another end result is that some tasks will take more than a day, and when stuff sits out for any length of time, it simply becomes part of the scenery and is no longer noticeable. You can physically see the stacks of papers laying atop the books in the bookcase, but you don’t notice them as things out of place because they are in a semi-permanent “temporary holding place”. This is how AD/HD people have terribly cluttered houses and offices: lots of ongoing projects, the tendency for things to become invisible to awareness, and of course, the inertia of task paralysis when it comes to cleaning things up.

Actual cleaning isn’t hard. It’s not the running the vacuum across the floor, nor swiping things with a tacky dusting cloth, nor wiping down tables, nor mopping floors. Rather, it’s getting to these surfaces, because first one must put a gazillion things away!

Putting stuff away can lead to terribly recursive bouts: taking the socks from the living room to the laundry and starting a load of laundry and going to the bedroom to get hangers for the dried clothes and picking up the full waste-basket while in the bedroom and dropping off the hangers atop the washer and finding a pair of undies stuck down between the washer and dryer and setting down the waste-basket to go fetch the yardstick to retrieve the garment and reaching underneath the hutch to grab the yardstick that has fallen down and finding some pieces of junk mail and another stray sock that have gotten kicked under there but not finding the yard stick and throwing away the junk mail and taking the sock up to the laundry and then realising that you still haven’t found the yardstick and then looking for it in the coat closet and having a basket of gloves and hats fall off the shelf and picking them up and …

Getting around all these endless loop-de-loops requires temporarily putting a laundry basket at the bottom of the staircase. All the stuff going up gets dumped in there to be distributed after I’m done vacuuming. That way, all the assorted dirty clothes are dropped off in one trip, all the hair elastics are returned to the bathroom cup in one trip, and so on. The basket interrupts the loop-de-loops by collecting things, and then allows me to visit each of the upstairs rooms just once.  With any luck I won’t find a newsmagazine I’ve not yet read and get sidetracked by the editorial cartoons.

We also have a series of stacking drawers in the kitchen, one for each person. When I’m picking up, I just drop the miscellany in each person’s drawer for them to deal with. “Can’t find it?  Did you check your drawer?” I have also put a waste paper basket right by where the mail lands, so the junk mail gets tossed immediately instead of defaulting to the “get around to that later” that rarely happens.

Of course, there’s a pile of paper on my desk.  It’s mostly stuff I’m working on right now, and stuff I mean to be working on.  Back when I was a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers and worked from home, I finally realised that I would have to implement some traditional office procedures.

No, I didn’t make myself clean off my desk at the end of each day.  However, I did start my Friday mornings by going through my pile and sorting it out.  (Initially I tried to do this on Monday mornings, but I really don’t have that much self-discipline or masochism, so it got bumped to Friday mornings.) That’s when I forced myself to do the filing – I hate filing papers in file drawers, but even I finally realized that putting away a few pieces of paper once a week was much less tedious than waiting until the pile was thicker than the Sunday newspaper.

That’s also when I rediscovered bills I’d had to postpone paying due to cash-flow issues, bank statements to balance, little scraps of paper with cryptic notes to myself about new article ideas, magazines I meant to read, catalogs I could probably toss, and other workaday ephemera including an occasional mislaid paycheck that wanted depositing – I’m not brainy like Einstein, but we do have that in common …

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go vacuum the living room while I still have half an impulse to do so, and it remains visible.



  1. Random Reader #25386 or somesuch said,

    13 November 2006 at 10:00

    Ha. When my mom was a kid and found something she’d been looking for right in plain sight, Grandma used to say “If it was a snake, it woulda bit you.” To which my mom replied, “If it was a snake, I wouldn’t have been looking for it.” :P

    Speaking of which, for the 2nd day in a row, I forgot to remind my guy to take the trash out. Oops. :P

    To Catana: Hmm that *is* interesting. I had more than one night when I’d be awake for over an hour longer than intended, because I couldn’t stop paying attention to the TV shows my mom was watching in the next room. It didn’t matter if they were shows I’d never seen, or ones I could practically quote the script from. I frequently have the same problem if I’m trying to read while the TV’s on. Sometimes I’ll manage to get really into a book…and then suddenly a phrase will catch my attention and I find myself rereading the next paragraph 6 times (or just randomly staring at the wall) because I can’t stop listening again, heh. I also discovered I can’t write worth a damn with music on, even if it’s instrumental. This all probably says something about my visual & auditory senses not being too compatible, but if so that could be explained by the fact that I’ve always had bad eyesight & thus have to look at things more intensely to see what they really are.

  2. Catana said,

    17 October 2006 at 7:32

    Habituation is part of the problem, but I do think that’s it’s not the same for everyone or even always the same for one person. Visual habituation works very quickly for me, and maybe that’s one of the weaknesses of the ADD brain. Auditory habituation may be more complex. I’ve had to get used to heavy traffic passing by my apartment building, and usually I don’t notice it. But sometimes I become intensely aware of it and it almost drives me crazy. I have a bad startle response to certain kinds of loud noises, and that never seems to go away. If it wasn’t early enough for me to be not quite awake yet, I could probably think of other ways in which I fail to habituate or have varying responses to the same stimulous. It would make a great research project. (Just what I need) As for the vacuum cleaner, I don’t habituate to its presence, but I hate vacuuming, so I just keep avoiding it. It’s only honesty to admit to sheer, everyday procrastination.

  3. qw88nb88 said,

    16 October 2006 at 20:18

    What Dr Hallowell was missing is the concept of Habituation. After a while the brain quits responding to a familiar stimulus, such as not feeling your clothing or hearing the air conditioning fan. We become habituated to all those sticky-notes once they’ve been someplace long enough; they just become part of the scenery!

    The sticky-note on the computer screen (not the frame, but smack-dab in the middle of the screen) is unusual, so attracts your attention. It also gets in the way of doing stuff. Putting sticky-notes on the kitchen table won’t attract my son’s attention, nor even putting them on the fridge (they’re camouflaged by the cartoons and pizza coupons). But he can’t miss ’em on his monitor screen. Of course, he’s likely to just pluck it off with the intent to take care of whatever later on, but half he time doesn’t … takes after mum, he does!

    Which brings me to another tip from teh behavioural sciences (I studied insect behaviour): we have the concept of Incompatible Behaviours. Meaning, if you’re doing A, then you can’t be doing B. Like many brilliant things, this is Obvious-In-Retrospect.

    For instance, you want to remember to vacuum. So what you do is not JUST pull out the vacuum sweeper from whatever nook you parked in it last (the official closet space, or some random hidden-in-plain-sight location about the house). Merely parking it in plain sight isn’t enough; given a couple of busy days it’ll turn invisible once again. No, what you do is to park the dang thing someplace really inconvenient, like in front of the doorway to the kitchen or in front of your computer desk. You can’t get to your snacks or your email without running into the mechanical beast standing there. (Given my clumsiness, I’m likely to literally run into the thing.)

    Likewise, when I must remember to take the trash out to the dustbin before I go to work, I put the trash bag right in front of the door where it’ll block my egress (if I’m lucky, hubby will go out the door before me, and he’ll take it out). This works like a charm, assuming I don’t go out the other exit! ::grin:: Frequently I’ll put the trash bag there as an additional reminder to myself change the cats’ litterbox beforehand.

    Hope these help! Being “older and wiser” is all about outsmarting oneself, I think.

  4. Catana said,

    16 October 2006 at 19:26

    I’d love to figure out what’s behind the tendency of visible objects to become invisible while in plain sight. It might be a real scientific breakthrough. In one of his early books on ADD Edward Hallowell discussed it, and suggested ways to get around it, but I don’t think he had any idea of why it happens. I remember that one of his suggestions was bright-colored post it notes and other highly visible reminders. That doesn’t work either.

    I’d probably get my place vacuumed if I could remember to take out the vacuum cleaner and put it where it would remind me to vacuum. Aaaargh!

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