Have ADHD? Here’s how to optimise your home

Eleanor Noyce 23 March 2022

After being diagnosed with ADHD in 2021, Eleanor finally had the answers after years of feeling out of step with her condition

I was diagnosed with ADHD last year, at 23. After years of navigating intense emotional meltdowns, sensitivity, general disorganisation and chronic forgetfulness, I finally had the answers.

Post-diagnosis, I analysed my habits to see where I could make strategic changes and view the world—my world—through a neurodivergent lens. I quickly realised that I’d been slowly optimising my home environment for years, I just hadn’t realised it.

Defined as “the ability to understand that an object continues to exist, even though it can no longer be seen, heard or touched”, people with ADHD commonly struggle with something known as “object permanence”.

Translated, this means that belongings that are not visible to the ADHD eye can be forgotten completely. This combined with forgetfulness, time management and susceptibility to sensory overload is critical in explaining the significance of home optimisation: subtle changes can make a vast difference, and introducing certain features, from key safes to open storage units, can be revolutionary.

In my home environment, my wardrobe has a clear door which ensures that I can see all of the objects inside, and I’ve purchased open display shelving so that I know where everything is. I have a galaxy light, a sunset lamp and myriad soft, dimly lit fairy lights to reduce sensory overload.

My bedside table is an aesthetic nightmare, and my cupboards a treasure trove: I place everything of critical importance, from my medication to my keys, in plain view. The visibility of my tablets is a reminder to take them, and my keys and ID having a constant home in a ceramic dish ensures that I don’t lose them.

Similarly, Rachel Morgan-Trimmer is a neurodiversity consultant at Sparkle Class, and stipulates that executive dysfunction, defined as when “the brain has a hard time with the skills of attention, memory, flexible thinking, organisation, and time management”, is crucial in explaining the importance of environment optimisation.

“Many people with ADHD are very messy because they don’t have the executive function to tidy up. Simply looking at it can cause overwhelm and anxiety, and this can be paralysing”, she explains. It’s not that people with ADHD don’t want to be tidy: it’s that our brains struggle with the function that leads us towards identifying mess.

"It’s not that people with ADHD don’t want to be tidy: it’s that our brains struggle with the function that leads us towards identifying mess"

So, how can people with ADHD adapt their environment to suit their needs? Leanne Maskell is an ADHD coach and neurodiversity expert. In her book ADHD: An A to Z, she acknowledges the impact that strategically optimising a home can have on mental wellbeing.

“It can be useful to put labels on drawers and keep the same ‘category’ of clothes in the same areas, and to have washing baskets in every room to quickly sweep up any mess into when you need to focus. Visual reminders also work well, such as whiteboards and wall clocks.

Other practical tools such as Pomodoro timers, phone ‘safes’, notepads and jugs of water in every room are great to cover the basics of avoiding distractions, holding your focus, and maintaining self-care”, she advises.

Similarly, Heba Tabidi, the Founder of Space Black Studios, designs cities and spaces centring marginalised communities. Heba emphasises the importance of flexible spaces, recognising the joy that she that rearranging and adapting furniture to suit transient needs can bring.

“Having the freedom to curate our space for different activities feels empowering, and it’s very compatible with the creativity that comes with ADHD. This can be achieved through furniture, furnishing and simple structures that can be moved around and adapted to make different kinds of spaces with different functions based on what we need.”

"Other practical tools such as Pomodoro timers, phone ‘safes’, notepads and jugs of water in every room are great to cover the basics of avoiding distractions"

Interestingly, Heba further emphasises that acoustically insulated spaces are well-suited. Background noise can be distracting, and when dealing with sensory overload, a quiet, calm place with a low decibel level can regulate focus.

This, paired with soft, scattered lighting in an array of colours can soothe the senses and reduce overstimulation, with Heba recommending sunset lamps, exposed filaments, and candles for soft, neurodivergent-friendly comfort.

Likewise, Ellie Middleton lives with ADHD and autism, and through her network (Un)Masked With Ellie, she conducts webinars and runs a weekly newsletter on neurodiversity. Ellie curates her space to optimise dopamine intake, the short-term “happiness” chemical that ADHD brains are chronically deficient in.

“The vibe of my surroundings has a really big impact on my mood. Natural light is an absolute must, and I try to keep everything bright and colourful. I also have a stand-up desk to use when I’m working—the extra activity of standing up and being able to move around gives my brain a little dopamine boost and helps me to focus”, she explains.

All in all, the impact of home optimisation on my ADHD has been slow and subtle, but apparent. Now that I have a designated “home” for everything, I rarely lose my belongings, and being able to visibly see inside my wardrobe from the outside has allowed me to get ready quickly, avoiding the lateness I’m so susceptible to.

My soft lighting is calming when I am overstimulated, and my open storage systems a visible reminder of the joy in my environment. It’s life-changing.

Read more: How to overcome 'texting anxiety'

Read more: What's your chronotype and can you change it?

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