Discover more from Your House Machine
Shield your eyes from your stuff -- yes, really
Looking at your stuff bums you out more than you may realize.
Today I’m taking you on a bit of a journey through a couple types of brain differences and how they can turbocharge our organizing and home design decisions. Whether or not you experience ADHD or High Sensitivity, understanding this lens can only help you.
ADHD & High Sensitivity - a quick primer
There’s a lot of talk about neurodivergence lately — we are recognizing more widely that not all brains process information the same way. Whether we’re talking about the autism spectrum or ADHD or something else, it’s great to see these other states of being recognized and celebrated.
There’s an organizing tie-in here: Everyone is impacted by their home environment (whether they’re neurotypical or not), but some sometimes different ways of processing information makes you even more sensitive to your space or makes it especially hard to create the environment you need.
For instance, I’ve been learning a lot about ADHD from a close friend with a severe case. Turns out that creating household systems to reduce decision-making (my speciality!) is really helpful for her ADHD. Cool!
Now that I’ve learned this I think more explicitly about reducing micro-decisions when I design systems. This works for ADHD brains, *and* non-ADHD brains because truly, everyone benefits from less decision fatigue.
Another type of processing difference I’m personally very familiar with is the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This is someone who takes in more sensory information than most people and processes it more deeply. As a result they have some superpowers but can also tend to get overstimulated. HSPs are about 20% of the population, and even are found in many animal species.
If you’ve ever walked into a room and felt assaulted by overhead lighting, felt agitated by a noise that no one else seems to notice, or have been told you’re “too sensitive,” you may be highly sensitive. Here’s a quiz to identify if you’re among the 20% — I scored a 25 (>14 is considered highly sensitive), so I’m quite the delicate snowflake.
I have a hunch that HSPs are overrepresented in the professional organizing and interior design world, since we are so affected by our environments and have a gift for understanding how to create soothing spaces. I’m giving this topic lots of space today because my hunch is that many of my readers may also be HSPs.
But whether or not you are highly sensitive, you can leverage the insights of HSPs to make your space more calming. You may not notice that the harsh lights or buzzing of your stereo or clutter in the room adds to your somatic stress, but addressing those things can help calm anyone.
Applying this to your space
Here’s an organizing hack that has soothed my HSP soul and will probably soothe yours too.
Here’s my home’s attic, which came with built-in shelves. This it is in the middle of tax time (hence papers everywhere), but it’s still basically “organized:”
This room does a lot of jobs — office for me, teaching material storage for my husband, guest quarters, Mom chill zone. But I never found this room pleasant to be in.
After organizing and reorganizing to no avail, I eventually realized that having so many objects in my field of vision was what was stressing me out.
I thought about ripping out the shelves, but that seemed like a waste. Decluttering and emptying them also didn’t seem like a good option as empty shelves are kind of sad and ugly, and we actually do need to store most of these things.
I was stuck for a couple years. Then recently my mom had some extra linen fabric she needed to find a use for, and it gave me an idea for the perfect solution…
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Ta daa: Curtain-covered shelves!
My husband and I decluttered, and then I did a quick paint touch up of the shelves and wall. I bought 2 inexpensive long cafe curtain rods from Target and borrowed my neighbor’s sewing machine to make curtains out of the linen fabric.
Because I’m me, I did this in an extremely half-assed way — the bottom and sides are raw and the lengths aren’t quite even. But 80% of a solution is good enough for me.
For this little open closet area I used a tension rod. Easy-peasy!
For my overstimulated brain, this is infinitely more soothing than the alternative:
Now I looooove spending time in this room. There is so much less for my eyes to see, and it’s far enough from the chaos of my house that it feels restful being there. My HSP son has even started doing “quiet time” in the attic with me in the middle of the day, so it’s a retreat for us both.
I’ve extended this concept to a perhaps unnecessary extreme in my medicine cabinet. I got tired of product labels screaming at me when I go to wash my face and get ready for bed each night, so I’ve started obscuring labels and decanting what I can (credit to washi tape and Muji):
And you know what, call me crazy but I do find this a lot more relaxing.
Now that I think of it, this is kind of the medicine cabinet version of my pantry decanting project.
Applying this to your house
The moral of the story is this: if there’s a space you want to be more soothing, try tapping into your senses:
How many objects can you see? Can you reduce that number?
What do you hear in the space? Can you make it quieter or introduce a soothing noise like a fountain or fan?
What does it feel like (temperature, air freshness, etc)? Does your body have a comfortable spot to rest?
Does it smell nice? Don’t go overboard on scents though — to much of a good thing can also be overstimulating.
Then work to optimize these things, and before your know it you’ll have a chill zone that you love!
I’m curious to hear about readers’ experience with HSP/ADHD and if you’ve found any solutions that really help you.
Also, if anyone takes the quiz and realizes for the first time they’re an HSP I will be so thrilled to welcome you to the delicate snowflake club!