“The Stay-Organized ADHD Hack for Everyday Life”

You’re running late (again). As you rush to leave, you scan your mental checklist: “Okay, I have my keys. Now, where are my sunglasses? Oh, they’re on my head. Good. Wallet? Check. Hold on – is my ID in my wallet? Is the other ID I need in here? What time is it? Let me check my phone, which I’m sure I left around here…. Wait, my sunglasses aren’t on my head!”

Panic and frustration set in. Your inner critic starts up: Why can’t I be more organized? Why am I so forgetful? Why is this so hard? Why do I always do this?

This was me before I left my home to do practically anything. Keeping track of all the items I needed for various activities, no matter how many times I had done those activities, always felt overwhelming and stressful. For work, I need my ID card on a lanyard, my name badge, and an ethernet cable adapter. When I volunteer, I need to bring my name badge and a specific t-shirt that identifies me as a volunteer. For my personal training sessions, I need to pack an athletic top and shorts, my heart rate monitor, a water bottle, a sweatband, my gym membership card, and the right shoes. I struggled to remember these items in my rush out the door, and I couldn’t reliably keep them in one designated place.

Accepting that forgetfulness, disorganization, and time blindness are a part of my ADHD was a milestone toward self-forgiveness. But I knew that I had to find a way to limit the overwhelm and forgetfulness that plague “neurospicy” people like myself.

Go Bags for ADHD: The Ultimate Organizing Hack

While mulling it over, I noticed that my partner keeps her stationery in a zippered bag. Everything she needs related to stationery is in that single, portable bag – not scattered about in random spots. And there, in the simplest of organizing tools, was my solution.

[Get This Free Download: Clean Up and Get Organized in One Weekend]

Rather than waste time tracking down (often misplaced) individual items around my home for a particular activity (while racing against the clock), I created “go bags” for various activities. If I’m spending the day in the office, I toss my office go bag into my backpack and I don’t think twice about what’s in there, secure in knowing I won’t have to ask for anyone to badge me in. I also have go bags for my personal training sessions and for volunteering.

How to Create and Maintain Your Own Go Bags

I know this isn’t an earth-shaking organization tool, but I’m happy with my go bag strategy because it’s simple, effective, relatively low-maintenance, and endlessly adaptable. You don’t have to use a zippered bag – substitute a plastic container, a reusable shopping bag, a fanny pack, anything portable that can hold your items. Here are some sample go bags to get you started:

  • Dog walking: Treats, waste bags, light-up collar (for night walks)
  • Everyday health: Hand sanitizer, sunscreen, lip balm, ADHD medication, lotion
  • Gym: ID card, clothes, water bottle, fitness monitors, sweat band or microfiber cloth
  • International travel: Passport, travel adapter, credit card with no international fees
  • Studying: Pens, highlighters, sticky notes, flash cards, energy bar (preferably one that doesn’t expire anytime soon!)
  • Swimming: Swimsuit, towel, goggles, water bottle, sandals

I know what you’re thinking: How do I remember to bring my go bags? I’m not perfect, but I’ve found that setting an essential item, like my car keys, on top of the bag works well. After all, I can only go so far from home without my car keys.

[Read: The ADD Life Hacks That Work for ADDitude Readers]

What about maintaining go bags? Some go bags (like for the gym) require more maintenance than others. Make it a point to check your go bags once a week, once a month, and at any other frequency that works for you. You may find it helpful to make duplicate go bags, like a toiletry go bag, to keep in your car, office, bathroom, nightstand, and other areas. Go bags, especially duplicate go bags, may take more time to set up initially, but they’ll definitely save you time, energy, and frustration in the long run. Think of it as doing your future self multiple favors.

For those of us with ADHD, there’s no greater thrill than sharing the hack to end all hacks – the strategy that finally got us to do the thing. (Bonus points if the hack was right under our noses all along.) I find go bags necessary to alleviate the racing thoughts, confusion, and overwhelm that once was getting out the door to face everyday life.  

Go Bag for ADHD Organization: Next Steps

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