544: Organized Aspie

You or your Aspie may or may not be a neat freak. But chances are you both will strive off of getting your place in order. Whether or not you or your loved one is like me (super structured in my home environment) or like a close friend of mine, (super unstructured with good intentions, whose living environment could be compared to a cross between a hamster and a puppy habitat), either way an orderly environment can prove beneficial.

Why? Because effectively employing any method that can even slightly eliminate chaos and triggers directly equates to less anxiety. Less anxiety means increased productivity, a happier Aspie, and more enjoyable moments. Period.

I have recently found since relocating homes and downsizing my clutter, and employing an ongoing keeping-things-in-order routine that my stress levels, in all areas, and especially upon waking, have been drastically reduced. Less stuff and less mess, means less headache, and less thinking. Anything that eliminates thinking is on the top of my list of things to employ!

Of course there are limitations to how much someone can organize based on several factors, such as: the space in question, resources, financial means, physical means, executive functioning, motor skills, and so on.

LABOR: But for the sake of this discussion let’s assume that there is someone available to at minimum do the physical work, and if not, then perhaps that can become top priority: finding someone who can assist.

• There are local agencies individuals can contact to help with chores, if one is disabled. And in many cases someone on the autistic spectrum is considered disabled under the loose definition. Also, oftentimes there are religious agencies, you do not have to belong to, that can provide services, such as Catholic workers.
• Also, one could consider a trade with a neighbor or acquaintance, perhaps for lessons of some sort, e.g., musical instrument, fine crafts, knitting, homemade meal, editing, tutoring, help with resume writing, transportation, house-, pet-, or babysitting, etc.
• Recently a friend of mine hired a couple teenage youngster boys to de-clutter his room. It took them hours, but the boys were more than pleased with the below minimum wage payment.
• If you are a social-network person, reaching out to your ‘friends group’ by posting a question about where you might find local resources, might prove beneficial. Even if someone doesn’t live near you, they can ‘Google’ your local area.
With the labor taken care of, it’s time to tackle the space, (or more ‘Zenny’-annoying phrase: embrace the space).

I had so much fun checking out books from the library and ordering books on healthy homes a few years back; it was my fixation to study healthy home environments. I learned them some basics, such as eliminating all cleaning products in the home that were toxic, reviewing my cosmetic and beauty products (shampoo, deodorant) and replacing ones with toxic ingredients (including cat urine!) with natural products. It can get pricy to do this all at once. So one idea I incorporated was when one thing ran out, I replaced it with a more natural alternative. And now a days, with the internet, natural doesn’t need to be more expensive; take coconut oil for instance. A little bit of research and you’ll have multiple uses for a common, buy-in-large-bulk item, like coconut oil. It’s a great alternative to expensive makeup remover! Also, while you are at it, you might consider studying into Feng Shui; there are multitudes of online resources, including blogs, news articles, and free online videos. Feng Shui is a great foundation for downsizing.

To downsize ask the following questions:
1. Have I used this in the last year?
2. Am I likely to use this in the next year?
3. Does the item make me feel good? (connected to happy memories/moments) If it’s connected to bad memories, toss it.
4. If it does make me feel good, is keeping it worth the potential work/hassle/stress keeping it might or does cause?
5. Is it an item I can part with or will I mourn or regret if I no longer have it?
6. Is it in working condition? Is it free of dirt and mold? Is it pleasing to the eyes? Does it smell good? Does it enhance my living space? Is it free of damage that affects the aesthetic appeal or functionality?
7. Does it serve a function (or is it just something else I have to fix, upkeep, and/or dust)?

I go through these questions automatically in my head when I go through my house, almost daily, as de-cluttering is often on my brain, as of late (fixation). I also consider how long I have had something and the joy it has brought me. And I consider if the main reason I am holding onto something is out of impractical thoughts, and then if it is an impractical thought I counter the thought with logic, e.g., “Well, one day I might need this key chain! …(Even as I have ten others!); “I cannot give it away because a special person gave it to me”… (it’s not practical, it is cluttering my life, someone else will appreciate it more).

If you have a large space, just focus on one closet, or one small closet, or one drawer. Start little. After you have decided what to keep and what not to keep consider options for where to putt the stuff. I like to recycle, give to charity, sell, or give to a friend/neighbor/child. I personally keep a bag or two in the house, one inside and one in the garage, and fill it up weekly with items for the charity shop. I make certain to get a receipt for tax write-off purposes. If I buy a new or gently used piece of clothing I give up a piece already in my closet. Usually something that doesn’t fit, something I have had for years and don’t wear, or some item that causes of discomfort (makes me itch, makes me feel self-conscious, hurts my skin, etc.) Of course I have to be careful or I would give away all my clothes away, because nothing is really comfortable except my sweats and cotton T-shirts.

For me, and this is personal preference, but likely arguably true for many, less stuff equates to less hassle and headache. Less to clean. Less to look at and think about cleaning. Less to wonder where to put it. One of my stimming rituals since I was three years of age is to rearrange things (small decorative pieces and furniture) around the house. It can be quite annoying and time-consuming, (and one time landed me an ambulance ride to the ER), as mostly nothing every seems to be in the right place.

I have found two things that help tremendously to keep me from resorting and reorganizing objects. The first is 1) Keeping small items such as books, collectibles, personal-treasures behind glass. Whether a glassed bookcase, curio cabinet or small cabinet, having items I like to look at and keep in view behind glass keeps me from wanting to move them around. Interestingly enough, having items behind glass is suggested in some Feng Shui readings, as the energy of a living space is better served (flows naturally without being bombarded with numerous objects) when items are behind glass. And the second is 2) Asking those questions listed above and downsizing.

As far as paperwork goes:
• I keep one basket with paperwork and go through it each Friday. If I skip a week, I catch up the following week.
• Junk mail and advertisements go automatically right into the paper recycle pile.
• I sit on the floor and spread out my papers into piles each Friday. It’s another form of stimming for me.
• Keep in mind that for some of us on the autistic spectrum the mere sorting of a basket of paper is a trigger and can cause huge amounts of anxiety. When I suffered a setback in health I was unable to even open my mail (forget about reading it) for a year and a half because my executive functioning abilities were taxed. One of the invisible disabilities associated with autism/Aspergers is lack of executive functioning in some area. For some of us that’s the process of reviewing bills and organizing bills. For others it’s how to put together a vacuum or even use the vacuum.
• For those that need help with organizing paperwork, again, see if you can find a resource in your local area, even if it means making a few phone calls to disability support agencies. Just remember, if you have ASD, you are likely disabled in some area.

I started a new organization system that works wonders. I keep one paper soft-backed journal. It has to be a certain type of paper and binding and has to open a certain way too, as of my sensory sensitivities, and can’t be an old or half-used journal as the dust mites bother me (just like in old books), but I have been able to find cheap journals/notebooks on clearance or special, particularly at back-to-school time. I keep a journal and inside keep notes of all my bill stuff. It makes it kind of fun, and another great way to stim… with numbers!

I keep my budget listed there in the journal. Sometimes I rewrite my budget five to ten times a month. Number-stimming is my number one standby for stress. I keep my to-do lists there and scratch off and rewrite and rework them. I keep important numbers, things I need to remember to tell someone, things that come up as ‘ah-ha’s!’ while sorting through mail/bills. People I need to call or write. Places I want to go. Projects I want to do. Chores, errands, you name it. My head is constantly busy with what I can and ‘should’ be doing, and the journal is ONE place (as opposed to various reminder sheets scattered around the house) where I can keep all my household-and activity-related thoughts!

It’s been a lifesaver, literally. Having one place to go has alleviated much stress. Also, if I panic about needing to remember something, I remind myself that I have a place to go for recording and reference. Also, having a set day (every Friday) means if anything comes up during the week that isn’t urgent, I write it in my journal, or on a post-it atop my journal, or loose piece of paper and toss it in my Friday basket. On Friday I gather all the notes and record them in my journal. And to reassure myself (and avoid panic) I can flip back in my journal and recall things I have forgotten. Also, during the week I don’t think: “I need to do this or that.” Instead, I simply toss it in my Friday basket and forget about it until then. Like I said, life-saving!

Back to Paperwork:
Many of us have piles and piles of paperwork. I have been there and have Aspie friends (and non-Aspie) that are ‘in that same boat.’ For those people I would suggest taking it slow and rewarding yourself for each little bit you do. Make a reward chart. (It’s the teacher in me.) Before you do anything go buy stickers, or pretty markers, or candy, or healthy treats, or whatever ‘rocks your boat’ and motivate yourself. Employ a relative or friend to help. Or turn on some great tunes on your electronic device and rock out and/or listen to healing music. I find doing more than one ‘purpose’ at a time helps me to do less favorable more mundane (seems to be a waste of time tasks.) For instance I like to meditate while painting, in the bath, taking a walk, or in the sauna. I see dual purpose, double-time progress. So you can do the same for meaningless, mundane paperwork sorting. Listen to a book-on-cd from the library, do leg lifts, get up every 5-minutes and run up and down the stairs/in and out the house. Just do something with the other, and you, like me, might find yourself more motivated. Sometimes for me the motivation might be the feel-good feeling when I am done (intrinsic reward), the ability to show some one and receive support/praise (extrinsic reward), a task/treat/outing I plan to do when I am done (in example after I am done with Friday basket maybe I will have some tea on the balcony). All these things help. From my perspective, in how I organize the world, all of life is much like a schematic game board. I am constantly organizing thoughts, ideas, movements, speech, words, numbers, and so on. Thusly, it’s natural that I find ways to make paperwork into a schematic goal-oriented, end-game venue as well.

Paperwork Strategy:
If I were to help someone with a lot of paperwork, I would start off by getting some large bags and/or cardboard boxes. Then I would mark paper as labels and place them on the floor in front of the bags/boxes. We would make piles together.
1. Recycle
2. Trash
3. Sort Later
4. Unsure Pile
5. Important Bills
6. Important Other

I would go through all of it first, before sorting beyond these six, and likely only do that for the first day (month/depending on task at hand). I’d open everything and minimize, putting envelopes and advertisements in recycle/trash and keeping the bare minimum. I wouldn’t stop to read anything or dissect or analyze, as that would get me off track. When I was done I would discard of the trash and recycle and return with two empty containers to start again.

The next step would be to go through (5) Important Bills and to chronologically order them. I like to write dates of when they are due on the top of the bill or return envelope (if not paying online). Then I would return to the (4) Unsure Pile and make sure there wasn’t anything important in there. Place important in (5) Bills or (6) Other. You get the idea.

Everyone will have their own sense of order and organizing, but that’s what works for me. I also have a place in the house that is just a drawer of manuals/warranties. Another drawer for passport, social security card, high school diploma, etc. I got rid of file folders and file cabinets as I found that kept me more cluttered and kept me from getting rid of things. I basically have very little paperwork left in my house. I keep a box of sentimental cards and such, but even those I try to sort through and de-clutter, yearly.

I’m thinking this blog was a good example of how my mind organizes, how stimming and sensory issues and planning come into play in my daily living, and how when I take Vitamin-B supplements in the morning, I have excess need to process and advice-give.

If you’d like me to fly out and organize your space I charge flight, accommodations at 5-star hotel, Gourmet eateries, and 10,000 dollars. Hehe. Joke! It’s a joke…

side note: Females on the spectrum sometimes are very organized, others have a very difficult time with the executive function of organizing. Neither is stereotypical, as each Aspie is uniquely herself. In my history of knowing Aspies, the males seem to have more challenges than females in bringing order to their environment, and the females tend to start young, in childhood, sorting, collecting, ordering their surroundings. Could be the nesting attribute of our genetics. Either way, extreme-order that leads to OCD, obsessive thoughts, inability to relax and/or extreme disorder, are both burdensome at times and may require assistance.