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ADHD: 6 Tips to Beat Packing Overwhelm

Updated: Jan 9

packing clothes in a suitcase

Does packing for trips leave you feeling completely overwhelmed? If so, you’re not alone because for those with ADHD, "packing overwhelm" is quite common — and can be a very stressful experience.

Before devising these 6 tips, which I will explain below, my packing plan was usually to avoid dealing with it until a few days before leaving. While it felt liberating not to have an organized plan because our brains dislike feeling restricted, it would always end with staying up late the night before my trip, feeling paralyzed by indecision.

Why is Packing so Stressful with ADHD?

woman sitting on the coach feeling stressed

The art of packing requires using a handful of our executive functions, which are skills that are challenging for our ADHD brains. Some examples include:

• Task initiation

When we have a lot to do, our ADHD brains can become easily overwhelmed, making it impossible to start.

• Time management

With ADHD, we do not have a good sense of time, and often we are unrealistic about how long things take. When we are too ambitious and think we can accomplish tasks in a shorter period of time, it leads to rushed packing, feeling pressured, and potentially forgetting essential items.

• Planning

It’s challenging for our brains to plan and decide when to take action with the details involved in the packing process.

• Organization

We struggle to track what we need to bring and how to pack our belongings efficiently, which can lead to overpacking or underpacking.

• Emotional regulation

We feel we should be accomplishing our tasks faster and better, and when negative emotions take over, we shut down and stop moving forward.

• Perfectionism

While this is not an executive function, perfectionism keeps us from making decisions. We tend to feel paralyzed about whether we are bringing the perfect clothes or the perfect amount.

Break Free of "Packing Overwhelm" with these 6 Tips

happy woman finished packing

Before you begin, understand that those of us with ADHD often take longer to get things done. So allow yourself the time and grace you need for a successful process. And remember, there’s no such thing as perfect!

With that said, here are your six tips:

1. Identify a start date

It must be a week before you leave! The more time we give ourselves, the calmer we’ll feel. We can problem-solve when we’re not rushing and feeling stressed, so grab your calendar and block off your start date!

2. Let the gathering begin

On your start day, check the weather forecast and expected dress code for your destination. Then gather all your clothing choices and designate a location in your house for them. Make sure to leave them out for easy viewing.

3. Break it down

Identify a short time each day to revisit your clothing choices. Refine outfits, and add accessories and shoes gradually throughout the week so the process doesn't feel overwhelming. Take things away and add items at your leisure until you have committed to specific clothing for day and night; this will help negate our proclivity for overpacking.

4. Keep a list

Keep an ongoing list of items you and your family need to purchase for the trip throughout the week. Designate a day to buy these goods, and let everyone know when you will be going. Draw a boundary around it so that you make only one trip.

5. Pack Meds

Set a time early in the week to pack all your vitamins and medicines carefully. I use a pillbox to make it easy. Getting a tedious step like this out of the way early can be very energizing — I liken it to the positive feeling we derive from making our beds as soon as we wake up!

6. Set up Ziplocks

Several days before leaving, set up some gallon-sized zip lock bags at the sink in the bathroom, and paying attention to all items you regularly use, continue to throw them in the bags. These bags will be their home for the next few days to ensure you are prepared with all your toiletries.

If you follow the steps listed above, your packing experience will be far less stressful.

People with ADHD have the most success with action plans that are broken down into small steps, are not too rigid, and allow for extra time. When we set ourselves up to feel calm and positive, we are in a mindset that helps us achieve our goals.

Most importantly, don't forget to take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done — you deserve it!

Do you have any packing tips you'd like to share? Please email me here

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