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  • Beth Paul

Shop 'til you drop? The Struggles of Wardrobing with ADHD

As a teen girl of the 1990s I had Alicia Silverstone to compete with. It was an era of endless style options and shopping was a past time teenage girls were supposed to love. Glamour shots were in and dressing up was everything. I worked at the mall and spent lots of free time there. I spent a good percentage of my teenage earnings on clothes but somehow I just couldn't get it right. A fashionista I was not to be.

What did the beautiful people, the ones who always looked put together have that I did not? Well, at first, I assumed it was Alicia Silverstone's cash flow. After all, Clueless, the movie that set her as my fashion inspiration was intended to spoof on the lives of young, spoiled Californians. My budget was significantly smaller. But, there was more too my struggles.. In one of the opening scenes Cher (Alicia Silverstone) uses a computer application to select the perfect outfit from her large, color coordinated and perfectly organized closet. The scene was humorous and over the top, like the movie as a whole. And yet, the show touched ever so briefly on just why I was struggling to master the art of stylish dressing.

It turns out planning a wardrobe requires a significant amount of executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills are things like planning and impulse control. Often, this means shopping for me looked like this: enter mall, go to store, pick up cute item, try on cute item, like cute item, buy cute item.

I never stopped to consider, does this item work with my other clothes? Does this item match my overall style? Does this item fit comfortably? Since, as a result of my ADHD, I have a sensitivity to certain textures and fits it was particularly important that I consider the comfort of my clothes but, yeah, that never even entered my brain.

In addition, as ADHD'ers we tend to pick up on EVERY SINGLE DETAIL in our environment. So, busy places like shopping malls can be exhausting and overwhelming. The lights and the noise and the people, sometime in the process of shopping what was supposed to be fun became torturous. But, I didn't know why. Because Clueless, taught me shopping was supposed to be fun.

I had more challenges. Enter, object permanence. Object permanence is another executive function that my brain was struggling to master. In short, this is the skill that allows you to remember something exists when you cannot see it. This skill would allow me to remember what I already owned while I was at the mall. Also, since my room was a perpetual disaster and my clothes usually lived in a pile on the floor (more executive function issues) my brain was convinced that I had nothing to wear.

Since, I had nothing to wear it was probably best to go back to the mall. Perhaps, this trip would turn me into a fashionista?

Fast forward a few years and I am still no Alicia Silverstone. These days, a few things have changed (well a lot of things, like being forty and spending a lot less time at the mall) but when it comes to buying clothes. It's still not my favorite activity.

What helps? For starters, I give the task the respect it deserves. You see, I can plan, I have improved some of those executive functioning skills over the past twenty years. In fact, people pay me to help solve problems and create plans.

Now, I use the skills that I would to solve any problem to build a wardrobe that works for me. That means, being realistic. I have sensory issues. No matter how cute an item is it has to fit in a way that does not make me crazy. If it is stiff (think fashionable blazers), itchy, too tight or sits to close to my neck I am not going to wear it. So I do not buy it. Next, I identify my priorities in advance and do some research to find brands and items I may like before going to a store.

I use a capsule wardrobe concept, using a neutral (grey or black for example) and a color or two (usually blue and purple) and generally pick out items only in those colors. If I want a louder or more unique item I go for a dress because than nothing else has to match. I pick solid skirts and pants and only allow patterns and prints in my tops. I love blue jeans and I spend more on the perfect pair or two rather then own lots of less expensive options.

Keeping a cleaner closet helps too! Sometimes my clothes still end up in a pile but because I make it a goal to own less clothing keeping my closet tidier is much easier and more likely to be successful. I shift my clothes to different parts of the closet with the season so the clothes I need to choose from in the morning and in one place and my choices are limited.

I am still not a fashionista. I think I have accepted I will never have Alicia Silverstone's wardrobe and my husband still laughs at me when I change my shirt three times just because "this one isn't comfortable today" . But that's okay, being at peace with my brain means accepting my quirkiness, avoiding malls and rarely having to shop 'til I drop.

How about you? Any great tricks you have found for managing your wardrobe? What are your ADHD shopping challenges?

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