Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tackling a Big Move With Diminished Attention

An engineer in her late 60s is keen to sell her house. In fact, she’s already put down a deposit on a condo in a nearby retirement community. But she feels overwhelmed by all the repairs and upgrades her place needs to sell well.

What’s holding the engineer back? Her organizational issues are attributable to attention deficit disorder (ADD).

Linda Anderson, an ADD specialist and coach for those with the disorder, doesn’t know the engineer in this true story. But she’s worked with many clients who’ve also been troubled by the complex details involved in the home sale process.

“The challenges of moving can be monumental for people with attention and organizational issues,” says Anderson, a past president of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (, a professional group focused mainly on adults with ADD.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Search for a support person to assist.

The to-do list is long for homeowners who want to sell their property. Choosing the right listing agent is just the first step. Sellers must also decide how much to ask for the home and complete the often-arduous process of decluttering the place and ensuring it’s in good repair. Plus, there’s the move itself.

“When they move, those with ADD face a tough road unless they connect with people who can keep them on track,” says Anderson, who has coached adults with ADD since 1995.

A well-trained coach can help those charting a major move to develop a game plan and then to break the plan down into a sequence of small and manageable pieces.

“Without a realistic plan, a big project, like preparing for a move, can seem so overwhelming to the ADD brain that it will shut down due to the stress,” Anderson says.

Terry Matlen, a Michigan-based social worker who assists clients with ADD all over the country, recommends that sellers facing organizational problems consider hiring a professional organizer to help keep them on track. One place to search for local assistance is through the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (

Other places to search for help? You could use an online source to place an ad to hire someone who is naturally organized -- perhaps a retired person or a college student. This person could help you both outline your game plan and provide hands-on assistance with the process of decluttering your property and pre-packing for your move.

-- Work from your strengths.

Those with ADD are often intelligent, creative people who can draw on these positive attributes.

“A lot of my clients have tremendous energy, which typically comes in spurts,” Anderson says.

She’s developed several time- and attention-management techniques that work for people with ADD as they face the tasks involved in a lengthy project.

Even after the project is broken down into small pieces, people with ADD must beware of time-consuming digressions. One way to do this is to turn off your phone and shut down your email, at least until you’ve completed the task at hand.

Anderson suggests you take frequent breaks during a laborious task. To help avoid burnout, use a kitchen timer and give yourself a brief break when it goes off.

“To keep on track, you need to pat yourself on the back every time you make progress toward your goal. Also, give yourself rewards along the way,” she says.

-- Seek to jump-start your work on an off-day.

Despite the best of plans, people with ADD sometimes have trouble gaining the momentum to launch into a new task.

If you find yourself in this situation, Anderson recommends you consider starting your day with aerobic exercise, such as a fast-paced walk through your neighborhood.

“This helps stimulate the brain into action, as does the use of rhythmic music,” Anderson says.

If you’re working alone and find yourself unable to concentrate, consider asking a friend or neighbor to step in, at least until you can get your work started.

“People with ADD need to connect and reconnect with other people throughout the project,” Anderson says.

-- Allow yourself sufficient time.

Due to their propensity for distraction, those with ADD must often allow more time to complete work than do others with razor-sharp concentration skills.

In setting a schedule for the tasks involved in your housing transition, Anderson advises that you set rational, reasonable deadlines and not try to fit too much into any given day.

Besides the customary to-do list, one tool Anderson likes is an accompanying not-to-do list. By reducing the expectations you set for yourself, you could also reduce your anxiety level and accomplish more.

On a day when you have to prune plants throughout your yard, for instance, you’d be wise to place unrelated tasks -- like shopping for groceries or cleaning the car -- on your not-to-do list.

Even those who are normally very focused can find a housing transition problematic. This is especially so if they’ve lived in the same home for a long time and are downsizing to a smaller place.

“Remember that we live in a hugely cluttered society and that this poses problems for nearly everyone involved in a move,” Anderson says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at