Clarifying The Term: Chronically Disorganized

I will begin with an observation that on TV the organizing shows have shifted focus from the ordinary family who needs a Professional Organizer to help. Now we watch a sensational and voyeuristic approach of extreme disorganization – “hoarders.” The Professional help team includes both an Organizer and a Therapist, plus at least a couple of unseen haulers. And yet, by the end of the hour, we see a home that is all straitened out and ready for the owner to resume “normal” life. I could google for statistics, but chances are each of us know’s someone with this affliction. As I learn more about it, I am finding it more and more common.

My nature is to ask “why?” Why doesn’t solve it. But I have learned that there are so many reasons. After reading Stuff by Gail Stekeete and Randy Frost, I am awed at how our society encourages the psychology of this behavior. Here is what I learned:

Themes of hoarding
  • Fear of waste (but I could use it someday)
  • Allure of opportunity (whether purchasing or free) (QVC, daily deals, and on and on…)
  • Comfort and safety of objects, (in fact these are the objects that can link us to other people, we just don’t know how to prioritize and edit – ironically they start to distance us from others and take over our lives)

Character traits a Hoarder might have (might I add, that if any individual, if asked, would say I would love to have these traits)

  • Highly intelligent
  • Extraordinary sensory ability
  • Physical world is rich and more expansive than for an ordinary person
  • Perfectionism

Some terminology to clear up
Situational Disorganization – When a life changing event happens – and life gets an added element of chaos and clutter. Usually the clutter can be addressed as the chaos of life and emotion passes, either on your own or with help from a friend or Professional Organizer.

Chronic Disorganization – Different because when life transitions happen to you, instead of “recovering” and “restoring order” after a few months or so, the disorganization does not improve and may even continue to worsen over time. The clutter continues to accumulate. At a certain point, daily life becomes overwhelmingly stressful. The clutter itself starts affecting your emotional state so strongly, you may find yourself so drained and maybe even depressed that you no longer have the heart or the energy to dig out alone.

In fact, while researching how exactly to present this information, I found it so well presented I will suggest you visit Ariane Benefit’s blog post on the subject. In fact, her website was so full of information, I highly recommend it.

Shame is not Chronic Disorganization. But I suspect most people who are Chronically Disorganized have shame. I have a client that would consider herself Chronically Disorganized – if I asked her that question. She had difficulty finding papers and figuring out where to put things. She easily got rid of things she didn’t need or could find easily online. In fact when we were done organizing, she only had 3 file drawers worth of papers – small business and personal. Her approach always came from shame that she should know what to do with this large basket of papers. It blocked her ability to consider a structure for these papers. After we put a structure in place, she immediately could tell where the papers were to go and where to find them. Her problem was one of structure.

Actually when people call me they tend to say, my problem is so bad. So I ask a lot of questions to find out how bad. Because most people are not that bad. Their shame is that bad.

Here is a tool from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization to help you assess if your clutter has moved into serious territory. You will also find on their website a list of FAQ’s and links. I am not an expert in this area, but I can refer you to Professional Organizers in the Denver area who are.

Is it called Hoarding or Chronically Disorganized? They seem interchangeable. But somehow also easily misunderstood.

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2 thoughts on “Clarifying The Term: Chronically Disorganized

  1. Charee, thank you so much for mentioning me in your article! Chronic disorganization and hoarding are far more prevalent than anyone ever guessed. It’s one of the last “secret shames” coming out into the open. You are spot on in noting that shame is a big part of it. Thanks for your valuable contribution to the conversation about this topic!

    • Thanks Ariane, it seems so many people who feel disorganized feel shame. Much gratitude for all the valuable information you have available and for leaving a comment.

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