Situational disorganization, chronic disorganization, and hoarding

There are many forms of disorganization that span from a few things out of place to hoarding disorders. It’s important to understand the complexities of the range so you can identify if you or others may need/want outside assistance. Below, I’ve identified the three types of disorganization that may want or need to seek out assistance from professionals.

Situational disorganization is due to unforeseen events that temporarily change living or working arrangements. Events that may cause one’s life to be situationally disorganized include:

  • Death or severe illness of a family member, friend or co-worker;
  • Marriage, divorce or re-marriage, especially blending families;
  • Birth or adoption of a child;
  • Parent or adult children moving into the home;
  • Change in employment or partner’s employment, either forced or voluntary;
  • A family member or friend is using the home as a storage facility until he/she stabilizes his/her own situation; and
  • Moving into or out of the home or office.

Even though one’s life may never be quite the same afterwards, organization may be restored relatively easily after the event. Based on the situation, an individual may seek the help of a professional organizer to aid in motivation and strategizing, but may be able to handle the situation on one’s own.

Chronic disorganization is disorganization that has had a long history, undermines one’s quality of life on a daily basis, and is constantly present.

According to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, someone may be suffering from chronic disorganization if he/she:

  • Accumulates large quantities of objects, documents, papers or possessions beyond apparent necessity or pleasure
  • Has difficulty parting with things and letting go
  • Has a wide range of interests and many uncompleted projects
  • Needs visual “clues” as reminders to take action
  • Tends to be easily distracted or lose concentration
  • Often has weak time management skills

Chronic disorganization can also be created when people who think or work in an unconventional manner try to use conventional methods of organizing. Although being situationally or chronically disorganized can often result in someone having a hoard of things, it does not classify him/her as a “hoarder”. Similar to situational disorganization, an individual may benefit from working with a professional organizer or may be able to go it alone.

The book Buried in Treasures, indicates compulsive hoarding is thought to be present when all three of the following criteria are met:

  • The person accumulates objects that most people would consider of limited value and the person has a great deal of difficulty parting with those objects;
  • The amount of clutter acquired limits the use of living spaces;
  • The acquiring, owning and discarding of the objects causes considerable stress in the person’s life.

A licensed medical professional usually makes the diagnosis of a hoarding disorder and then prescribes a level of care that can (and almost always) includes working with a professional organizer and an on-going relationship with a licensed medical professional (such as a psychiatrist). Note: As hoarding is a medical disorder requiring on-going care, our website does not provide adequate resources to people with these conditions. Please see the resource section below for sites that can be more helpful.

How can you help someone who is disorganized?

If someone’s chronic disorganization or hoarding issues are affecting your life, it is important to explain how the disorganization affects your relationship with him/her without blaming. Indicate that you are concerned about your relationship with him/her and concerned for his/her well-being. Ask what would be the most effective way you can help in the situation, and please abide by the request.

If you are the person in the situation and you wish to seek outside assistance, you can find professional organizers in your area through the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization‘s directories. If you think you might be a hoarder, begin by talking with your physician. You also can find hoarding resources through the International OCD Foundation.

Regardless of which type of disorganization a person is dealing with, offer encouragement and support. Be compassionate if things don’t go as well as expected and help them celebrate their successes.

6 Comments for “Situational disorganization, chronic disorganization, and hoarding”

  1. posted by Sue on

    I have found Children of Hoarders to be a wonderful resource for those of us that grew up in chronically disorganized homes.

  2. posted by opsimath on

    It seems to me that the criteria for the “chronically disorganized” listed above are remarkably similar to those for ADD, and anyone who feels that the list describes them might want to check that out. There are any number of online resources, and Dr. Edward Hallowell, who is one of the most respected authorities on ADD/ADHD, has a good list of them:
    I was diagnosed with ADD quite late in life–in my early sixties–and the diagnosis has completely changed my life. I do take medication, but it isn’t neccessary for everyone: there are any number of alternative treatments available. As valuable to me as the medication are the techniques I’ve learned and am still learning for coping with the chaos that results from ADD. Hope this helps someone!

  3. posted by jc on

    Then you have the chronically disorganized that experience 1-2 situational disorganized events in a relatively short period of time. A child who has been in/out of residential treatment for several years has moved out permanently, we are almost done renovating the downstairs into an apartment for a parent who has moved in with us. The logistics of getting rids of things and finding new places for the things we very much want to keep have been interesting. Add to that the unfortunate fact that no-one at my house really enjoys tidying up and cleaning at the end of a long day. I have the knowledge necessary to make things work, it’s a lack of resources (shelving and cupboards) and time, along with that above mentioned slight aversion to cleaning) that really impede steady progress. For several weeks recently, DH was out of work and could really see for himself how a lack of shelves and cupboards in the laundry and other places prevents us from being truly organized and makes cleaning up so much more difficult.

    Although my children frequently compare me to Dug in the movie “UP” with his tendencies to get distracted by anything “squirrel,” I had none of the signs of ADD/ADHD as a child and can actively focus intently for long periods of time in relative quiet. I am probably a little more susceptible to distractions than most, but not nearly to the extent DS suffers. It’s my co-workers’ habits constantly triggering my misophonia that cause the greatest amount of disruption to my day.

  4. posted by Billy on

    Chronically Disorganized perfectly describes someone in my household. Bringing it just pisses her off. Not bringing it up means nothing changes. How do you deal with that conflict?

  5. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Billy — We have a few articles on the site dealing with this type of situation. A good place to start is with this post: From there, check out our Relationships archive. Not all, but some of the posts might be helpful.

  6. posted by ZDRAVKO on

    I have a friend who recently experienced a loss of a close member from her family. I’m afraid that her situational disorganization might turn into a chronic suffering and depression. Being disorganized for a while until she gets over it might be fine, but I think the situation is much more serious.

    In our country unfortunately we don’t have a National Association of Professional Organizers nor any kind of special institution for disorganized people, but I’ll definitely link this article to her.

    I’ve been searching some good articles on this topic for a while now. Thanks for the great advice!

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