Do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized when there are too many to-dos on your to-do list? If so, are there too many to-dos because of a specific situation? Examples include a choice you made (over-scheduling yourself), a transition you’re going through (adoption or divorce). Physical challenges (fatigue, lack of mobility), crises (death, loss of job) or environmental factors (a home renovation project, a lack of storage space) also result in disorganization. These are examples of situational disorganization; none are included in the three characteristics of chronic disorganization (CD).
As its name implies, situational disorganization results from something interrupting your life temporarily, not chronically. With CD, there’s a long history of disorganization, thus the name chronic. Let me share what the three characteristics of chronic disorganization (CD) are. Answer the following questions with a yes or no:
- Have I been disorganized most of my adult life?
- Have my efforts to improve my level of organization ultimately failed?
- Does my disorganization cause negative feelings or consequences on a daily or near-daily basis?
If you answered yes to each question, you might meet the definition of CD.
What Sets Chronic Disorganization Apart?
The Institute for Chronic Disorganization (ICD) defines CD as a lifelong struggle against disorganization in which self-help efforts haven’t worked, leaving you with negative feelings or consequences every day. Some common experiences with CD include:
- Spaces filled with piles of paper, boxes, bags, trash, or other stuff.
- Not punctual; can’t adhere to a schedule; habitually late; misses meetings and appointments.
- Feelings of shame/embarrassment caused by clutter in one’s home, office, car.
- Feeling as if you’re swimming or drowning in clutter mentally and/or physically.
- Tripping hazards in the home: toys, laundry, books, magazines, etc.
- Knowing you have one of those somewhere but have to buy another because you can’t find what you need when you need it.
- Spending too much time putting out fires rather than creating solutions and strategies.
What Causes It?
While there are many conditions and situations that can bring on chronic disorganization, the most common cause seems to be attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). AD/HD is characterized by distractibility and difficulty in planning or completing activities, making it challenging to sustain a system of organization – but not impossible!
A chronic pain condition is another common cause of CD. If you hurt all the time, you may rarely feel like reorganizing a closet or filing paperwork. Moreover, continual pain can quickly become a distraction making it difficult to focus. Many people with fibromyalgia, arthritis, or chronic fatigue syndrome benefit from discovering more efficient ways to function in their offices and homes.
Chronic disorganization can result from a brain injury, even something as seemingly minor as a mild concussion. It can also co-exist with Alzheimer’s disease or thyroid dysfunction.
There are many possibilities for chronic disorganization. If you have the three characteristics of chronic disorganization, you may want to seek support from an experienced professional who can help you implement a system or systems that help.
Coming Up for Air: Hope CD
Professional organizers provide helpful organizational systems and tips that restructure the layout of a space. But they also address topics of concern such as time management, procrastination, perfectionism, habits, and behaviors that lead to long-term organization over time.
In many cases where chronic disorganization is caused by other health conditions, organizers collaborate with health professionals. Working together, they address the emotional and behavioral aspects of CD to provide a comprehensive support system.
For more information on chronic disorganization, visit the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (formerly known as The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). Download the ICD’s Fact Sheet on Chronic Disorganization (pdf).