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Types of Disorganization – WGXC Radio

Another episode from the radio program “Minding Your Manor.” Julie she covers everything home related: organizing, downsizing, productivity, decluttering, home-management, and more.

Life events can sometime overwhelm our spaces, or it seems like some of us just can’t get organized no matter how hard we try. Find out where you fit in.


One question that my clients like to ask is: “Is YOUR home organized?” I answer truthfully that for the most part it is. However, organizing and decluttering is an ongoing, constant process and there are times when my home is in a state of flux due to a temporary situation, such as when there were recent renovations going on. When I see blog posts or magazine articles boasting strategies on how to get organized once and for all, I know that there is some false advertising in that premise. For most of us, stuff is constantly coming into our homes, and unless we keep up on it by sending other stuff out, it’s easy to understand how our spaces become overwhelmed. Wouldn’t it be great if there was such a thing as once and done clutter conquering?

The well organized and probably minimalist leaning person can’t seem to wrap their head around someone who lives in a cluttered space or someone who frequently runs late, losing their car keys, handbag or cell phone on a recurrent basis. A person who takes great pleasure in their possessions and feels comfortable surrounded by stuff might have a hard time figuring out how someone else can even exist in less than 500 square feet, with the barest of essentials. There is no right or wrong here, but there is a whole bunch of different, which we know is one of the things that makes the world go around. The other thing that is interesting, is that someone who once was a clutter bug can make some life changes, address the WHY behind the stuff, and become a minimalist. A person who once embraced simplicity and order can suffer some life traumas and easily end up in an environment that is more than full and chaotic.

Unfortunately there are some folks who suffer from chronic disorganization, which can be a life long struggle with their belongings and productivity. It’s not uncommon for that person to have a case of ADD/ADHD, depression, traumatic brain injury, or to have to endure chronic pain. They have difficulty letting go of things, are easily distracted and are very visually orientated, ie: if things aren’t in sight, it’s perceived they will be completely forgotten about, and that causes anxiety. There is an inability to find things, the continual need for more space for more belongings, and an interest in multiple projects, which are usually in some state of progress but are rarely ever finished. The chronically disorganized may have a shopping compulsion and jokingly refer to themselves as pack rats or shopaholics. They have tried many times over the years to get organized on their own, but have trouble breaking the cycle. It can be a slippery slope between chronic disorganization and hoarding, however they are not one and the same.

Situational disorganization is basically what it sounds like and is temporary, but can carry on for months or years. I’ve heard many a mother bemoan the fact that their homes were once neat and tidy, they kept up on photo albums, and they never ran late until they had kids. A hurried and uncoordinated move can make it much harder to get settled into a new home, a serious illness takes priority, or a renovation project can really cause a discombobulating environment. Then there is what I call inheritance absorption, which is taking on the stuff that has been left to you by a loved one who is downsizing or who has passed away. When I inherited parts of my father’s estate, in a few stages over a few years, I had a problem with his possessions cluttering the floor of my office, and it was really bothersome having that space jacked up. Since I live in less than 1,000 square feet, decisions had to be made, but because these things belonged to my beloved father, I had trouble figuring out what to keep, how to keep it so it didn’t overwhelm my space, and what to do with what I wasn’t keeping. It took me months to process not only the stuff, but the emotions behind the stuff. The loss of control over my surroundings was frustrating, but I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, because I knew that the clutter was temporary. Situational disorganization really feels like limbo, and it may take help from a friend or a professional to get back to the state of order that once was. As is the case with most organizing projects, it will definitely look worse before it looks better.

Whatever the cause, one thing about clutter and disorganization holds true – less is more. When it comes to 3 dimensional items, volume and cubic square footage, the less you own, the more control you have over what you own. When you’re dealing with disorganization, no matter what the type, it’s really beneficial to identify priority and thoughtfully pick your battles. Let’s take the typical junk drawer that exists in most kitchens, most of us have one. Compared to piles of paper that take up prime real estate in the kitchen and make meal making difficult, or the inability to use the garage because it’s stuffed with stuff, that drawer is small peanuts. The best way to determine where to start is to decide if there is an area where clutter and disorder is really affecting your day-to-day living in a negative way. Has excess stuff created an unsafe environment because it’s blocking avenues of egress? Precariously stacked boxes threaten to tumble over? Or are there fire or tripping hazards? Start with safety and making spaces livable, before trying to deal with sentimental items or an overstuffed bookcase.

If you’re struggling with your stuff, if it’s been for a short period of time or for bigger portions of life, know that you’re not alone. Most of us have dealt with overwhelming disorganization at one point or another. To at least get the ball rolling, try to start small, one drawer, one shelf, one 3’x3’ area, and work top to bottom, left to right. As you make progress and get a sense of accomplishment, you’ll be able to tackle larger areas for longer lengths of time. Remember, it’s easier to conquer molehills than it is to conquer mountains!