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Situational vs. Chronic Disorganization . . . Which One Are You?

Most of us suffer from disorganization in some form or another, whether it’s losing our car keys on a regular basis or never sorting through the junk mail. Life happens and it can be difficult to stay on top of everything, even with the best systems in place. Small issues like that, however, are simply inconveniences, and something you can deal with when you have the time.

But what happens when the clutter gets out of control and you can’t seem to dig yourself out from under the mess? For those who live with chronic disorganization, life can become a daily struggle.

It’s important to understand the differences between simply having a few things out of place and having a chronic disorder

It’s important to understand the differences between simply having a few things out of place and having a chronic disorder, so you know when to seek help. Below, we’ll go over the differences between situational and chronic disorganization and what you need to know about each.

Let’s jump right in!

Situational Disorganization

Disorganization can happen when life throws something unexpected your way: one of the kids is home sick for a few days or you get slammed with a huge project at work. The extra workload or unexpected inconvenience may cause you to fall behind on the dishes or let the laundry slide. These things happen, no big deal. Once the hardship has passed, you should be able to quickly get yourself back on track.

Sometimes, though, the issue is much larger (such as the death of a parent), and you can’t quite seem to sort things out. When this occurs, it’s called situational disorganization and it may require the help of a professional organizer to aid in strategizing.

Issues that may cause you to become situationally disorganized include:

  1. The birth of a new child

  2. Marriage or divorce

  3. The prolonged illness of either yourself or a family member/loved one

  4. An elderly parent or an adult child moving into your home

  5. A change in employment status

  6. Downsizing from a single-family home to an apartment or condo

Chronic Disorganization

Unlike situational disorganization, chronic disorganization is a life-long challenge. In fact, it’s likely an issue that’s been present for as long as you can remember. It’s not the result of a particular event or hardship . . . it’s just the way it is.

For those who suffer from chronic disorganization, the clutter never seems to get any better and the mess never improves. It may even worsen over time. Life may become overwhelming and full of anxiety as disorganization increases, which only decreases the individual’s ability to declutter. It can be a truly vicious cycle.

In these cases, professional help is almost always needed to be able to recover – and, often, the affected individual may even need ongoing help.

Typically, three conditions need to be present to meet the definition of chronic disorganization. According to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, a person may be considered chronically disorganized if they:

  1. Have been disorganized for a long time. Like a chronic health condition, this level of disorganization persists despite the individual’s best efforts.

  2. Suffer poor quality of life due to disorganization. The stress and anxiety of constantly hunting for misplaced objects may become overwhelming and affect the ability to perform routine, daily tasks.

  3. Attempt to get organized, get frustrated, and quit. If the level of disorganization is so great that the affected individual can’t emotionally cope with it, they may need an objective person to help out.


If you know someone who might be suffering from chronic disorganization, or you find yourself in a messy situation, there are a few resources from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization that I suggest checking out:

  1. The clutter/hoarding scale can help you determine whether professional help is needed.

  2. Complete the Are You Chronically Disorganized?” Facts Sheet to identify if you might be experiencing chronic disorganization.

  3. Take a moment to read these tips on how to communicate with individuals affected by chronic disorganization.

  4. The useful links offer lots of helpful resources for various mental health issues as well as professional organizing groups.

This is just some of the value you can get when partnering with™. If you’d like more tips, advice or suggestions on how to be more productive and organized, book a 15-minute productivity assessment.

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