• Cheryl Libutti

Ask the Organizer: Chronic Disorganization

This is my last post in the "Ask the Organizer" series, and its one that I am confronted with often. Clients often ask me, "Do you think I'm a hoarder? Because my spouse/daughter/friend says that I am!"

So let me put this idea to rest: yes, we've all seen the shows that have people who hoard. That is an entirely different thing than having a lot of stuff or being chronically disorganized. People who hoard items have an unusually strong emotional attachment to items that don't typically evoke an emotional response, like magazines, newspapers, plastic bags, food, or an attachment and overabundance of everyday objects like clothing, dishes, or books and to get rid of these items causes very distressful levels of anxiety and discomfort. Not wanting to get rid of special items like your kids' clothing, your wedding dress, cards you've received, your children's artwork, etc. does not qualify you as a person who hoards. These are items that most people would be attached to, and the trick is having a system for managing these items that you are comfortable with.

Often I am called in when people are downsizing or moving, and in reality, their stuff is a beautiful reflection of the full, loving life that they have enjoyed in that home. It's our work together to weed out the really important things to keep and to let go of what is not as valuable. Often people have been chronically disorganized, and that's what I'm discussing below.

Chronic Disorganization: I have been a disorganized person my entire life. I have always struggled with time management and remembering details. I start and stop lots of different projects, and my house is a mess because of it. I am so overwhelmed and don’t know how to start.

Please know that you are not alone! Lots of people struggle with these same issues, especially people who are more artistically inclined or very social and spend lots of time away from home. I firmly believe that people’s homes are not disorganized because they are lazy… often there is an underlying issue with brain wiring like Attention Deficit Disorder, past trauma and/or loss, anxiety or depression as well.

When I meet with someone for the first time, I always ask, “What part of your house bothers you the most?” This is then usually the space we start working on first.

The key to working through a space is to commit to it a little bit each day, even if it is just 20 minutes per day. After a week, you will see real progress. After two weeks, you will start to be really proud of what you accomplished.

The beauty of living in 2018 is that there are endless sources of inspiration and guidance on the Internet. If you google “organizing a little bit at a time”, dozens of helpful articles pop up and they are mostly chock-full of great ideas. If you are on Facebook, look for a Facebook group that does a home organizing challenge ( I love the one hosted by Toni of A Bowl Full of Lemons)… these can be a great place to post your victories, see other people who are struggling with the same issues, and provide motivation to keep working at it.

Can you re-wire your brain to become a Type A, totally minimalist and organized person? I guess, but that seems like a lot of work. My advice to people is to establish some goals- like “to have a good useable system for my paperwork”, “to be able to find my craft supplies”, “to be comfortable having people over for dinner”- and work on those. One at a time.

Your best bet is to find the simplest solution possible, nothing fussy or overwhelming, and with lots of labels. Labels are powerful because they allow your brain to skip the step of identifying what's in a box or bin and just focus on the contents. It saves brain power!

Aim for progress, not perfection, and give yourself lots of grace and leeway to occasionally be distracted and lose focus. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional organizer- a professional can provide structure and dedicated time to your project, easy solutions, and lots of cheerleading and encouragement to help you accomplish your goal.

As always, if you have a question for me, feel free to post it on my Facebook page or contact me directly through my website's Contact page.

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