What’s the difference between disorganization and chronic disorganization?

Everyone becomes disorganized at times, especially during major life events such as moving, having a baby, an illness, or an accident; but when life returns to normal, so does the usual level of organization.

That is not the case with chronic disorganization. Chronic disorganization has a past and a future.

Chronic disorganization is severe disorganization that has persisted over a long period of time, even a person’s entire adult life, and is likely to continue in the future.

What does that feel like to the person who is disorganized?

Chronic disorganization undermines a person’s life every day. It may be difficult to complete daily activities such as cooking & cleaning. A lot of time might be spent looking for things such as keys or the cellphone. There may be financial problems if bills are not paid or taxes are not filed. There may be problems at work if someone is late to meetings, or misses them completely, loses papers or information that other people need, or does not finish his work or meet deadlines. There may be personal problems with family and friends when the home is cluttered, or if someone is often late or forgets events. Chronic disorganization causes major disruption in a person’s life.

It is important to understand that this is not due to laziness. The person who is chronically disorganized may have tried many times, and many different systems, to get organized.  She may live with shame, embarrassment, and guilt about the situation. If everyone knows that family and colleagues are the ones holding things together, there can be strained relationships.

What does chronic disorganization look like to others?

Often there are cluttered living or working areas, with large quantities of possessions or papers beyond what other people consider useful.  There can be great difficulty letting go of things.  The disorganized person may not trust his memory and relies on paper piles or stacks of possessions as a sort of physical to-do list.  That person might be easily distracted, lose concentration, and lose track of time.  Many chronically disorganized people are creative and enthusiastic personalities with a wide range of interests, and because of that, may end up with many unfinished projects.

What causes chronic disorganization?

Sometimes it’s just a lack of skill; that is the easiest to overcome. Some people have never been taught organizing techniques, but can make changes when they learn what to do.  Environmental challenges are harder to solve- if the space a person lives or works in is too small and lacks storage.  It may be part of her personality, if someone is a procrastinator, a perfectionist afraid of making mistakes, or an enthusiastic environmentalist who can’t stand to see things going to the landfill.  Sometimes it’s the result of physical challenges such as illness or impaired mobility, neurological challenges such as ad/hd, addictive tendencies, or mental health issues such as depression.

Can anything be done about it?

Simplifying systems and decluttering possessions, so that there is less to keep track of, can make life easier.  Timers and automatic reminders are helpful.  The individual and the family may need to accept outside help such as bookkeepers, administrative assistants, cleaners, or caterers.

Everyone involved will need to recognize that help may always be needed with maintaining spaces, time management, job completion, and continuing emotional support.

For more information, please check out


There you’ll find helpful fact sheets and a directory of Professional Organizers who have specialized training in this area.

This entry was posted in AD/HD, Chronic Disorganization, Hoarding. Bookmark the permalink.
Back to Top