Hoarding vs. Chronic Disorganization

The term “chronic disorganization” (CD) was coined by Judith Kolberg in her book What Every Professional Organizer Needs to Know About Chronic Disorganization and her subsequent book for a public audience Conquering Chronic Disorganization.

The term “Chronic Disorganization” is descriptive.
It is not diagnostic.

Chronic disorganization is characterized by disorganization that has persisted for a long period of time, has a negative impact on daily quality of life, has not responded to repeated self-help efforts, and is expected to continue into the future.

There is a wide variety of circumstances that may contribute to chronic disorganization. These include medically diagnosable conditions such as OCD, ADD/ADHD, depression, brain injury, etc. Physical limitations due to aging, illness or injury may preclude an individual from maintaining previous systems of organization and if this is not dealt with for a period of time, chronic disorganization may become evident.

Hoarding disorder is not the same as chronic disorganization.

Although some who identify themselves as chronically disorganized are hoarders, most who are CD do not hoard. Using our definition of CD and the definition of hoarding noted below, all hoarders would be considered chronically disorganized. (Though there are some hoarders who have very strict systems for the organization of their hoarded belongings.)

For the most current working definition of compulsive hoarding, look to the research and publications by Dr. Randy Frost, Dr. David Tolin and Dr. Gail Steketee. In their book Buried In Treasures, they offer the following three criteria which must all be present for a diagnosis of chronic hoarding disorder to be considered:

  1. You accumulate, and then have great difficulty discarding, objects that most other people would consider useless or of limited value.
  2. The clutter is so severe that it prevents or seriously limits the use of living spaces in the manner for which those spaces were intended.
  3. The clutter, acquiring, or difficulty discarding causes significant impairment or distress.

The job of a professional organizer who works with chronically disorganized clients is to understand (never to diagnose) possible contributing conditions, and primarily to educate — to teach fundamental skills that will support organization of a client’s space and time so that the client understands the underlying principles of those systems and can maintain them independently.

Our methods of organizing may or may not be conventional — we have to be very flexible and creative and be able to introduce methods that work for each client. People think differently.

There is not a “right” and “wrong” way to organize — it just has to work in a given context for the people involved. Contact Lynne. She can help!