Are You “Chronically Disorganized”? Probably Not.

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Do you think you may be “chronically disorganized”? Our first impulse might be to laugh and say, oh yes, that describes me perfectly!

It turns out that chronic disorganization (CD) is a technical term rather than a humorous one. It describes, not someone who often can’t find her keys or who pays a bill late twice a year, but someone for whom disorganization is severely reducing their quality of life. CD is marked by its longevity, impact, and resistance to self-help efforts.

This might describe a person in peril of being evicted because of the state of his or her apartment, or who has been unable to file taxes, not to get out of paying them but because gathering the necessary papers is simply impossible. It could be someone who is alienated from family and friends because of problems with organization.

Chronic disorganization may be rooted in varied causes, including traumatic brain injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, and other physical and psychological causes. In other words, it is not the same as the simple overwhelm that we all feel when confronted with too many voices calling for our attention and too little time in the day.

The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) was formed to support those for whom disorganization is not just a frustration or a personal foible, but those whose lives are profoundly impacted by disorganization and the inability to overcome it without help.

The NSGCD maintains one of my personal favorite websites. It is, I’m happy to report, a model of order and ease. I’d like especially to invite you to explore the information-rich resource section. (Just resist the urge to print out all the pdf’s, which would create way too much paper clutter!) There you’ll find tons of useful information about chronic disorganization. Especially note the fact sheet which gives common characteristics of CD individuals.

If you recognize yourself, a friend, or family member here, don’t hesitate to contact me for help in locating more resources for this person.

Full disclosure: I earned a Certificate of Study in Chronic Disorganization from the NSGCD several years ago. I believe it is essential for anyone who works with organizing and productivity to understand CD and recognize it when they see it. If you need help, I’ll be happy to point you toward some wonderful people who do this work (I don’t). There are many skilled and compassionate people who can help.

Are you trying to help a chronically disorganized person? Are you chronically disorganized? What has been effective? If you recognize yourself as CD, what do you wish us “average messies” could understand about what it’s like to be truly CD?


3 comments so far

  1. Starr Black on

    How do I know if I’m chronically disorganized? Mine starts from childhood. I never learned how to organize because my wonderful mother is, and I’m understating, very domestically challenged, and I never had anyone to teach me. We never had to make beds, the dishes from the previous night’s dinner got washed before we ate the next night’s dinner. If something broke down, it remained broken. I remember driving to the laundromat all through high school, because our washing machine went on the blink, and it just never got repaired.

    Somehow, I was a good student, and of my siblings, I was the most organized, but that was not saying much. In my adult life, I have tried to keep a clean house, keep my professional life organized (I sell residential real estate), pay bills, take care of 4 children, and have a married life. I am pretty good at planning and starting, but once I have to stop, everything falls apart. I need a clean home to feel at peace, and it does get cleaned occasionally, but because of so many other things going on, it falls back apart. I can’t keep up. My laundry gets behind, we are running in the door at the last minute not knowing what is for dinner. I will say that up until about 3 years ago, I was very organized about the checkbook and paying bills. But the combination of some financial problems and doing everything online has pretty much destroyed that. Oh, there is nothing like foreclosure or tax problems lurking, but somehow many things end up being a day or two late.

    I have recently gone back and looked in past journals and notebooks, and all through my adult life (I am 50)I have been making plans to get and keep the house cleaned and organized. There’s so much more, but let me just say that I am overwhelmed! I will also say that my family life is not badly affected, although it affects me, which I’m sure affects other members of my family. My daughter says I never stop to have fun. Isn’t that strange? I never relax, yet I don’t manage to get things done.

  2. New Leaf News on

    Starr, thank you for speaking up about the challenges you face in trying to get and stay organized. I’m so encouraged when you say that you have been very organized about some things in the past, for example balancing the checkbook, paying bills, and getting the house clean. This shows that you do have the skills to do it, which is great!

    I also hear you describing feeling overwhelmed by the demands in your life — large & active family, real estate career, and so on. It’s a very rare family that doesn’t experience things feeling out of control from time to time.

    One quick suggestion I would offer is that you set up systems to the greatest extent possible. Take the decisions out of your actions by planning ahead. Don’t ask yourself whether laundry needs to be done; plan to do it on a certain day (or days) no matter what. Plan meals and food shopping a week at a time (or 3 days at a time, whatever will work for your unique circumstances.) Plan to pay the bills every two weeks so they never back up or become overdue. Make a system for doing those routine jobs, so you can comfortably forget about them the rest of the time.

    Your daughter has paid you a compliment by telling you that she would like to spend more time having fun with you — she likes your company and your attention! Okay, good! I suspect that if you can find a way to have more of the fun time she’s asking for, it will also help to inspire and motivate you to get done what needs to happen. Sometimes we feel “burnt out”, unable to work AND unable to relax. Is it possible that this is what’s happened to you? If so, give yourself a little play time first, then turn your attention to work. You may need the break in order to be productive.

    From what you describe, I wonder, could you use some help in goal setting and planning? Learning some organizing skills that will be the most help to you? Managing your expectations about what is enough?

    I regularly work with busy professionals who need help to stay on top of their time, paper, and projects. If you would like a 30-minute, no-obligation consultation to see whether I could help you feel more organized and productive — and do it with more ease! — please call me at 650.342.0580. (The number is on my website here:

    All the best, Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

  3. […] coverage and a new awareness of the problem has many people asking, am I chronically disorganized? The good news is, probably not. Whether you are or aren’t, help is […]

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