Chronic Disorganization

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We all have had times in our lives when we have suffered from an illness or other event that has put us behind on our organization. When the quality of your life suffers on a daily basis and you feel completely overwhelmed or feel like you are sinking deep, you might be more than simply disorganized; you might be chronically disorganized.

What is Chronic Disorganization?

The ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) defines chronic disorganization using these three criteria:

  • Chronic Disorganization is having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed.
  • An undermining of your current quality of life due to disorganization.
  • An expectation of future disorganization.

For helpful and informative ICD fact sheets, please visit www.challengingdisorganization.org/content/fact-sheets-public

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How do I know if I suffer from Chronic Disorganization?

  • Do you feel like you are drowning in clutter, surrounded by piles of newspapers, catalogs, paperwork, clothing, bags of items you have bought but have not put away, and the situation is only getting worse?
  • Have you been disorganized for as long as you can remember?
  • Have you tried many different systems, continually changing them because you are not satisfied?
  • Are you constantly late for appointments?
  • Do you run from one calamity to another?
  • Do you have many projects going on at once and nothing has been completed?
  • Do you feel guilty and/or angry about often working late and missing out on being with family or friends?
  • Do you panic at the thought of having anyone over?
  • Are you living in C.H.A.O.S. (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome)?
  • Are your children ashamed to ask their friends to come over to visit?
  • Do you long for organization, but it seems like a far away dream?
  • Do you own it ten times over, but can’t find it when you need it?

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What Causes Chronic Disorganization?

There are many conditions and situations that can lead to chronic disorganization. The most common cause is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is a chronic neurobiological disorder that is characterized by degrees of impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders, and can continue through adolescence and adulthood. Some hyperactive-impulsive or inattentive symptoms must have been present before seven years of age.

The CDC states that approximately 9.5% or 5.4 million children 4-17 years of age have ever been diagnosed with ADHD, as of 2007. They also state that the percentage of children with a parent-reported ADHD diagnosis increased by 22% between 2003 and 2007.

The American Psychiatric Association states that “ADHD is a real, and treatable, medical condition that affects about 8 million adults–that’s 1 in 20 adults in the United States.”

Chronic pain is another common cause of chronic disorganization. If you hurt all the time, you do not feel like organizing. Are you battling with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or arthritis? These conditions might be contributing to your disorganization.

People living with depression also have an extremely hard time being motivated to organize or stay organized. They are tired and feel hopeless and helpless. It takes all their energy just to wake up in the morning, let alone stay organized.

Chronic disorganization can also result from a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). You could have experienced something as minor as a mild concussion or as serious as major brain trauma.

Do you have short-term memory loss, or are you suffering from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease? You could have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or even something as simple as an allergic reaction.

The most extreme form of chronic disorganization is that of a hoarding disorder.

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Hoarding Disorder Defined

People with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless, and have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions.

Hoarding is not the same as collecting; collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them. People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly.

In most cases, people save items that they feel they may need in the future, are valuable, or have sentimental value; some may also feel safer surrounded by the things they save.

Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2%-5% of the population and often leads to substantial distress and disability.

The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that congest and clutter living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible or substantially impaired. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functions (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others). A clinician must determine that the hoarding is not due to another medical condition or better accounted for by the symptoms of another mental disorder.

An assessment for hoarding may include questions such as

  • Do you have trouble discarding (or recycling, selling, giving away) things that most other people would get rid of?
  • Because of the clutter or number of possessions, how difficult is it to use the rooms and surfaces in your home?
  • To what extent do you buy items or acquire free things that you do not need or have enough space for?
  • To what extent does your hoarding, saving, acquisition and clutter affect your daily functioning?
  • How much do these symptoms interfere with school, work, or your social or family life?
  • How much distress do these symptoms cause you?

It is not known what causes hoarding disorder, but researchers have identified a number of risk factors. Hoarding is more common among individuals with a family member who is also a hoarder. Genetic research has begun to identify gene variants that may convey risk for hoarding.  Brain injuries have also been found to cause secondary or acquired hoarding symptoms in some patients.

Symptoms of hoarding, such as difficulty discarding items, usually start during the teen years. The average age at onset of fist symptoms is 13. Hoarding disorder tends to be chronic, often becoming more severe over decades, as more and more clutter accumulates, causing more and more dysfunction. Hence, early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment are crucial to improving outcomes.
(This excerpt was taken from the American Psychiatric Association, 2013. For more information on Hoarding Disorder, please go to The Hoarding Center at OCD Foundation, ocd.org.)

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Collaborative Therapy Defined

When working with clients with mental health conditions, including but not limited to compulsive hoarding, the Collaborative Therapy process is highly recommended.

This process can involve psychiatrists, psychotherapists, clinicians, professional organizers, family members, state and local agencies working side by side with the client to facilitate interventions that help to create and maintain long-lasting environmental changes in the home, as well as lasting change within the client. This is a challenging, yet supportive effort to assist clients in removing excessive items to which they feel extremely attached.

The Collaborative Therapy model was first developed and applied by my colleagues and friends Dr. Roland Rotz, Ph.D., and Heidi Schulz, CPO-CD® in Santa Barbara, CA.

Through the use of Collaborative Therapy, my clients have been able to identify emotional and physical connections to their “stuff” while being offered corrective alternatives that lead to long-term solutions.

I currently work with psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers, related professionals, family members, local and state agencies in Austin, Texas to provide collaborative services to all of my clients, if requested and needed.

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How Can “A Helping Hand” Help You?

At “A Helping Hand“, we focus on helping all of our clients gain control of their lives, no matter what their life circumstances are. We work in a hands-on teaching and coaching format alongside our clients. This method allows our clients to make small changes over time, which leads to long-term success. We help our clients to define their organizing problems, and we help them find solutions that will work for their individual needs. We discuss realistic goals and expectations, along with changes in behavior.

The final outcome is a much more effective plan that is based on strategies and goals that correspond to the development of our clients new habits. We offer real-life solutions for our clients real-life needs.

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