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Getting Organized

How Did I Get So Disorganized?

Vicki Norris
Restoring Order

CBN.comIf you’ve been following this organizing column, I’ve shared some common hot spots of disorganization and some popular shortcuts that we try and why they don’t work. I’ve started to share my organizing principles for life transformation and I hope you are inspired to begin your projects.

Now it’s time to figure out why we became disorganized in the first place! Since organizing is a change process, we need to identify and address the causes of disorganization in our life before we can affect lasting change in our space.

As a professional organizer for almost a decade, I’ve observed several means by which people arrive in their state of chaos. I have interviewed hundreds of people on this topic. I’ve discovered at least five basic means by which people have become disorganized. Our life becomes disorderly due to our situation, habits, family history, social behavior, and chronic issues. These are not meant to be medical or diagnostic terms, and I don’t claim to be a psychologist, but I’ve seen each of these five causes of disorganization in real life!

You’ll want to follow this column for the next five weeks as I cover these five causes of disorganization.

  1. Situational disorganization
  2. Habitual disorganization
  3. Historical disorganization
  4. Social disorganization
  5. Chronic disorganization

If you’ve been unsuccessful in your organizing efforts and are trying to figure out “How did I get here?” this series is for you!

Situational Disorganization
Let’s start with the most common cause of disorganization, “situational disorganization.” Sometimes our circumstances just get the best of us. At work and at home we encounter situations that invite disorder. Things might be going along fine and then all of a sudden we are inundated by some event or project. When something happens that we did not anticipate or did not prepare for, we can find ourselves the victim of our circumstances. Our temporary situation has caused us to spiral into disorganization. I’ve listed some of the precipitating circumstances below; perhaps you can find the root of your disorder here.

Work Backlog
If you have been given a big project with a tight deadline at work, lots of requests may be dropped until the deadline is met. Your e-mails and phone messages may stack up in the interim. When you’ve met your deadline you would like to feel relief, but instead you have to face a mountain of work that you were forced to let slide. When you have to pick up the pieces pushed aside during crunch time, you are dealing with situational disorganization.

Personal Loss
Personal loss can leave you situationally disorganized in your home life. When a loved one dies, chaos ensues. Life comes to a screeching halt when we are faced with grief. We often cannot cope with our daily responsibilities. During this time, even rote tasks like dealing with dishes and laundry seem insurmountable. As a result, household order quickly spins out-of-control. If you inherit belongings, your garage and storage spaces will be flooded with stuff until you have the time to sort through the items and make decisions. All these contributing factors add up to disorder in your life when someone close to you dies.

Tending to a Loved One
Many folks I’ve worked with have not yet lost a loved one but are managing the affairs of an elderly, ailing relative. Sometimes the relative has been brought into the home or has downsized into a facility. Either way, the responsible party has to absorb all the tasks associated with relocating their loved one into an appropriate location. From the real estate transaction to the estate sale, a myriad of tasks are imposed upon the person in charge.

I’ve especially noticed the onslaught of paper faced by personal representatives. In addition to their own paperwork, bills, and filing, they suddenly have to juggle the same kinds of paper for the dependent person. Medical papers are particularly confusing and prolific. I advise my clients who are in a guardian role of this nature to set up duplicate systems to their own. The address for all paperwork should be re-directed to the guardian. The dependent needs a bill paying center and schedule, just as the guardian needs. A separate filing system should be established for the dependent. Most folks, however, don’t have the foresight or take the time to establish these sanity-saving systems. As a result, they swiftly become inundated by their situation.

Grief and loss are also experienced by those facing a divorce. Divorce is a lonely, painful experience that also precipitates disorder in the home. An inventory of household goods must be made. Joint assets and liabilities must be proven and all accounts must be reported. All this is to determine net worth so that a distribution of property may take place. Determinations must be made for the welfare and future of children and pets. Court appearances and legal paperwork is involved. People dig through their paperwork to answer the required questions, leaving a big mess behind. These unpleasant tasks and the grief that goes with those them can paralyze even the most organized. Divorce has caused many of our clients to become disorganized.

Unexpected Life Events
Other precipitating events might cause you to become situationally disorganized in your personal and professional worlds. A child graduating and flying the coop might cause emotional overload and temporary disorganization. Experiencing a health emergency or having an accident could cause chaos. Getting a pet, taking an extended vacation, or any unusual life event could cause your tasks and space to collect backlog. Situational disorganization may be caused by a variety of sources, but it can be temporary in nature.

There is Hope!
If you can recognize these or other reasons that you have become disorganized, you are taking the first step to restoring order. Knowing that a precipitating event caused your disorder hopefully takes the pressure off you. Many people look around at their clutter and feel ashamed. They wonder why they can’t get it together. When I find out that someone has been through a divorce and a death in the same year, I want to help them see that the disorder that surrounds them is not their fault! All of us can become inundated by the unexpected.

When you recognize the variety of reasons that have contributed to your disorganization, you let yourself off the hook. You are not a bad or incompetent person; in fact, you have bravely endured a difficult time. There is hope! You can dig out of your situational disorganization and reclaim your life!

Read How Did I Get So Disorganized, Part 2

Adapted from: Restoring Order™ copyright © 2006 by Vicki Norris (available now at and in July 2007as Reclaim Your Life™.  Copyright © 2007).  Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by permission.

About the Author: Vicki Norris is an expert organizer, business owner, speaker, television personality, and author who inspires people to live out their priorities. Norris is a regular on HGTV’s nationally syndicated
Mission: Organization, and is a recurrent source and contributor to national lifestyle publications including Quick & Simple magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Real Simple magazine. Norris is also author of Restoring Order™ to Your Home, a room-by-room household organizing guide.



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