KonMari Interview: Exploring Chronic Disorganization

As Certified KonMari Consultant, I am working with people who want to move towards a decluttered, tidy and organized space. The focus of Marie Kondo’s method lies in the question: “Does this item spark joy”? This simple yet effective approach allows us to train our sense of joy and more easily let go of everything that does not make us happy. Working with many different client has shown me that the attachments to objects can vary from person to person, but that intrinsically we are all looking for the same thing: a positive life change through the art of discarding and letting go of old baggage, whether it be physical or mentally.

The KonMari Method is usually applied only once in a person’s space, as the entire process shapes and transforms the way we think about objects and makes us focus on joy in everything we do even after the process is finished. 

But what about people who experience what is called “CD” – chronic disorganization? Alison Lush, CPO-CD®, CPO® , Certified Professional Organizer, can help us understand what it means when someone experiences chronic disorganization and give us useful insight about her work with clients who fall into this category.

Alison, many of my readers are probably curious: What is Chronic Disorganization (CD)?

"Basically, there are four main questions that can identify if chronic disorganization is present. We canask the following:

  •  Has the disorganization been a factor in the individual’s life for many years? (chronic)
  • Does the level of disorganization interfere with the quality of their daily life or negatively affect their relations with others? (level of impact)
  • Has the disorganization persisted despite multiple self-help attempts to get organized? (level of complexity)
  • Has the individual “lost hope” of being able to become more organized? (discouraged)"

Are there specific signs that someone might be experiencing CD?

"There are actually several signs that can help us assess the situation. 

  • For example, if a person acquires and keeps many more possessions than they could reasonably use. 
  • They also often have difficulty letting things go, and logical reasoning seems to have little impact. 
  • They are frequently creative, may have many interests, and frequently feels responsible to fix things or complete projects before the thing can be let go. 
  • They prefer visual “clues” to avoid forgetting to take action and tends to be easily distracted. 
  • They have difficulty with categorization and their home environment may be stressful due to excess clutter and chaos. 
  • Their Cluttered living areas hamper daily activities, they have difficulty with paper and data management; appropriate actions, what to keep, how to keep, and maintenance of systems. 
  • Overall, time management is frequently difficult, and deadlines are often missed."

As professional organizers, what is important when working with clients who experience CD?

"Respect! We are all unique. Every individual has their own way of interacting with their environment. CD creates a history of failed attempts. These individuals would benefit from feeling success in their organizing. It is a good idea to look for opportunities to replace the discouragement with empowerment. We should also not forget that they are they experts in their own lives. THEIR perception, THEIR opinions, and THEIR preferences matter much more than anyone else’s. Another important aspect is “Normalizing”: It can be very reassuring for a person to hear that others struggle with similar challenges. Everybody has challenges. Nobody is perfect. Last but not least, look for any systems that ARE working in their lives. Figure out what are the key elements, and repeat these elements when creating new systems."

What are the first steps someone could make on their own before they schedule time with a Professional Organizer?

"My most important advice: Think. The organizer will ask questions, but thinking ahead will help the process. Think about what causes difficulty in your daily life, whether a lot, or a little. Think about what works well for you. Think about what your goals are, e.g. “I want to be able to choose my clothes more quickly in the morning”, “I want my kitchen to be available for cooking”, “I want to learn how to manage papers”. Think about how important these challenges are, and these goals, and your motivation. How ready are you for change?"

Since it is called “Chronic”, would a client need ongoing support after they have finished decluttering and organizing?

"In most cases, yes. The old habits and discouragement will not disappear easily. We call this support phase “maintenance”. The length of time between maintenance visits can be lengthened according to need."

What are the specific challenges faced by people with CD, and what are the possible causes? 

"Specific challenges faced by people living with CD have to do with their interaction with their environment. They have difficulty managing their things; the volume, the flow, the organization and the maintenance of organizing systems. There are several reasons people may end up living with CD: Some people have non-traditional ways of processing information and interacting with their environment, and therefore traditional organizing strategies are not helpful. Some have other challenges that make managing their things more difficult, such as ADHD, depression, dementia, OCD, physical or mental challenges, or perfectionism, to name a few. Also, some end up living with CD because they’ve simply never learned how to manage their things."

Finally, I would like to explore a very important question: How do people living with CD differ from what we would define as "hoarding"?

"Hoarding Disorder was officially defined in 2013 in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) as a mental health disorder, and should be diagnosed only by a qualified mental health professional. It is estimated that over 5% of the North American population struggle with hoarding behavior. One of the primary differences between an individual living with CD or Hoarding Disorder is their readiness for change.

Another difference will be their ability to let go of things: And Individual with CD would say: “Yes, ok, you can take that and donate/discard it on my behalf.”, whereas someone with a Hoarding Disorder would explain: “I’ll get rid of it myself later.” (and later never comes)

When I work with individuals who live with CD, it feels like they can engage in a conversation about the relative merits of keeping or letting go of a thing. There CAN be movement. Sometimes I leave their homes with a carload of things for donation or to be discarded. 

And then, there are other people I work with who seem absolutely unable to consider letting things go. It seems to me that they live with a very powerful and mysterious glue between themselves and their possessions. It seems there is nothing that can be done to affect change. Sometimes when I leave their home, they’ve agreed to discard one item or two…maybe. I suspect that these individuals are living with Hoarding Disorder (I suspect because I am not qualified to diagnose). When it comes to potential for change, I see the following:

  • Individual living with CD: With appropriate motivation, resources and support, they can literally turn their lives around.
  • Individual living with Hoarding Disorder: Available strategies offer very limited hope. Some experts suggest that the best case scenario is to 1) ensure their environment is managed to limit safety hazards, and 2) maintain relationships with the individual so they are not socially isolated.
Thank you very much Alison for the interesting insight on the topic of Chronic Disorganization. It has been a pleasure interviewing you and gives us a good idea about the various challenges faced by different clients and underlines the importance of finding the right approach for each and every one of them. 

Alison Lush, CPO-CD®, CPO® is a Certified Professional Organizer based in Montreal and can be found on http://alisonlush.ca/ and https://www.facebook.com/EspacesEfficaces/.

Christina is a Certified KonMari Consultant, Founder of OrganizedByChristina and can be found on OrganizedByChristina.com, on Facebook and on Marie Kondo's website under "Consultants".