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How is Chronic Disorganisation Different to Hoarding Behaviour?

Dr DeClutter receives many inquiries from people believing they – or someone they know – have hoarding behaviour. Most don’t.


Hoarding behaviour can look like chronic disorganisation.

Put simply, people with hoarding behaviour experience chronic disorganisation and yet all chronically disorganised people don’t have hoarding behaviour.


Four of the key areas that  define hoarding behaviour as found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition (DSM-5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013) are summarised as follows:

Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.

Although not an exhaustive list, some examples include faded receipts, bottle caps, takeaway containers and old newspapers.  Clients also disclose difficulty in letting go of excessive items purchased “just in case”

This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.

The distress can look differently for everyone.  An example is concerns for the environment and the desire not to contribute to landfill.

The difficulty discarding possessions results in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).

The accumulation of possessions can cause difficulty with opening or closing doors.  To access areas, some clients create pathways between built up possessions.  In extreme cases some clients need to step on possessions to access rooms.  Others disclose the inability to access rooms altogether.

The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

Distress may include conflict with other people living in the home, or the wider community over concerns with the build-up of possessions in the home or yard. Limited functioning includes structural damage and the inability to access areas for repairs or maintenance.   Safety and  environmental hazards can include the accumulation of mould causing difficulty in breathing.  In extreme cases the absence of adequate seating or functional cooking facilities can impact on the ability for clients to have visitors in their homes.

It’s important to note diagnosis of hoarding behaviour can only be made by experienced psychologists.  Referrals can be made through a general practitioner.  Dr DeClutter works with clients on reducing tripping hazards and increasing safety in homes.


The Institute for Chronic Disorganisation (ICD) is the leader in research and education on chronic disorganisation.  ICD defines chronic disorganisation as:

  1. The disorganisation has persisted over a long period of time

As adults, disruption and disorganisation are constant.  Some clients disclose traits of disorganisation during adolescence or childhood. All acknowledge the disruption is significant.  Chronically disorganised people find it challenging to juggle all the moving pieces such as work, social life, studies and family commitments.  It can take a significant life event to tip the scales, such as experiencing loss (death, retirement or divorce).  The pressures of raising a family, or even serious illness can also contribute to disorganisation.

2. The disorganisation frequently undermines quality of life daily.

Clients disclose they have the best intentions, but constantly get derailed.  Bills frequently forget to be paid, they’re always running late for important meetings and spend precious time searching for common household objects, such as keys or reading glasses.

3. The disorganisation recurs, despite repeated attempts at self-help.

Shelves are full of books on organising and time management.  Clients disclose they’re genuinely keen for change, yet nothing seems to stick.  When asked about how they see their future, clients say there’s a lack of hope that things will be different.

It’s important to note that chronic disorganisation isn’t a diagnosed condition.  Dr DeClutter works with clients on learning how to strengthen life skills such as decision making  and reducing overwhelm.

While not an exhaustive list, some of the underlying issues of chronic disorganisation include procrastination, distractibility and impaired concentration.  Fear of making mistakes, perfectionism and overthinking are common.  ADHD, anxiety and depression can be contributing factors. Difficulty with information processing and feelings of overwhelm can make decision making challenging. Other factors include not learning organising skills when younger and the desire for a different experience for their own children.

People with chronic disorganisation are thought to be intelligent and more creative than most.  They have a diverse range of hobbies and interests.  The downside is most of the projects remain unfinished.  Chronic disorganisation isn’t about logical thinking.  Traditional organising systems don’t work.  Rather than deciding what to discard, keep and donate, they see the differences.   They are emotionally attached to objects, often worried about how possessions will feel if discarded.  This leads to personification and over identification.

Visual cues are needed; chronically disorganised people have a genuine fear of “out of sight, out of mind”.  This can lead to horizontal stacking of important paperwork and reminders.  One of the strategies Dr DeClutter use is helping clients learn how to remember to remember.

There is hope and it’s only an email or phone call away.  Carol from Dr DeClutter can tailor solutions unique to how you think and function in your home.  Carol is one of the highest qualified professional organisers in Australia with qualifications specific to working with both chronically disorganised and hoarding behaviour.  Book a complimentary Discovery Call here

ICD has free resources on chronic disorganisation including Factors Associated with Disorganisation.


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