Mental Health and Chronic Disorganization

What is the connection between Mental Health and Chronic Disorganization?

It was once thought that OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, was the main issue with individuals who were living with “Hoarding Disorder” (which was deemed a Mental Health Illness in the DSM 1V 2013 as its own disorder)

OCD can be an issue and is very debilitating as it prevents its sufferers from being able to carry out the tasks of their daily lives. But actually a very low percentage of people who have OCD are struggling with chronic disorganization or hoarding disorder. It is more prevalent with those suffering with OCPD Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder also struggle with hoarding.  They have a really difficult time with letting go of possessions.  OCPD has to do with having a strong sense of control and being perfect or not doing it at all.

You can read more about OCPD here:

Vulnerability Factors:

Did one of your parents have a lot of clutter and/or challenges with their stuff.  Your parent may have been around during the Depression when items were limited and they saved what they could gather for someday in the future.  Or maybe you remember going to Grandma’s house and her place was cluttered and disordered but it was so much fun to play and look at her stuff.  Another factor could be a parent who was a perfectionist and wanted everything shining clean and spotless.  An individual might feel like rebelling and just doing things their own way.

There is a lot of anxiety associated with dealing with clutter. It has to do with how much clutter is comfortable to live with, how much stuff I am bringing in on a day to day basis and the challenge of letting go of items that are not needed or necessary. The anxiety comes from the inability to trust our own instincts, wanting to avoid uncomfortable emotions or soothe them and difficulty making decisions about our stuff.

You may have heard that clutter is all about holding on to the past and worries about the future.  It is usually not about the present.  Being in the present can be painful and uncomfortable. We are looking for ways to soothe ourselves even if this is unconscious. Shopping, acquiring cool stuff, finding treasures, planning for the future, moving stuff around (churning) and avoiding discarding are all ways we are taking care of ourselves and paradoxically they are also ways that contribute to having too much stuff.

Mental Health Factors:

Having an episode of depression or major depressive disorder is very challenging when it comes to trying to manage your life, your belongings, doing laundry, appointments, money, poverty, getting food, relationships, physical health, mental health, legal isssues, and possibly addictions.  An individual may be facing more serious crisis situations such as problems from a landlord, the Fire Department or eviction and consequently homelessness. Self esteem can be a factor as well. I remember a woman who came to our group saying that she had a lot of garbage around her apartment and she said it was a reflection on how she felt about herself.

Most people who have struggles with clutter have had some kind of trauma happen to them. Now please note that not everyone who has trauma issues has clutter issues as there can be other resiliency factors here ie: family supports, good friends, positive people in your life, financial supports, etc.

However, most if not all have had some kind of loss in the past, losing a loved one, a partner, friend or parent and inheriting their belongings, losing a child through death or (maybe even to CAS, Children’s Aid Society), violence and assault, a serious physical health illness, mental health issues, addictions, relationship breakdowns, divorce, moving.  All of these traumas which can cause symptoms of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can also lead to having a Hoarding Disorder.

I would love to hear from you.  Please add your thoughts or comments below…..

About Kim

I’m Kim, your go-to Professional Organizer and Virtual Coach! I’m beyond excited to embark on this clutter-free adventure with you. With a background in mental health and a passion for transforming spaces, I bring a holistic approach to decluttering. It’s not just about neatening up physical spaces; it’s about fostering a mindset shift that radiates throughout your life. I founded Space For You Clear the Clutter, Heal Your Life and have been working with individuals and groups for about 15 years. I've also trained with Professional Organizers of Canada and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.
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8 Responses to Mental Health and Chronic Disorganization

  1. This is a lot of information! Maybe in a future post you could explain how to know whether or not someone we know is a hoarder, and what we should do about it.

  2. I am still learning about all of this. Our relationship with our belongings can be very complex, often rooted in past experiences and relationships. Mental health can either trigger us to hold on, to freeze, or sometimes even to purge. For people who struggle, it is rarely about just coming in and doing a big clean sweep, and often more about digging deep and establishing a scaffold of support.

    • Kim says:

      So true Seana – You have such a great way with words. Definitely can be so complex and not just a matter of cleaning out. Love your comment 🙂

  3. Lucy Kelly says:

    I can’t wait til we get more research on this topic, it feels like there is so much more to learn! My clients tend to have had some traumatic event in their lives although some have also developed what I think of as “situational hoarding”. They either suffer with depression or anxiety or they have a serious health challenge that limits their mobility. When you have finite energy, it’s sometimes impossible to find reserves after taking care of medical appointments and food preparation. The illnesses I’ve experienced have shown me how quickly things can fall apart when your body fails you.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Lucy,
      Yes, there is so much to learn and I know there is a lot of research happening. When I was facilitating a Clearing Clutter Support Group we thought that almost 100% of the participants had had some kind of trauma and/or loss of some kind. There are reasons why people struggle with these issues. There is definitely “Situational Hoarding” that occurs for various reasons and physical health issues are definitely a factor as well. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

  4. One of the best resources is ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization – They do an incredible job of educating organizers and related professionals about all the factors that can cause disorganization (chronic or situational.) Even if you are an organizer that doesn’t work with the chronically disorganized population, the education is invaluable. As an organizer, you might find yourself in a situation where knowledge will help you understand your client better or refer them to another professional. We can do more harm than good if we don’t know what’s going on. Organizers aren’t there to diagnose. But it’s beneficial to have a good understanding of the types of conditions and circumstances that might affect our clients.

    • Kim says:

      Hi Linda,
      I love the ICD and am a member. The information and courses are really top notch. This education is so important and needed. More serious Chronic Disorganization/Hoarding is such a complex issue and there can be so many underlying issues that need to be dealt with before being able to even consider looking at the clutter. Thank you very much for your comment.

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