The Link between Trauma and Chronic Disorganization

Do you think there is a link between trauma and clutter/chronic disorganization/hoarding? The current research is showing that there is a connection between the two. So, the good news is that you are not alone. There are reasons why this is so challenging for you.

It is helpful to look underneath the clutter issue and think about “why” am I so frustrated and cannot seem to get a handle on my stuff even though I feel like I am constantly working on it. Why Me? Ugh!!

Here are some possible Vulnerability Factors that may have triggered these issues for you:

  • Family history of hoarding (mother, father, grandmother, etc.) They likely have suffered from their own trauma
  • History of mental illness in the family (depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, bi-polar, etc.)
  • Parental values and behaviour (ie: values about waste, obsessively neat, compulsive acquiring/saving, hand me downs, control over decisions (perfectionism), sentimentality
  • Physical obstacles (time, space, health, others living in the home)
  • Traumatic events (loss of loved one, assaults and violence, moving, deprivation, divorce, birth of a child)
  • Other……..Loss of belongings, eviction, poverty, hospitalization, loss of contact with family members

I remember when my second husband left me.  Yes, I was married twice.  I was surprised when he said he was leaving. I really should not have been as there were signs but I probably didn’t want to see them.  I just assumed we would continue to work on our relationship and all would be okay.  

After he left I went through the motions at work helping others with their trauma and would come home and just wander around my home in a fog not knowing what I should be doing.  It was a hard time and I know that I drank way too much wine, spent a lot of time in bed and didn’t ask for help and support. 

We can become emotionally numb, have a lot of emotional flooding or isolate ourselves after a traumatic event.  Everyone handles it differently.

“After a traumatic event a person can either try to cope using negative methods or learn to cope successfully and enhance their ability to cope in the future”

If you have suffered a traumatic loss and/or have a number of the vulnerability factors (above) you may be more at risk and more likely to develop hoarding behaviours.

Although the underlying causes as to why someone ends up with difficulties with chronic disorganization are still unclear, after a traumatic event or incident, compulsive shopping, acquiring and difficulty discarding can become a way of coping with those uncomfortable emotions that come from grief and loss.

Shopping is one way that we try to soothe our emotions

It is very beneficial to understand why you struggle with these issues and a beginning step to start to make some changes in your life. Here is a link to a previous post with more information about looking at your own Personal Clutter Model.

Next post: What to look for in a Support/Mental Health Worker/Professional Organizer considering a Trauma Informed Approach. Please comment if this post resonates with you or join our closed Facebook Group for more support.

About Kim

Kim Tremblay is a Master Organizer and a Clutter Coach. She has worked with individuals helping them clear the physical and emotional clutter from their lives since 2008. Kim founded and co-facilitated a Clearing Clutter Support Group which has helped hundreds of individuals to make positive changes in their lives. Kim is currently working virtually with clients helping them to clear the emotional and/or physical clutter from their lives. Kim is available to speak to your group about all things organizing.
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7 Responses to The Link between Trauma and Chronic Disorganization

  1. Seana Turner says:

    I think it can be hard to recognize in the moment how big of an impact a traumatic event is having. We are reacting and coping, rather than thinking objectively. In times like these, loving support from a friend or family member can really help us see what we need help. Wonderful advice!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks Seana
      So true, right! People who are in a crisis (could be an emergency cleanup) cannot think clearly and are not in a position to make decisions or think objectively. It’s important for PO’s to understand this. Thank you so much for your comment.

  2. What stood out from reading your post is that when some traumatic happens, while we might want to or think we can fix or cope with it on our own, that’s not possible. Some of the work has to happen alone, but without the support of family, friends, and professionals, it’s hard to be objective and know how to move forward and process our experience.

    I appreciate the honest, genuine way that you shared your story.

    • Kim says:

      Yes, so true Linda There are a lot of factors that can mean the difference between coping and not coping. It sure does help to have the support of friends and family around. thank you for your comment 🙂

  3. I think we are just starting to learn how trauma affects people in so many ways. Yes, it does cause disorganization and then the clutter adds to the stress of the trauma. We have so much more to learn.

    • Kim says:

      Thank you for your comment Janet – so true! It really is so complex and challenging in how we work with individuals. We need to have understanding and patience for sure.

  4. I once helped someone declutter who had been living with depression for several years following a marriage break-up. It wasn’t quite a hoarding situation but he had bags everywhere – every time he felt he needed to tidy up, he’d just shove everything in a bag and tuck it away somewhere. It was quite sad. He definitely needed more help than I was able to offer.

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