January is “National Get Organized Month”. This is an exciting time of year, especially for people who are finally ready to get organized! Magazines, books and organizing supplies flood the market. But many of these conventional tips and products are geared toward the people we think of as “left-brain dominant” linear and logical thinkers. These are the people that have an easy time putting things away neatly behind closed doors, who always have a clear desk, and who are really good at breaking up large projects into small tasks that can be executed sequentially. On the other hand, those thought of as “right-brain dominant” thinkers like to see things in front of them, think more holistically, and are great at brainstorming. While the scientific evidence for topic of “left and right brain” preferences has been debated, it’s worth looking into. Even though it may just be a myth, seeing a comparison between the two sides may help you see how one type is not better or worse than the other. Noticing these differences may help generate compassion for yourself and patience with others.
When I was first starting off as a Professional Organizer in 2015, one of the best tips I got was to join the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). This group provides high quality education and attracts some really wonderful people. My colleagues also introduced me to The Institute of Challenging Disorganization, which was founded by Judith Kolberg (originally as a Special Interest Group in NAPO and then The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). She coined the term “Chronic Disorganization”, and has a whole host of books geared towards helping people with ADHD and people who like to organize things in ways that veer from the mainstream pictures we see in magazines. People who have Chronic Disorganization have an ongoing issue with organization that affects their ability to live a happy and healthy life, despite efforts to change it. They can never find what they need, are often late, and usually ashamed. Their issues with clutter can contribute to anxiety, self-esteem and diminished relationships. This is different from Situational Disorganization. Situational Disorganization can occur during and after specific events, such as an illness, divorce, move, or loss of a loved one.
I just finished reading Judith Kolberg’s book “Conquering Chronic Disorganization” and wanted to share some of the highlights of the book with you. One of the really cute things about this book is that Judith lives in Atlanta, Georgia. As she’s describing the situations with her clients, she has to translate some of the Southern phrases as she introduces them to her radical methods. My favorite explanation was “pardon”. She says: “When a Southerner says Pardon to you it is not just a neutral sign that you were not heard. “Pardon” really means they think you are a little bit nuts and you are being given one more chance to redeem yourself.”
If you’re someone who thinks logically, you could still be disorganized, but filing cabinets, storage systems and traditional time management tools probably make sense to you. Chronically disorganized people think, learn and organize in a very different way. Although they can often adapt to typical systems, these ways of doing things are not natural and can be counter productive. Why does this happen? According to Kolberg, “Organizing, like all learned behaviors, is a very complex phenomenon. It involves the ways neurological information is processed; complicated sociological factors such as exposure to an integration of organizing skills; and psychological factors…one thought leads to another…thinking is circuitous, tangential, divergent, or in any other way unconventional.”
Do you like to organize by emotions? In one of the scenarios described in the book, Judith follows her client around the office and jots down the things she mutters as he picks up paper and puts it down. The first things that come to mind, such as:
“Public Relations Garbage”
“I can’t believe I haven’t written back yet”
“In my dreams”
“Why can’t I find this when I need it”
become the titles for the file tabs. If you’ve ever had trouble remembering where you filed something, notice your thought process when you’re looking for it. Consider renaming the file when you find it!
Fear of Filing
If you know you’re an “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” person, putting paperwork “away” might make you worried that you’ll lose track of something. If you don’t want things to disappear into a black hole, you might prefer to organize your action-oriented folders into the type of organizer that can hold folders vertically on your desk. Display the folders by level of importance from front to back, with the most important files up front. A rolling file cart (with an open top) can also be a good solution for the less important paperwork.
Trouble Letting Go?
Chronic Disorganization is not a mental disorder, yet it can often be paired with psychological problems like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Hoarding Disorder, both of which are listed within the DSM. One of her clients really loved to save everything, and had trouble letting go. Judith played a game called “Friends, acquaintances and strangers” to help her client sort and prioritize the things that were most important. With another client, she had them shift their perspective from asking the client if they needed something to having the client ask if the [book or other item] needed them. By personifying the objects and asking them what they need, the client can have an easier using their intuition. Usually items in the home want to be used, so if they aren’t being valued, they will want to go somewhere else where they can serve their purpose.
What’s Your Signal?
If piles of paper or a messy floor doesn’t bother you, when do you know it’s time to declutter? Instead of scheduling a regular day and time to tidy up, pick an activity that you really like to do. When you can’t do it (for example, “bake cupcakes”), that’s your alert that it’s time to put things away and clean up. Or, by scheduling your book club to meet at your house once a month, that’s an incentive to get things picked up.
Various Learning Styles
Although most people have a blend of ways they like to learn, people usually have a preference. Visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic are the main ways people learn. If someone is an auditory learner, yet they are set up in a visual office, mental and physical processing might take extra effort, will lack efficiency, and cause unnecessary clutter. There is a whole section of the book that describes the various solutions Judith develops with her clients. She also talks about how using different types of systems can improve “executive functioning”. While we think of an executive as someone who can delegate, is decisive, and good at prioritizing, executive functioning actually refers to the ability to “execute”, or get things done.
File in Food Storage Bags?
My favorite scenario described in the book was with a client who needed to be able to see lot of different diagrams all at once. His solution was to lay them out all over the floor, yet doing so made it difficult to walk around, and his back was killing him from bending over all the time. They decided to use clotheslines to hang transparent plastic food storage bags at eye-level so his documents could be clearly labeled and easily seen.
If you have been chronically disorganized, you probably know that getting help from friends and family can be difficult. Those close to us can be overly critical, can have their own agenda, or because tension can be built up over time, conversations can be filled with passive aggressiveness, resentment, or can be highly reactive. Professional Organizers are (usually!) non-judgmental, patient, and to act in a way that is in the best interest of their client. If you’ve ever wanted to help someone do something, you’ve probably wanted to actively participate. Many times if people helping aren’t busy doing something, they feel like they aren’t contributing. While some chronically disorganized people like to organize WITH a Professional Organizer, many times they just need someone to act as a “body double”. That means, they need an Organizer who can actually just sit quietly and passively support their client as they do the organizing. If you’ve ever had trouble getting organized, you probably know getting started is one of the hardest parts. Yet getting started and delegating, managing what someone else is doing, or dealing with their biased remarks adds a huge layer of effort for someone, especially if they’re struggling to get over the hurdle of getting started. While many times when I am helping a client, we are working in tandem, sometimes someone just needs me to sit with them quietly as they are going through photos or old paperwork. They usually know what they need to do, it’s just that having someone else there with them helps tether them to the job at hand.
Have you ever been in the car with someone who is very grumpy? Unless you could hold a dominant positive vibration, it’s likely that the gravitational pull of their grumpiness may have turned your smile upside-down. Before I learned about Chronic Disorganization, I thought I always needed to be “doing something.” In fact, it actually takes a more highly skilled organizer to “do nothing”. I adopted my dog when she was about 6, and had to go through lots of dog training classes to learn how to navigate various situations. At Ahimsa, one of the coolest things we learned was to monitor the rate at which we blinked. Since our dogs were all in training, some a little reactive, and there was a lot of stimulation, as the “dog mom”, the teachers taught us to hold a strong level of calm energy so that our dogs could entrain to that. Meteorologically, “entrain” means “to transfer (air) into an organized air current from the surrounding atmosphere”. (dictionary.com). We were taught to get grounded and centered so that our energy could help the dogs feel secure. I have now taken years of energy work training to learn how to harmonize the spaces I’m in. While this type of energy management will always be a work in progress for me, it is something that I’m now quite conscious of. I’ll probably never be able to be as calm as an FBI or CIA agent under pressure, but I do make a pretty darn good Body Double for my organizing clients!
Do You Want to Learn More About Chronic Disorganization?
Below are some resources for you. You may even want to consider joining NAPO or ICD so that you can take classes to learn more about Chronic Disorganization. Who knows, you may even want to become a Professional Organizer yourself! You can learn more about Judith Kolberg here. Lauren Williams, a colleague and owner of Casual Uncluttering recently loaned me The ICD Guide to Challenging Disorganization: For Professional Organizers. It is a truly fabulous resource that covers a variety of issues such as grief, anxiety, depression, ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, addictions, obsessive compulsive disorder, hoarding behavior and a whole host of other issues that contribute to disorganization.
Seattle Sparkle provides in-home decluttering and organizing in the Seattle area, or remote coaching for people who live in other areas. If you’d like Jean to help you get organized in a way that suits your individual needs, contact us today! Or join us in the Declutter & Organize With Seattle Sparkle, our online Facebook group.
Photo Credit: Ashim D’Silva