Are You Situationally Disorganized?

What has changed to throw you off track?

Would it surprise you to learn that many of my clients are actually quite organized? They must be. They successfully run businesses and manage families and households. They earn academic degrees and professional awards. They make jewelry and quilts, and they write books. And they’ve done it all without my help because they’re organized in many ways. Or… at least they used to be…so, what happened?

They ask me for help when their situations change and their systems are thrown off track by life events (both happy and unhappy). I help them get back on track. Here are some ways to become Situationally Disorganized:


  • moving house
  • getting a new job
  • moving to a new office
  • getting married
  • combining households
  • having a new baby
  • long-term illness
  • death in the family
  • starting a new business
  • retirement and/or downsizing

Sometimes all my clients need is a fresh pair of eyes to help them see the solutions to their organizing and scheduling challenges. Other times there really is a piece of the puzzle missing and I help them find or create a new system that works for their new life. Sometimes everything’s working, more or less, and they just want some tips to help make it all work even better, or look nicer! A little decluttering (of time and/or space) helps them focus on what’s important and goes a long way towards regaining some control over their lives.

On the other hand, perhaps you are Chronically Disorganized? The definition, according to the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) is this:

Chronic disorganization is having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of current quality of life due to disorganization, and the expectation of future disorganization.

I specialize in helping the Situationally Disorganized. Depending on the situation, I sometimes refer the Chronically Disorganized to my colleagues who are more qualified (and more likely to succeed) in that area.

Are you Situationally Disorganized? What has changed in your life? Please share with us by leaving a comment!

Are you Chronically Disorganized? Do you need a referral?

Related: The Getting Back on Track Flow Chart

Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Nancy Vorsanger on March 12, 2015 at 7:26 am

    This happened to me! I have always been very organized. Except for when I really, really wasn’t. In a short time, I got married, moved twice, become a stepmother, and had two more children (one of whom barely slept). All of my systems went off track. An orderly, uncluttered environment is very important to me, so I felt really stressed out (and guilty–how did this happen to *me*?). But yes, it is possible to dig out, especially with objective help.

    I have found that people feel so very guilty about becoming disorganized after life changes, but really, it’s totally understandable. And I love your point that people are often more organized than they realize–after all, they are still running jobs and households.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 8:42 am

      Yes, these types of life events can throw off even (especially?) professional organizers! And that was a lot of changes for you in a short period of time!

  2. Moreen Torpy on March 12, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Hi Hazel,

    Another situation is redecorating. Chaos can certainly reign at that time, however, once that project is complete, organization usually returns.

    Returning to “normal organizing” can take much longer, and that’s also normal.

    Thanks for your insights.


    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Redecorating, of course! Thanks, Moreen.

  3. Sabrina Q. on March 14, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I love your phrase “situationally disorganized”. Lots of my clients are also situationally disorganized. I also see this happen after remodeling spaces, especially kitchens, closets and garages, they get so overwhelmed because of how much is stored in these places. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 8:48 am

      Thanks, Sabrina! Remodeling is even worse than redecorating! (I’m thinking it takes longer.) I love the phrase as well, but I didn’t make it up. My understanding is that Debbie Stanley did.

  4. Sarah Soboleski on March 14, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Nice post, Hazel! Being a social worker, I find my organizing clients also struggle with situational or transitional disorganization in the form of seasonal depression, changing of meds or bipolar swings. I agree that we can help in so many ways providing guidance through organization during these difficult times. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Interesting, Sarah. I hadn’t thought about that.

  5. Anna E. Lee - Interior Design on March 14, 2015 at 9:51 am

    You did a great job explaining these two conditions. While I had heard of the term Chronically Disorganized (CD), I wasn’t aware there was a term for SD, until recently when I took the 101 class. I think I’d like to specialize in this field too!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      I haven’t heard of too many organizers who actually claim to specialize in SD. But I think more should, and they should refer CD clients to others, unless they are willing to get the training required to effectively work with CD clients!

  6. Seana Turner on March 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

    I find this distinction very helpful, Hazel. I just got back from a library presentation, and I’d say often it is the chronically disorganized who want to come and talk to me, telling me their very personal stories. I love the work ICD is doing is training and equipping us to help these folks!

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Yes, thank goodness for ICD!

  7. Deb Lee on March 14, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Amazing how specific situations — even good ones — can make you get off track. Just have to remember not to beat yourself up. Instead, just get back on the horse or revamp the system if your life has changed drastically. Great topic, Hazel. =)

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks, Deb! I hate to think how much time and energy people spend beating themselves up (including myself, on occasion, when I forget how useless it is) when the horse is standing right there waiting for you to get back on!

  8. Kim on March 14, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Hazel, This is so true that sometimes life events can cause things to go off the rails and of course if it has been going on for awhile then it is challenging and time consuming to get on top of it. I see a lot of people who have severe depression which when they are not well things can get very overwhelming. Also, it is good to note that there is a difference between situational disorganization and chronic disorganization. Thanks

    • Hazel Thornton on March 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      I think a lot of folks feel like failures when they stuff they’ve gone through would throw ANYONE’S organizing systems off track!

  9. Jill Robson on March 14, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    Life changes have a huge impact on how we handle the things around us. The list you mentioned all add stress to our usually ordered lives. I love the term Situationally Disorganized.

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