10 Signs You're a Disorganized Mess

The fine line between order and chaos.

One man's trash is another man's treasure; so, too, is one man's disorderly train wreck another man's successfully organized system of piles. There are, however, some warning signs that identify the sufficiently disorderly members of society -- the people most in need of a little structural savvy.

You know who you are! Or do you? Read this article to find out if your system (or lack thereof) counts as disorganized to the extreme. It could be a garage crammed to the gills with four seasons of disheveled outdoor gear or a junk drawer that has taken the word "junk" to the extreme. Whatever the particulars, these are the signs to look out for when you suspect you've crossed the line between "messy" and "disorganized mess."


10: Get organized? But I'm overwhelmed!

Is your desk a disorganized mess? Might be time to really dig in and address the issue.
Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

If the very idea of "getting organized" sends you into a mental tailspin, that might be the first sign there's a problem. A feeling of being overwhelmed could well be the most important signal that your situation has gotten out of hand. If a quick glance around the domicile or cubicle sends you shuddering, you might be working with a load larger than most people can slug through on their own.

Try to analyze your feelings to see if this is the case or if something else could be aggravating the situation. Is work in general getting you down? Are household holiday preparations wearing you thin? Is seasonal depression a factor? If your ultimate answer is, "Nope, I just can't keep things together and nothing else is running past interference," then yes, you could just be a disorganized muddle. Try starting small.


9: Have company over? Think again!

If you're among the ranks of the super-disorganized, the idea of having guests over might make you panic. If you suspect your house is a certifiable disaster zone, it's nerve-wracking to think of the Joneses, or even your kids' friends, stopping by.

If you avoid opportunities to have company over, then you might have an organizational issue. (Though again, first ask yourself if there are other stressors influencing your feelings.) Not everyone is an extrovert, but everyone should feel comfortable inviting the occasional close companions over without the stress of a massive cleanup.


8: Eat at the dining room table? Nice try!

Wishing for a kitchen that looked like this? You're not alone!
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

I know about this one. Throughout my adolescence, our dining room table was mainly used for special occasions, a process that involved careful excavation without messing up the piles. Or, if it was used for a common meal, the routine was to nudge the stack over a little, find a space and put your plate down.

Other than that, we ate wherever. Calendars, bills, fliers, mail, cards, permission slips, homework and who knows what else were usually camped out on the table. Occasionally flowers, too, so that was nice at least.


Point is, if your table is not being used for eating, that could mean your organizational skills are a little underdeveloped (as ours apparently were at the time). Same goes for the garage that cannot hold cars, the closets that cannot hold clothes, and all those sorry attics and basements out there that cannot fit anything else because they are already stuffed to the rafters (or I-beams as it were).

7: That food went bad? Bummer!

More food gone south?

Another sign you might be a tad too disorganized is if you routinely have food that spoils. Moldy main courses that occasionally go a bit past their prime is one thing, but if you find strange growths in your condiments that's another, because they're supposed to have some staying power.

If your refrigerator resembles a penicillin factory, then that's a bad thing. Antibiotics have changed the course of human history, sure, but it's best if they're grown in a lab under sterile conditions. Your fridge does not equal sterile conditions.


Same goes for the pantry. You could consider yourself disorganized if nonperishable goods manage to perish under your watch. One way to keep tabs on shelf life is to pay attention to holiday drives or other food drives for those in need. When you catch wind of one, do a once-over, tossing anything that's past its prime and donating anything you won't realistically use before its expiration date.

6: Your project was due? Whoops!

If your household's having trouble meeting deadlines -- whether for school or work projects -- then you might have some serious disorganization on your hands. It's important to meet official commitments, and if that isn't happening, it's either time to scale back or address how you're handling your school or workload.

That can mean dialing down on some things and creating a household activity list featuring major work presentations, school projects and family events. Just remember to keep your priorities (and your sanity) in check while creating the list. All work and no play can lead to potential serial killers. Just ask Jack Nicholson and the rest of the cast of "The Shining."


5: That bill was late? My bad!

Another place severe disorganization can rear its ugly head is in household finances. Being late on the rent or on a mortgage payment can wreak havoc on a household's fiscal reputation. Missing a bill to the credit card company can put an ugly blot on your credit history. Add to that utilities, car insurance, cell phone payments and cable costs.

Not having a firm grasp of money management can spell disaster for the disorganized (and wasted money in late fees), so if you suffer from these sorts of problems, better address it sooner rather than later. Try strategies like online payments or even automatic drafts to help simplify the bill-paying process, and create a spreadsheet to map out your overall budget.


4: Let's go on a vacation? Where the heck are our passports!

Passport? Check. Suitcase? Check. Wait -- who's going to watch the pets?!

I recently orchestrated two major international vacations with only a minor (ahem, perhaps substantial) amount of help, and let me tell you -- it was a ton of work. Between passports, international drivers permits, immunizations, reservations, state department advisories, travel constraints, dietary restrictions and itinerary considerations, there was a lot to juggle.

If you find yourself wanting to go on a big vacation and have no idea where to start, you might want to consult a travel agent. Large-scale organizing isn't for everyone, and the last thing you want to do is find you (and, god forbid, your family as well) stuck in a bad situation in a foreign land. But there are lots of ways to make the process easier even if you don't want to go to a professional. Be sure to start well in advance and always remember: A good, thorough list is your best friend. Don't be afraid to let that list -- and your itinerary -- evolve as you learn more about your intended destination.


3: Take passengers on a road trip? Where are they going to sit!

We've all seen them. The cars in the parking lots with a view through the window that says: "I throw absolutely nothing away. Ever. Hold a gun to my head and that fast food cup, empty wrapper of gum and discarded air freshener will still be there!"

If your backseat resembles such a scene, your disorder may have entered "mess" territory. We'll give you a pass if you own an RV, but if this is a four-door we're talking about, then no. For your own safety (and that of your passengers) find time to clean out the car. Nobody's backseat should resemble a Dumpster.


2: Getting ready for work? I don't know where a clean pair of pants are!

Is laundry ever done? Ever?
Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Thinkstock

Ever had this happen? You're trying to get ready for work, and all your clean (office-worthy) clothes are located in the dryer -- or, gasp, the washer -- and you need to run a rush job to get yourself clothed appropriately in time. We're not admitting to anything ... but yes, we feel your pain.

Laundry is a bummer, no two ways about it. But if you chronically find laundry-duty is messing with your life, you might be a tad more disorganized than the rest of us. Try to parse down the process to a more manageable level, doing it bit by bit, and see if that doesn't have you looking better around the workplace (and feeling less stressed in the morning).


1: Move in together? But then we'll have two of everything!

Merging fully-equipped households can be a chore in the best of times. In the worst of times, it can lead to bickering. Whose kitchen table do we keep? Which dresser do we use? Whose toiletries get prime counter space in the bathroom? And don't even look at the spice racks or the utensil drawers. Those are potential arguments waiting to happen, depending on how seriously you and your significant other consider basil and forks.

If you're going through a situation akin to this, being disorganized won't help the issue in the slightest. Want your centerpiece on the table? Your picture on the wall? If you can't find them, they'll likely lose their spot. So if you find more and more of your possessions have gone missing and are being shunted to the side because of it, that could be a sign you're the more disorganized of the duo and need some lessons on the subject.

Lots More Information

Author's Note: 10 Signs You're a Disorganized Mess

I loved writing this article because I could really relate to some of the entries. I'm a pretty organized person overall, but I could definitely do better in specific areas. (OK, fine, I'll admit it about the laundry. I'm absolutely terrible at forcing myself to get laundry done in a timely fashion! And my washer and dryer could not be farther from the shower.) So, anyway -- as I trudge miserably down to the laundry room -- it was really interesting writing an article that delved into the topic of personal organization.

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  • Baker, Adam. "Sell Your Crap." (March 12, 2012.) http://manvsdebt.com/
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  • Clutterers Anonymous. (March 12, 2012.) https://sites.google.com/site/clutterersanonymous/
  • Institute for Challenging Disorganization. (March 12, 2012.) http://challengingdisorganization.org/
  • Man vs. Debt. (March 12, 2012.) http://manvsdebt.com/
  • National Association of Professional Organizers. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.napo.net/
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  • Roth, J.D. "How to Turn Your Clutter Into Cash." Get Rich Slowly. March 17, 2010. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2010/03/17/how-to-turn-your-clutter-into-cash/
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