Gifted and Disorganized

This week has been a very slow work week for me.  I contracted a nasty stomach virus last Friday night from my adorable students/germ factories, and spent most of the wee hours of Saturday vomiting and emptying my bowels just about every hour.  After 7 hours of pure misery, I ended up barely able to move on Saturday because of pains in my lower back and hip joints – I think basically because spending so much time having my muscles contracted so much from the illness.

I finally felt much better on Sunday, but when the sub caller called me Sunday night, I elected to stay home, giving myself an additional day or so to recover before subjecting my immune system to more challenges.  Additionally, I thought I could get some cleaning done around the house, but as it turned out, my littlest one contracted influenza.  Normally, this would be a bummer, but in her case, it’s especially problematic because she was recently diagnosed with asthma.  So, when we took her into the doctor on Monday we soon realized how serious her condition could be.  With a prescription for a nebulizer, predisone and tamiflu, we have been treating her.  So, it hadn’t bothered me that I’d only been able to work one day this week, but as I am reviewing my week and thinking about how much cleaning and organizing I’d planned to do but didn’t get done, it has been increasingly hard for me to avoid a new reality:

I am chronically disorganized and I have been ever since I could remember.

Somehow, I managed to do very well in school despite this, and never had a problem turning in assignments on time (though sometimes procrastinating reports to the very last possible minute and then scrambling to get them done).

To be truthful though, I am not sure how I finished college, as I officially started my biology career in my junior year of college and had a pretty serious boyfriend for a while my senior year of college (though I admit, I had to drop multivariate calculus because I was pulling a “D”.  In retrospect, I should have dropped the boyfriend and kept the class).

I’ve always struggled with time management and information/paper management and home management, even as most of my duties in my careers dealt heavily with a need to be extremely organized.   Of my own accord and with my own money, I took a time management class as well as a project management class.   It didn’t really help though.  I still struggled with both time and paper management.

And whether I had few possessions, or a lot, I still had the same difficulty organizing my home.  I have bought a few organizational books and I read them, but they only soon became clutter.

Somehow, though, I managed to muddle my way through, despite mini-anxiety attacks regarding my awareness of not only my chronic disorganization, but my avoidance tactics of it as well.  If one thing consistently makes me ‘explode’ (and often creating more messes than the ones I’m exploding about), it’s when I can’t avoid the truth of the chaotic state of my environment any longer.    Just ask Mr. RSG, or the Smart Girls themselves.  They’ve seen me throw adult-sized tantrums because of it.  After a few too many of them, and feeling the ultimately destructive power of them, I’d been working on my internal state of being so that I wouldn’t respond in the same ways to clutter-induced frustration and stress.

Yet, still, while my intense responses have been dialed back quite considerably, I still have the problem of disorganization.  And, well, as the smart girls are growing, I see some of the same tendencies towards disorganization in them as well.

And as I look with a critical eye through my house, I am seeing what is comprising the clutter.   Books, books and more books (a few novels, mostly books on science, art, philosophy, creativity, writing, and spirituality as well as the girls’ collections -and it’s so hard not to go to the thrift shops where I can find great books for pennies).  Art supplies (both mine and the smart girls), games and toys for gifted kids, scientific magazines (so hard to pass up old copies of Science when I can pick them up for 25 cents at the library), National Geographic magazines, science kits and a lot of other educational things.

My husband has his tendency to start projects around the house and leave the tools where he last used them, though I think he’s getting somewhat better at taking them back to the garage (a black hole I get depressed going into).

It’s both funny and sad.  I used to think I was attached to ‘stuff’.  I’m really not.  I look around at the decorations in the rooms.   When I take a look at what’s in my bedroom (where I’m typing by the way), there’s very few decorative objects.   But what IS here is mostly books.  I have three small shelves, a long dresser, a bedside table and a desk, all literally covered in books.   My half of the closet?  The shelves have games for the girls and science kits.  The top shelf has three boxes full of letters – old letters from friends from 20 years ago, love letters and cards between my husband and I.

I’m feeling a mixture of shame and awe.   One part of me feels like I’m a slob and that my priorities are mixed up here.  The other part of me realizes the awesome comfort I get from being surrounded by my beautiful books – and within an arms reach of some great minds.  After this follows a really painful question:  Why do I have so many of these books?

I have been thinking about this question for a very long time.  I have been avoiding looking too hard at the answer.  I see the physical space being encroached upon by some really beautiful books and really neat educational things, but at the same time, realizing the truth – the trade-off is that there is little room here for living.    It’s painful to say that, even if it is true.

So, I have recently focused my attention on what I think my problem is.  I recently made a google search with these keywords (gifted and disorganized).    I found a really wonderful life coach specializing in this very topic.  Ariane Benefit wrote a post called The Truth about Chronic Disorganization: What Causes It and How to Heal the Trauma of Lifelong Overwhelm and Frustration, and from there I realized it’s now time to address some of my own issues with chronic disorganization, as well as help instill some better organizational habits in my daughters.

I love her website, because she understands giftedness, she understands creative personalities and ADHD/ADD, she understands being highly sensitive, she understands neurodiverse minds, she understands the addiction to achieve,  and the addiction to insight, and she’s had enormous success helping both individuals and companies out with their organizational difficulties.

She also has a Neat And Simple Living Blog, with a tagline that reads Over 700 posts on Living, Working, and Fluorishing With Neurodiversity Gifted, Highly Creative Technical, ADHD Adults.

I’ve looked at other life coaches’ websites for gifted individuals before, but I think this is the first one to have so much content available, not just about organization, but about  gifted and creative minds.   I’m going to try some of her techniques and see about taking some of her webinars.

I have been wondering myself where to take this blog next, and I think perhaps I might try to document our gifted families’ progress in this area.  I’d like to think about ways to make this a family project.   I think right now, that’s one of the biggest concerns for all of us.  As my two older girls are working in their gifted programs, they have more challenging work and independent projects to do.  They seem to be falling in the same trap of doing things at the last minute however, much like I did as a child.  I would like to help them reverse that trend before it becomes too entrenched in their habits and they start having anxiety and depression result from an inability to meet the challenges before them.

I would like to spend less of my own time feeling guilty and having a lot of stuck feelings for being a messie person.    I also have a lot of projects in mind, but with no real priorities over them, I get to them in some vague period of time, oftentimes losing interest along the way and feeling self-critical because of it.

Does any other gifted family struggle with disorganization? 

What have you done that works for your family?

This entry was posted in about the smart girls, Clutter, creativity, gifted adults, Gifted and Disorganized, gifted children, gifted support, highly sensitive mom, intellectual stuff, messie, organization, personal growth. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Gifted and Disorganized

  1. We must be cousins. Im lousy at organization. I rely on other people, and my cell phone calendar. I lose paper, forget to pay utilities until I get warnings… Im lousy at it. I’ve only found two things that help me: A to do list where I focus on one thing at a time, and a block of time set in my calendar for the big events.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Rick –

    That may be. Traditionally, I’ve started to do lists, then promptly lose the list. I love the idea of being super organized, and have had times when I was super-organized…for like 5 minutes. The minute I start working in that space, or handling paper or whatever, it soon reverts to chaos again.

    I have to write down where I go to substitute. I have a calendar for it. I can’t tell you for sure where it is right now. I have a few different bags I use – depending on if I’m an aide or a teacher (I use more stuff when I’m a teacher). I may or may not remember to move my calendar. Lots of times I don’t know where it is, so when the sub caller calls, I end up writing my information on scraps of paper which often get lost.

    It’s not even ADD, exactly, but not far off either. Some part of me thinks I do it on purpose, like while I like the idea of pristine order, there’s some mischievous imp in me rejects any sense of order. Or maybe there’s that part of me that likes living in a little bit of chaos…because it’s more interesting that having predictability. I often wonder about the relationship between an emotionally chaotic childhood and a strong resistance to order in adulthood. Like if things go smoothly, something doesn’t feel right.

    I wonder if there is some sort of attraction to being slightly off-kilter or having a little self-destructiveness going on (to go along with other issues like imposter syndrome and fear of success). And…more than that…what to do about it.

    It’s a bad day today. I’m even more sick, my daughter is too (she might have an allergic reaction to the zithromax I have to give her tonight – started getting a rash yesterday after the first dose but the doctor says I have to give her another dose, she if she’ll have a bad reaction before they substitute it).

    Nothing in this household is ever normal or predictable or worry-free (then again, what is when you are a parent?).

    I wonder if my outer environment is simply a reflection of the inner disquiet in my own mind.

    I remember you wrote a post once a LONG time ago about when things were TOO good, you had a tendency to mess things up. I totally relate to that. Have not yet found a lasting solution to it. And even while I find this woman’s wealth of information to be very possible, I’m almost afraid there will be one more thing I’ll try that I will not follow through on.

    I know me too well to kid myself. And I don’t like that.

    Have I mentioned I hate winter…and I hate being sick? They both make me really miserable. I hate when my girls are sick because I can’t bear to see them miserable.

  3. HI Casey! Thank you so much for your kind words about me and my work. You are clearly a brilliant, sensitive and capable woman who has so much to give. I truly hope you find your way to release the guilt, embrace your strengths and find your peace with yourself and your “to do list”. If you would like additional support, I’m launching the birth of my 20 year quest in a new program for 2013 called “AgiliZen” . It’s officially launching Jan. 8, but I’m “soft launching” starting tomorrow. If you would like to check it out in advance…visit my website at Please feel free to email me if you have any questions! Whatever you do, I wish you amazing success and a soft journey through the crucible of surrendering to your true self. It can be a tough ride…but the arrival is AWESOME! : )

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Ariane –

    Thank you so much! I do appreciate the words of encouragement (they are coming at a very, very good time for me). I’ve been seriously considering your program and I have been waiting to see when it began. I do not have to wait long at all.

    Thank you for letting me know about it because it might have been a bit before I checked back to see when you were ready to launch the program. I think it’s time to invest in something that I feel that speaks to me and I think will be just what I need at this point in my life.

    I will check it out and I will let you know if I have questions. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I wish you the very best with your work!


    • You are so welcome! I think your writing and insights are MAGNIFICENT! you said “I often wonder about the relationship between an emotionally chaotic childhood and a strong resistance to order in adulthood.” It’s definitely related but not for the reasons you might think. The answers are actually quite complex and yes, even counter-intuitive.

      It takes a while to grok the whole neuroscience and epigenetics of it all, but suffice to say, it’s NOT some self-destructive force. There is no part of you that is ever doing anything but trying to cope the best it can and protect you.

      You may be tired or have a mind that is processing / connecting / creating so many things at once it has “window crashes” just like a computer…but that is not a “destructive” force – it’s more like a “trip valve” and an alarm going off.

      What we never learned was how to listen to those alarms and respond in a way that fully supports us. I would be thrilled and honored to have you in the community…and ecstatic to have you in the group coaching program…in whatever way is best for you. You are CLEARLY and exactly who I created Agilizen for!

      • raisingsmartgirls says:

        I have a huge smile. I love the Heinlein reference. Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my absolute favorite books and grok one of my most favorite words.

        I think I may have a mind that is processing / connecting / creating so many things at once AND I have a tired spirit. I do have some interesting insights sometimes…yet, I’m having trouble putting my insights to good use while some not so minor life events have caused some stress and mild anxiety which interferes a lot in my life.

        I’d say I could use some help learning how to listen to those alarms and respond in a way that fully supports me, so that I may, in turn, support my family. It’s kind of been the other way around. I support and nurture them, and often forget to do the simple things…like EAT while I’m chasing ideas down.

        Yes, I’d say I have window crashes. More frequently than before, and I’d like to change that.

        Thank you, Ariane…

        When the girls go to bed tonight…I’ll do some more reading. I talked a little bit to my husband about it earlier, but only briefly. He knows I’ve been wanting to invest in myself for a while now and I’ll explore your program information in greater depth with him.

  5. p.s. Hope you feel better soon!

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