5 Ways To Help Someone Living In C.H.A.O.S. (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome)

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woman with hands on hips looking at messy house
Self

When you think about chaos, what comes to mind?

If you've seen the movie "The Wizard of Oz," you remember that Dorothy’s house is picked up by a tornado. The house and everything around it are caught up in the swirling wind.

That's what I picture when I think about chaos. If I’m thinking about chaos in a home, the picture includes objects put randomly in places that make little sense, as if a tornado went through it.

Maybe you picture a disorganized kitchen with cooking implements and ingredients all over the space or laundry piled on multiple surfaces. There could be children, dogs, cats, or all of the above running around with lots of noise everywhere.

Typically, for someone living in C.H.A.O.S., there's no place within the home to escape to find peace.

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For professional organizers, C.H.A.O.S. means "Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome."

The person living in C.H.A.O.S. doesn’t want you inside their home because they're embarrassed by the way it looks. They're afraid of what you'll say to them if they did let you in.

This person most likely feels that they should be able to get their home straightened up by themselves. After all, it never used to look like this.

They use negative self-talk and continually beat themselves up over the way their home looks now. Often, they blame themselves for letting it get this far and worry about what their friends will say or think about them.

Someone living in C.H.A.O.S. may be dealing with: shame, embarrassment, guilt, and anxiety.

It’s easier to keep you out rather than deal with these painful emotions.

When visitors come in, so do the negative thoughts and feelings that led to C.H.A.O.S. in the first place

How do you know if someone is living with Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome?

If you've always picked your friend up to go to lunch or dinner together but recently they started insisting that they'll meet you there instead, this is a sign they may be living in C.H.A.O.S.

Is there something inside their house they don’t want you to know about? What are they hiding?

If you want to help someone with Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome, here are 5 ways to do it:

1. Ask why they no longer invite you in.

Let them know you're there to support them. No matter what happened, you won't judge them. You're their friend or loved one and will do whatever you're allowed to help them with to get their home back in order.

Did you notice I used the word "allowed"? You can only do what they'll let you. If they say they're not ready for help, you have to respect that. Perhaps they'll tell you they know what to do, they just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Resist the temptation to push back. Your impulse, as a friend, is to want to help. Insisting that the project will go much faster with two or three people is not going to get you through the door.

Accept that they know you want to help. Hopefully, they will reach out to you when they're ready. And you can offer to help again in a month or two.

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2. Be very aware of your body language.

So, now, your friend is ready to allow you inside their home.

If you can’t believe what you're seeing, don’t let that show on your face. Smile and ask where they want to start. Do not stare at the chaos and be sure to keep your arms relaxed.

Putting your hands on your hips is a power stance. You're not the one in charge here. Folding your arms in front of you signifies you are protecting yourself. So, be aware of your own body and stay relaxed.

Refrain from making a comment like, "Wow, I never imagined it was as bad as this!" It will only make them feel worse.

Try not to ask what happened. It doesn’t matter. That's in the past. The only way is forward. Don't waste your time asking what precipitated the mess. Your friend will tell you the details of what happened as you work quietly side-by-side.

What do they need to get started? If they need supplies, offer to get them.

Maybe they need an outside resource like a plumber, electrician, or carpenter. Do you have someone you can call?

Do they want to organize or clean up a specific place before they let a technician inside?

3. Be an active listener.

Mindfully listen to what the person is telling you.

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Challenge yourself not to be thinking of your response while they're talking to you. Wait until they finish speaking. Make sure you understand what they're saying. Ask for clarification if you’re unsure.

Only work in spaces they say are OK to tackle.

4. Limit the time.

Doing this sort of work is hard for you as the helper and exhausting for your friend. They are dealing with things that have been building up for years.

When you spend too much time at once organizing, recycling, tossing, and cleaning up, sometimes people make hasty decisions.

Stop after a couple of hours. Take a break. Have a snack and then decide if you have enough energy to work another couple of hours or if that's enough for now.

5. Be non-judgmental.

The absolute most important way to help someone living in C.H.A.O.S. is to be non-judgmental. The minute your friend thinks you're passing judgment on them or the chaos in their home, you'll be asked to leave and probably won't be invited back.

Exercise patience and kindness.

Helping someone living with Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome is difficult and may well be more than you can handle.

If this is the case, refer your friend to a qualified professional organizer.

Both the Institute for Challenging Disorganization and the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Specialists have directories that list professional organizers qualified to help.

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Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer and the Owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC, co-author of Filled Up and Overflowing: What to Do When Life Events, Chronic Disorganization, or Hoarding Go Overboard, and creator of a weekly newsletter that helps others with organization.