Oct 28

The term ‘messie syndrome’ first appeared in the media when an American woman published how she had turned into a ‘messie’ during the 1980s and how difficult it was for her to change her behavior and get control over her life again.

Messies accumulate objects that have become worthless and useless in their apartments. Slowly, these places will become less and less habitable, in extreme cases they can just be crossed by narrow corridores between stacks of filled plastic bags, storage boxes or heaps of old magazines or books; they might even become a hygienic issue due to insect infestation or bad odor. Still, a messie can not just throw these things out, as he or she feels that they have important emotional value or that one day, they might need them again or that some of them belong to a certain collection they want to keep.

The deeper psychological problem of ‘messies’ is that they have serious difficulties to maintain or achieve order and to organize themselves. While they are often aware of the problem and develop plans on how to get rid of their ‘mess’, they fail at putting these plans into action, which leaves them even more frustrated. This also has an impact on their self-esteem and quite often results in refraining from social contacts, at times resulting in chronic isolation.

It is not a solution to force affected persons to organize themselves and get rid of what we see as ‘rubbish’, they would see that as violent, rude, and a serious intrusion into their privacy. Messies are often very intelligent and sensitive people, they easily perceive if someone doesn’t take them seriously. They just lack the automatism that old stuff has to be chucked away.

Today, a well-proven approach to help messies to slowly solve their problem, is a combination of psychotherapy and if possible, to find peer exchange in self-help groups. In severe cases, social workers might have to be involved. The affected persons will learn how to develop and apply strategies that will eventually work out better than what they themselves have tried so far. It might be something that takes some time, but at the end, the former ‘messies’ will gain personal freedom and remarkably improve their self esteem.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2010)