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How Professional Organizers Work: When should you hire one?

Look familiar? That's not a good sign.
Look familiar? That's not a good sign.
Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Thinkstock

Alice kept "The Brady Bunch" household functioning like a well-oiled machine, but not everyone enjoys the luxury of being able to employ a fulltime housekeeper who can dedicate his or her energy to cleaning up clutter and keeping stuff organized. As a result, households often contain all manner of disorganized disaster zones like home offices, pantries or closets. Workplaces, too, frequently suffer from organizational issues that diminish output, hinder work performance or just make being at the office unpleasant.

It's in situations like these that professional organizers can be of assistance. Not only will a high-quality professional organizer help address specific problem areas, he or she will also help educate clients so they can continue to stay organized going forward.

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The services of professional organizers are typically categorized into three broad genres: residential organization, home office organization and corporate organization. Of course those general classifications often include many potential services, some of which occasionally overlap. On the next couple pages, we'll take a closer look at the general services to help you determine whether your situation could benefit from the attentions of an expert organizer or if it's something you should be able to handle on your own.

Hiring a professional organizer might seem like a disaster-only situation, but many people -- from busy professionals to overwhelmed stay-at-home parents -- find it worthwhile to call in the reinforcements. Professional organizers can help around the home in loads of ways. They can:

  • Tackle a closet packed to the brim with questionable clothing ensembles and an army of shoes, restocking it in a way that makes sense
  • Address a playroom littered with toys that never seem to find the appropriate storage nooks and crannies
  • Assist with paperwork pileups scattered across desks, whether that's a heap of unsorted bills, daunting tax forms or complicated estate planning
  • Wrangle a client's electronic life down to a more manageable level
  • Attack a jam-packed attic, basement or garage
  • Help out in life-changing situations like a downsized home, a big move or a merging of households

When hiring professional organizers, it's important to express your needs as clearly as you can. Their job is to listen -- without judgment -- and hatch a plan to get your organizational situation on track. Remember that organizers are different from housecleaners -- people who come into your home, tidy things up and leave. Instead, professional organizers offer visits and consultations to help you solve the immediate concerns and develop long-term strategies for moving forward. Most professional organizers prefer in-home (or in-office) consultations, although virtual visits may be an option if you live in a remote area.

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While interviewing prospective professional organizers, there are a few things to look out for other than experience and qualifications (which we'll discuss more on the next page). Obviously, you want to make sure the two of you get along; this person is going to be rolling up his or her sleeves and going elbow-deep into your personal life. Organizers will want to know what efforts you've made in the past, what activities occupy most of your time and what your organizational goals are.

While often brought in for an immediate need, a professional organizer will also help his or her client learn strategies to continue to stay organized in the future. After all, what good does it do if a week later you slip back into your old habits? One good way to recognize whether your situation calls for a professional organizer is if you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with your particular mess. If the very thought leaves you stressed or even panicked that you'll never get things under control, then that's an excellent sign you need someone who can help with the immediate problem, and coach you on ways to avoid slipping into the same cycle.

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Some professional organizers focus on helping in the business environment. They might address time management, goal setting and other workflow issues. They could help employees with file management -- both physical and electronic -- or they might address space design complications. But basically, it's similar to the residential organizer's two-prong approach: assisting employees with addressing specific and immediate issues, and training them to be more efficient and organized in the future.

Sometimes, office organizers can be hired to help an entire department or company. If you notice your employees seem to have trouble meeting their deadlines or prioritizing their workloads, but you believe they're still quality workers who could simply benefit from a little additional on-the-job training, you might want to consider hiring a professional organizer to shore up their skills and get them back on track.

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Some questions you will want to address before consulting any professional organizers are their areas of expertise, since it's obvious some will focus more on the messy basement side of organizing while others tackle an office's electronic data. Also consider the organizers':

  • training and certification
  • subcontracting policies
  • references and insurance details
  • time estimate
  • strategic proposals
  • fee systems

Fees are based on a number of factors, such as how many years they have been in the business, what sort of training and certifications they have, whether or not extensive travel will be required on their part and their areas of expertise. As with any industry, the more knowledgeable the consultant, or the more demanding the job, the more you can expect to pay.

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Before embarking on this article, I had had no idea that there even was such a career as professional organizer. But as I went along, I really began to understand how such a profession would benefit a lot of people who are overwhelmed by the disorganization in their lives.

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Sources

  • Baker, Adam. "Sell Your Crap." (March 12, 2012.) http://manvsdebt.com/
  • Board of Certification for Professional Organizers. (March 12, 2012.) http://certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org/faq.php
  • 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/
  • Nevils, Brooke. "Turn Clutter into Cash." Woman's Day. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.womansday.com/life/saving-money/selling-used-items-online?link=emb&dom=yah_life&src=syn&con=blog_wd&mag=wdy
  • Professional Organizers in Canada. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.organizersincanada.com/
  • OnlineOrganizing.com. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.onlineorganizing.com/Home.asp
  • 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/
  • Thomas, Holly. "Yard-sale savvy: Turn clutter into cash." The Washington Post. Sept. 9, 2010. (March 12, 2012.) http://www.organizersincanada.com/

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