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What Does a Professional Organizer Do?

This is a question I get all the time, what is it that I really do? Some people think I organize events like 5K runs or protest marches and a number of people are surprised that there is an industry devoted to my profession. Basically put, I help people in their homes or offices. Help how? I help my clients deal with a myriad of possessions including clothing, books, paperwork, furniture, tools, heirlooms, photos, keepsakes, kitchen goods, kids toys, collections, filing systems, anything that you find in most homes, garages, storage units and barns. I also help clients with productivity, time management, chronic disorganization and how to manage their homes so that they will hopefully lead a calmer, more streamlined and prolific life. I also help people with hoarding tendencies.

Older generations are wondering how this profession ever became a profession in the first place. Homemakers in the 1950’s didn’t seem to have trouble keeping their homes neat and tidy and certainly weren’t drowning in paper, clothes and a vast accumulation of “stuff”. Times changed, women joined the workforce, people worked more hours and our society equated success with top notch belongings. Keeping up with the Joneses became a saying for a reason. Things were cheap, stores popped up everywhere and brand loyalty slipped away.

Now we have so much stuff, especially clothes and paper, that we don’t know what to do with it all! A common theory is that those who grew up during the great depression kept everything out of necessity and they passed that ideal down to their children and so on and so forth. Sure there is some truth to that but it’s been quite a while since food was rationed and things like metal and rubber were hard to come by. So an industry was born. The National Association of Professional Organizers was founded in 1983 by a group of women who were offering organizing services in Los Angeles and decided it was ideal to exchange ideas and network. Today, with approximately 4,000 members, NAPO is recognized worldwide as The Organizing Authority®

The number one reason why potential clients reach out to me is because they are overwhelmed. They have a lot of things that are disorganized and they don’t know where to start. We are losing all sorts of time looking for lost keys, papers, and other items. We can’t park in our garage because there’s no room; we buy things that we already own because we forgot we owned them or can’t find them. The offsite storage industry is booming as people rent more space to store things. Putting a cluttered home up for sale will take longer to sell than a home that is orderly and will probably sell for less. The average American receives 49,060 pieces of mail in their lifetime; 1/3 of it is junk mail. We are stressed out, overloaded with information, working harder, not necessarily smarter and a number of us are dealing with the estates of our aging parents.

Lucky for me, I get to help! I visit my client’s space; I listen to their story and understand their goals without judging them. Together we come up with a plan of attack and then we dig in, sorting thing into categories such as toss, recycle, donate, sell, return to original owner, shred, give away and of course, keep. It’s often times more than decluttering; it’s actually downsizing the amount of belongings and keeping the remainder in a way that is systematic and logical. Some clients have lived in the same home for 25-50 years and the time has come to move into something smaller, more efficient, perhaps nearer to adult children or into an assisted living facility. My clients are combining households, moving out of their city residence to live full time in the country or are two families that will be living as one. People that have rented a storage unit thinking it was temporary become tired of paying to house stuff that they no longer need or love. Even though you keep hearing the term “paperless” so many of us are still holding onto to bank statements from 15 years ago or receipts that have faded beyond recognition over time, boxes and boxes of them. It’s not all cut and dried; there are emotions, sentimentality and a lot of decision making. The work can be physically tiring but more so, it’s mentally fatiguing. I’m there as a cheerleader, the voice of reason, the expert who has dealt with similar situations many times before. I help to keep us focused, to work in a productive manner and most importantly, to get things done!

Helping my clients achieve their goals is satisfying but being allowed into their lives, to enter their personal space, to hear the stories behind the inanimate objects and to help them to move forward is extremely rewarding. There are interesting finds, lots of “Oh, that’s where that is” or “I thought it was lost forever”. There are some tears, hugs and laughs. Shoulders that have carried heavy weights are relieved, spaces that were practically useless become viable again and people become mindful of what they use, want, need or love in a new manner even if it’s as simple as knowing where the extra batteries are.