Professional organizing is a relatively new profession, and as such it may be difficult to know where to start and what to expect when you want to work with an organizer. You might have seen professional organizers work on TV. Please bear in mind that the TV programs do not show the numerous behind-the-scenes helpers. It is difficult to get a sense of what the true timeline is for an organizing project when the entire process is compressed in an hour-long segment. There's also the cost. The TV shows have sponsors who provide goods and services. Your organizing project will take longer than an hour, will be manned by you and your organizer (and perhaps her organizer crew if she has one), and you will pay the cost of the services and the tools. But of course, you probably knew all of that. How do you get started in finding the right person to create the order you want? These guidelines should help.
• Where do I find organizers? In the United States there are three professional groups that can provide assistance in finding an organizer: the National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net), the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.com) and the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (www.aapo.org). Additionally, NAPO has many local chapters across the country that are listed on its website. It doesn’t hurt to ask a friend or another professional whom you are already working with. There is some comfort in having a referral from someone you trust.
• Specialist or generalist? Based on your project, do you want someone who is a specialist in the area and the items you want to organize such as paper, pantries, or photos? Perhaps a generalist who has a broad skill set will suite your needs. What do you need as a client? Do you have special challenges? Have you tried several times in the past to get organized without much success? Is ADHD part of the picture? Organizers specialize in the type of work that they do and also in the type of clients they help. Their specialties are sometimes backed by training and certification. Talk to several organizers so you can find the right person for you.
• One organizer or a team of organizers? The answer depends on the type of project, the timeline, the budget and you. It is important to keep in mind that you are the one who makes the final decisions about the disposition of your things, and the speed of your decision-making is in part what throttles the speed of the project. A team can be very useful in sorting and arranging items to facilitate decision-making. A team can be very useful in implementing organizing systems quickly. With a team-approach there may be a bit of distance between you and the work being done. That distance may make it more difficult to process the underlying principles and strategies of the organizing systems, which may lead to some difficulty maintaining the systems.
• What do you need to build your comfort? When interviewing an organizer pay attention to the content of the information she provides and also your comfort level during the conversation. In addition to the particulars of your project, ask about experience, insurance, references, credentials, rates, and other points that you feel are important.
• Have a budget in mind. Hiring a professional is an investment is living a more productive office and a more focused and uncluttered life. Have an idea of how much time and money you can invest in your organizing goals.
You have found the right organizer for the project. How can you maximize the benefits of working with this professional?
• Have a goal. What is the most important part of the goal and what is the least? Prioritizing helps make sure that the most effort is invested in the area that will make the greatest impact for you. If prioritizing is a challenge for you then work out the priorities with a friend, family member or the organizer. Here's a bonus, you may decide that the least important aspect of the project is not worth the investment of time and money - that's less work for you and some savings.
• Focus during your appointment. Do everything you can to minimize distractions. Turn off your phone. Arrange for a play date out of the home for your children or energetic pets. Keep the TV turned off. Turn off your email alert. Focus on the project at hand.
• Be open and honest with your organizer. Organizers who belong to NAPO follow an ethical code of being non-judgmental and keeping client information confidential. Do not feel you have to "clean up" to invite an organizer into your home. In fact, it's actually helpful if an organizer can see how things are in your home in order to create systems that will work with your lifestyle and needs. Please provide feedback for your organizer. An organizer has expertise about decluttering and organizing systems. You have expertise about your life - what works and what doesn't work for you. Together you and the organizer will need to figure out systems that will support you.
• Ask for homework between organizing appointments and do it. By "homework" I mean what steps you can take that will move the project along. Homework gives you an opportunity to practice skills and save money. If accountability is a challenge, consider what it will take to support you: a phone call to a friend or a check mark on a list of tasks? Have a discussion before the end of the organizing appointment about what you need to help you get the homework done.
• Ask questions. As professionals we want to make sure that our clients get what they need to organize their space. We want to be clear and provide enough information to empower you.
• Learn how to maintain your newly organized space. Wouldn't it be wonderful if organizing were a "won and done" sort of thing? It isn't. If we go back to the habits that got us to that point of discomfort, we are going to end up back where we started. Find out what you can do differently so you can maintain your space.
• Be gentle on yourself. You will take a couple steps forward and a step back – several times. It will happen. Rather than beat yourself up for that step back consider this: there is a lot we can learn from taking a step back. Consider viewing these new habits as an experiment in finding what works for you. In experiments some things work and some don’t. Change what doesn’t work and try again. If you need a little extra help, ask the organizer.
Working with a professional organizer can make an incredible difference in your life, but you will need to do some work in finding the right person for you and in making the changes that will support the order you crave. It’s similar to finding the right physician for you and then following her plan to improve your health. You still need to do some work, but that work is targeted for what’s appropriate for you. With the support and guidance of a professional you make progress rather than remain stuck in an inappropriate “solution.”