It’s not unusual for a new client to ask me what she should do before I arrive at her home for the first time. (And, yes, most—but not all—of my clients are women.) Most assume they need to clean up the house.
I almost always suggest that the client not clean up her home for me. Piles and messy spots can be revealing. They reveal where the client and/or her family naturally tends to rest stuff. They reveal the stuff that’s actually in use, typically. They reveal an absence of a working system for handling the mail.
There’s no need to be ashamed of piles and messy spots. It’s why you’re looking for help, after all. (And believe me, I’ve had professional organizers help me in my home, so I understand the discomfort of airing my dirty laundry, so to speak.)
What you can do that is helpful is to spend a little type visualizing what you would like your space—and your life—to be once you achieve your organizing goals. Try to put that into words that you can share with your organizer. Knowing what success looks like is a huge part of achieving it. And being able to communicate that vision of success will really help your organizer.
So I suggest you put aside the notion that you have to clean up. Take that energy and put it into thinking and perhaps writing down what you desired when you decided to call in an organizer. And, please, be kind to yourself. Self-recrimination over a messy space doesn’t do you or anyone else any good.
I wrote this post in 2013 and came across it again today. I think the advice is still good. Even if you’re working with digital, not printed, photos, creating good labels (in the metadata) is a good practice. It makes the photos much more valuable for generations to come.
I blogged over at Organize Your Family History about the importance of labeling photos while the information is fresh in your mind. It’s also important to make the labels meaningful.
While I was going through a box of old (very old) family photos with my mother on my recent visit to Walla Walla, we came across this one, whose label made me laugh.
In the absence of a date, that’s a meaningless label. Well, virtually meaningless. At the very least, we know this photo is about 95 years old, since my mother inherited it after her mother died in 1999. And let’s not even talk about the fact that the label doesn’t mention who is in the photo!
Now that we’re printing out fewer and fewer photos, remember that you can label digital photos as well, using metadata. That’s a little easier said than done as this blog post from the Library of Congress discusses, but worth the effort.
When it comes to archiving your own photos, I urge you to think of the next generations who will be looking at them. That means consider getting rid of duplicates and bad shots and labeling those that you deem worth keeping and passing on! Great labels include the names of the people in the photos and where and when it was shot. If it’s a special occasion, that’s nice to mention too!
If you’ve read my blog or website before, you’ve seen me write about NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. This educational organization has been a huge part of my life and business since I started Peace of Mind Organizing® in 2005.
In 2017, NAPO members voted to change the association’s Doing Business As name. The new name is National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals. (The website remains the same, NAPO.net.) A new logo to go with the new name was revealed just a week ago. Here it is:
I think it’s lovely!
NAPO’s acronym will not change. The new name reflects that professional organizers help people more with stuff; we help with their productivity, at work and at home, as well.
It’s going to take me little while to update everything on my website and even longer, perhaps, to say the correct name when I’m talking. I’m very glad NAPO will remain NAPO!
I originally wrote this post in 2011 and asked colleagues to add to it in the comments. It became my most popular post. I last updated it in 2014, so I decided it’s time for another update. I deleted links (and comments) that are no longer current and added some of the information shared in the comments into the body of the post. I’ve also updated some of the text.
I regularly receive emails from people who are interested in becoming a professional organizer, asking me if I am hiring. It occurred to me that I could save them the time writing (and be helpful to people too bashful to write), if I created a blog post with the information I usually write to these folks. That’s worked out well—I also suggest the people who do write me read this post if they haven’t already.
So here’s what I think you need to do to become a professional organizer:
Love people. In my experience, being a PO is more about the people and less about the organizing. Of course you should love organizing as well, but if you don’t love working with people (and if you can’t stop yourself from judging the organizationally challenged), this might not be the field for you.
Invest in professional association memberships. The first thing I did when I decided to become a PO was to join the National Association of Professional Organizers. (This year, NAPO changed its name to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, while maintaining the acronym NAPO.) I would have joined a NAPO chapter instantly, but St. Louis didn’t have one back in 2005. But we do now. Joining NAPO not only gives you credibility, it gives you access to the knowledge of a thousands of organizers through its chapters and its online communities and conferences. If you live outside the U.S., you can join NAPO, but you might also want to check if there’s an organizers’ association in your country. The IFPOA is a good place to start.
NAPO has a Getting Started Guide with information on how NAPO can help people who are starting an organizing business. The information is free. Go to www.napo.net, scroll down to the bottom right and click on the box that says How can NAPO help you grow in the organizing and productivity industry?. That will lead you to a page where you enter your name and email address to be sent a link to download the free document.
Invest in training and education. The second thing I did was join the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (back then it was called the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization). I started taking their teleclasses, which were (and still are) a great educational value and also gave my confidence a boost. NAPO also offers excellent education for professional organizers through its NAPO University. They’re available both as live webinars and on-demand at your convenience. (The live webinars have the benefit of allowing you to ask questions of the instructor.) If you’re an aspiring organizer, pay close attention to the lower-cost two-hour class, Introduction to Professional Organizing and Productivity, which is also available in Spanish. I took two NAPO education classes my first year of business (PO104-Starting an Organizing Business and the equivalent of PO101-Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Principles and PO102-Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Skills) and the offerings have only gotten more extensive since then. NAPO’s membership structure has changed since I started out. Now, when you join, you are considered a provisional member until you complete three specific classes: PO101, PO102 and PO103-Ethics for Professional Organizers and Productivity Specialists. I applaud this emphasis on education!
Invest in conferences. I’m a conference junkie. I love them. There’s no better way to learn about the industry, in my opinion. I went to the first NAPO and NSGCD (now ICD) conferences that were available after I became a PO. And I’ve been to almost every one since. I even attended the Australasian Association of Professional Organizers conference in Brisbane, Australia, in 2009! Here are some conferences to take note of: The 2018 NAPO conference retreat will be near Chicago in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania April 27 to 29, 2017. And the 2017 ICD conference September 26 to 28, in St. Charles, Missouri. The 2017 Professional Organizers in Canada conference will be held November 2 to 4 in Toronto.
Think about a training program. A number of professional organizers offer training programs for new POs. I haven’t been through any of their programs myself, but here are some of the more prominent ones:
Get coaching from another organizer. One great way to get personalized help is to hire an organizer to work with you one-on-one with you, either in person or on the phone. It’s a great way to get all your questions answered, with a laser focus.
Get your website going. I think a good website is absolutely essential. (I rarely hire service providers who don’t have one.) I know for a fact that my website brings in the majority of my business. My fabulous web designer Nora Brown, is no longer working in this field, unfortunately. If you’re a DIY type, you might consider creating your own website—though I think hiring someone is a good investment. I created my other blog, Organize Your Family History, myself using Site Setup Kit to take me step by step through the process of creating and customizing this Wordpress blog. (That’s an affiliate link, which means that I am paid if you click on that link and then buy Site Setup Kit.)
Do freebies if necessary. In my first six months of business, I did freebies for friends in exchange for testimonials and before-and-after pictures for my website. It gave me valuable, relatively low-stress organizing experience (we took these sessions very seriously) and it helped me build my website. That worked very well for me.
Don’t ignore social media. When I was starting out, social media as we know it wasn’t in existence, but I did start blogging fairly early on. Social media can drive traffic to your website, give you a presence outside (as well as inside) your local area and help build relationships with colleagues and companies in related industries. I think it’s worth the effort. At the very least, choose one social media outlet and try to create a presence there. I use Twitter and Facebook most, but I know that Pinterest also drives traffic to my two blogs.
Becoming a professional organizer is a fairly low-overhead proposition. But I’d urge you to invest in professional associations, conferences, training or classes, coaching and website development. I’m awfully glad I did.
If you’re wondering what you might get out of becoming a professional organizer, check out the blog post I wrote in January 2013, Why I’m a professional organizer. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, I have a series of Insider’s Guides for New Organizers, with more in-depth insights on what it takes to build a successful organizing business. There are currently four guides available, ranging in length from 6 to 12 pages. Each costs $9. Click here to purchase any or all of them.
I’d like to thank all the POs who have already enriched this blog post by adding comments (please be sure and read them). If you’re a PO, feel free to add your two cents if you haven’t already!
For seven years, I’ve periodically swapped organizing services with the amazing Aby Garvey. Aby is not only great at making spaces function really well, she makes them beautiful too. I absolutely love watching Aby fiddle with a collection of something to make it look great in a container. I could do it all day.
This past Saturday, Aby was kind enough to come to home and help me address my the large closet in my home office, where I keep supplies. Three years ago, she helped me tackle the same space and made it really lovely. I blogged about that experience in a post called Lessons learned while decluttering. In the intervening three years the space had become a little unruly. It still functioned well, but it had lost its visual peace.
I thought Aby could work her magic on it and didn’t really think there was much I’d let go of. I was wrong about that latter point.
Here’s a before picture. Not bad. Not great.
And here’s the after picture.
Ahhhh. I was able to let go of a lot of stuff that wasn’t serving me, which allowed for more open space. I can’t stop looking at it. It makes me smile.
What really struck me, as usual, is how much easier it is to let go of stuff in the presence of an organizer. Aby wasn’t cajoling me by any stretch of the imagination, though she did encourage me. But there’s something about the focus on my stuff that comes during a session with an organizer, along with the objective presence of a professional, that allowed me to make decisions that for years I’d been avoiding.
I ended up letting go of a lot of items I had decided to keep during that 2014 session with Aby. For example, we had created a little box marked “Special Notebooks” that I literally hadn’t opened since we created it. Virtually everything in that box was donated, along with the box itself.
I donated three bags and two boxes of books, office supplies and notebooks. (I have a thing for notebooks, even though I barely use them anymore.) I donated a binder whose spine label made me realize I’d had it for about 25 years. It felt really great to part with stuff that had just been languishing in my office for no good reason.
I absolutely have the skills to organize my office-supply closet myself. But it’s much less enjoyable to organize alone. Having Aby there not only made it made the organizing session fun, it made it more effective. I let go of stuff I probably wouldn’t have on my own. And I benefited from Aby’s expertise and aesthetics. Lucky me!
Thank you, Aby!
In 2010, I starting publishing my Organizing Guides, concise downloadable pdfs containing bits of wisdom on various organizing topics. Currently, there are eight Organizing Guides, focused on providing help to the general public.
In 2014, I added a guide to the collection aimed at helping people who want to start an organizing business. The most widely read post on this blog is my post on becoming a professional organizer. (Watch for a new update to that post soon!) I wrote that guide to help provide more in-depth information for new or aspiring organizers.
I’ve added three more guides for new organizers and renamed the series the Insider’s Guides for New Organizers. Currently there are four available:
Each of these guides is designed to stand alone, so some of the most important points are repeated. But each has its own focus.
If you’re a new or aspiring professional organizer and are curious about what qualities I attribute my business success to, please check out the Insider’s Guides for New Organizers. I plan to continue adding new titles to the series in the very near future!
Like the Organizing Guides, the Insider’s Guides are only $9 each. They range in length from 6 to 12 pages. Click here for more information and to purchase them!
I’ve had a crazy busy couple of weeks working with clients. It’s been very rewarding, but it’s meant that some administrative tasks (and mess) have built up in my absence. When I came home after a long day, I did the bare minimum to keep my business running. Tasks like working on Quickbooks and putting away papers fell by the wayside.
I’m thrilled to have a two whole days at my desk this week (today and tomorrow) and a light client load next week. It’s after 3 pm and while I have created some order, not a whole lot else has been accomplished. I’m particularly distractible today—I’m finding myself bouncing from small task to small task and website to website. I have a task list, but I’m not exactly plowing through it.
When this happens, I know that it’s time to pull out my secret weapon: My timer. I know from experience that when I set my timer for just a few minutes—as little as five minutes—I get stuff done. I like playing beat the clock, and knowing the clock is ticking in the background tends to keep me focused.
Once the timer goes off, I pick a new task (or keep going on what I’m working on) and set the timer again. I find on days like this, I’ll get a lot more done in five five-minute bursts followed by a five-minute break than I will if I set the timer for 30 minutes.
My other big challenge this month is get some writing done. My writing projects include a promised guest post for Unclutterer, an article for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, and my own organizing guides, not to mention posts for both my blogs. I had hoped to get the non-blog writing finished this month and suddenly the end of the month is just a week away.
I have high hopes that I’ll have a productive writing week next week, but if that’s going to happen, I need to get started now. So today I made a list of the writing I hope to accomplish in the next week and what the priorities are.
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started, and I’d like to start on the first piece today. That’s where my timer comes into play. I know which article I want to work on. Once I publish this blog post, I’m going to set a timer for 15 minutes, with the plan to do two 15-minute bursts. Then I’ll call it a day for writing. I know that having started today will make it easier to keep going tomorrow.
So on these days when my problem isn’t that I don’t have enough time but rather that I don’t have enough focus, I pull out these handy tools:
Now it’s 4 pm. I could beat myself up over my lack of productivity today. Instead, I’m going to give myself a little productivity boost and set myself up for great success tomorrow by creating a great, detailed task list to the start the day with.