Reader question: Should I hire a professional organizer?

Reader Mike sent us the following questions:

Lately I have been considering hiring an uncluttering company to come in and help simplify my life. Do you have any advice? How much should I pay? How do I know a good organizer from a bad before I hire them? Do people usually go back to their cluttered ways after they leave? How do I find one locally?

I’ll start my response by addressing the last question first because it’s the easiest to answer. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) has a search function on its website where you can search for organizers by location (non-US organizers are listed, too) and by specialty (residential vs. corporate, feng shui, estate, etc.). This search function is the best that I have found online. You also can turn to your local classified ads for listings. I’ve had success finding organizers in the following ad sections: home organizing, business organizing, time management, and life coaching.

Unfortunately, the answers to your other questions are much less straightforward.

How much you should expect to pay will vary based on where you live, the size of the project, and the billing system of the organizer. Some organizers charge hourly rates and others have per-project billing. Feel comfortable getting quotes from multiple organizers the same way you would get quotes from cleaning companies and mechanics.

It is wise to consult with a number of organizers, especially if you don’t have any personal recommendations, to see which one best fits with your expectations and personality. You do not need to be buddies with your organizer, but disliking or having little respect for your organizer will make the uncluttering process difficult. Find an organizer whom you trust and will successfully help you achieve your goals. All members of the National Association of Professional Organizers are supposed to be guided by a code of ethics, but you may find that not all organizers are created equal. Check your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against the organizer, contact the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers to verify certification status, ask for references, and follow your instincts when hiring an organizer.

Finally, I’ll address your fears about reversion. You should remember that reverting to your cluttered ways is always a possibility after bringing in a professional organizer. A good organizer, however, will help you establish routines and systems to keep you on an uncluttered path. During a recent interview with Peter Walsh, I asked him about his former clients and how he keeps them from reverting to their old ways. Here is his insightful response:

As odd as it sounds, I don’t focus on the clutter when I help families declutter. The stuff is a distraction to potential success. The first step in addressing clutter in a home is to help the family define the vision they have for the life they want – what do they want their lives, their home, their rooms and living spaces to look like, to feel like and to function. This is the starting point in the process. If you work from this point, the chances of permanent change are significant and almost guaranteed. It’s not about the stuff; it’s about what you want from your life and how you will make that dream a reality. Long-lasting change is possible – I see it every day. That said, the single most important maintenance tip is to respect the limits that your physical space places on you and, once those limits are reached, you must remove an item from your home before you can add a similar item – one in, one out. It’s simple and it works.

16 Comments for “Reader question: Should I hire a professional organizer?”

  1. posted by Joel on

    File this under ‘how do I know if I have too much money?’

  2. posted by Melinda on

    You don’t have to have too much money to have too much clutter. I lived with broke and clutter for 20 years.

  3. posted by Joel on

    You have to have too much money to hire some scam artist to clean it up for you, though.

  4. posted by Erin at Unclutterer on

    @Joel–

    I don’t agree with your statement that professional organizers are scam artists. When you want to find better systems for organization in your home or office, are overwhelmed when a loved one unexpectedly dies, or physical disability changes the way you access your home and possessions then a professional organizer can be an amazing resource. Consider yourself lucky that you are not in the position of having to rely on others to help with your uncluttering efforts.

  5. posted by Joel on

    Okay!

  6. posted by salil Tavkar on

    i agree with erin, many people i have known are dead and on EVERY occasion i have found that a professional busybody has helped me piece my life back together.

  7. posted by Geoff on

    I imagine it’s like hiring a personal t
    trainer or landscaper. Sure you can do these things yourself, but maybe you need some outside help and motivation to change. Money is just energy.

  8. posted by missdona on

    I hire one from time to time to organize cluttery zones (pantry, cabinets) and help my husband part with his stuff.

    It’s a lot easier on our relationship when some else pressures him to get rid of his ratty t-shirts other than me.

    I consider it a household expense, just like paying a plumber to fix your pipes.

    @ Joel
    You can spend your money on whatever you like, please don’t cast dispersions.

  9. posted by missdona on

    sorry- that should read someone else, not some else

  10. posted by Joel on

    I take a fence at that. I would never cast a dispersal.

  11. posted by Beth Dargis on

    You can also check out a local Family Manager Coach: http://www.familymanager.com and click on Makeover.

    (In interest of disclosure I am one of the coaches)

  12. posted by bookieb on

    I agree that sometimes you need a “outside help”, and in particular the detachment that comes with someone with no “personal” axes to grind, to get started.
    There are though, two pitfalls I can see to hiring someone:

    1. Living the “uncluttered life” is up to you – it’s your responsiblity too make it work. By offloading the task to someone else, if the clean up doesn’t happen, or if you revert back to clutter, it’s down to the organiser you hired, not you. Take responsibility, make it your own, see it through.

    2. For almost every challange we come across in life, there is someone who will sell you somthing else to “fix” it.
    Overweight? Buy these pills!
    Unhappy? Buy this car!
    Broke? Buy money!(credit)
    As we try to lead an unluttered life, we realise that the answer to these challanges is not always to buy somthing else to make it better. So how does:
    My life is too cluttered?” “Buy me! I’ll fix it for you!”.
    …come from.
    How many people have started on a path, say GTD, bought the book, the audio tapes, the organiser, the software, in-trays, the pen and moleskiene etc., but never really done much more than that?

    Start small – one drawer, one kitchen press, whatever. Work from there, slowly and steadily, and build the habits. IMHO, that’s more likely to stick than hoping that a big clean up and a few folow-up support sessions or phone calls with a professional will change your life and the habits of a lifetime.

    Just my .02cents!

    bookieb

  13. posted by Lorie Marrero on

    Erin, this was an EXCELLENT post on how to choose an organizer. I would also add that looking at their websites says volumes about the company or person… testimonials, history, FAQs, etc. Thank you for referring people to NAPO.

    – Lorie Marrero
    http://www.livingorder.com
    http://www.clutterdiet.com

  14. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Professional Organizers in Canada, NAPO’s sister organization offers a referral system, advice on hiring an organizer and we have our Code of Ethics posted on our website!

  15. posted by Nancy on

    I am an organized person, but faced an entire floor of the house (with library and storage) to repopulate after major remodeling. Hiring a professional organizer to help out with this was the best thing that I have ever done for my home. She worked with me for a solid week, and suggested changes in flow and storage that have greatly enriched our family life. She was worth every penny of her professional fees.

  16. posted by Lisa Baldwin on

    Readers ‘down under’ might like to check out the Australasian equivalent of NAPO and POC -http://www.aapo.org.au

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