Hiring a professional organizer

Since January is the National Association of Professional Organizer’s Get Organized and Be Productive Month, I’ve asked Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing in Cary, North Carolina, to share her insights with us on how to hire a professional organizer. For many of us, having someone coach us through the uncluttering process can be very beneficial.

If you decide to hire a professional organizer, start by looking for someone who is diplomatic, empathetic, willing to listen, non-judgmental, creative, patient, and trustworthy. Also, to ensure that the professional organizer follows ethical business practices, check your local Better Business Bureau reports and look for someone who is involved a professional organization like the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) in the US. For professional organizing associations in other parts of the world, check the International Federation of Professional Organizing Associations (IFPOA).

It is okay to interview different organizing and productivity professionals to get a feel for who matches best with your personality. Below is a menu of questions you might consider asking when hiring someone:

  1. What are your areas of expertise? (Some possible answers may include: garages, clients with ADHD, time management, wardrobes and closets, financial matters, computer-related challenges, speaking, coaching, writing, estate liquidation, downsizing for seniors, home staging, relocation, etc.)
  2. Are you certified? Insured? (Certification is optional and not required. NAPO has many well-qualified organizers that are not certified for a variety of reasons.)
  3. Do you attend conferences or teleclasses to stay abreast of current organizing trends and techniques?
  4. Do you have local references?
  5. Do you belong to any professional organizations? (I would not hire a professional organizer who is not involved in some type of professional group or organization. To me, a professional affiliation demonstrates not only a commitment to the field but an additional way to check out that person among other business-minded individuals.)
  6. How long have you been in business? How many clients / hours have you worked?
  7. What hours do you work? What days of the week are you available? (Make sure that this person’s availability is a good match for your availability.)
  8. Do you bring the necessary supplies, or do I purchase them separately?
  9. If you purchase supplies or materials at a discount, do you “up charge” or charge an hourly shopping fee?
  10. Do you make arrangements to take away donations, consignments, and trash? If so, do you charge a fee for this service?
  11. Do you work alone or do you have a team of employees or subcontractors, if necessary?
  12. Do you have advertising on your car? (Ask this only if you do not want co-workers or neighbors to know you are hiring a professional organizer.)
  13. Do you take photographs? Will they be on your website?
  14. What is your cancellation policy?
  15. How do you charge? Of course, I don’t need to tell you to inquire about fees but there are many options available, including hourly, by the project, or bulk rates. There may be a minimum number of hours required per booking, too, so ask about that.

Remember that professional organizers and productivity consultants are not housekeepers, therapists, decorators, or nurses unless they specifically tell you that their credentials include these jobs.

NAPO defines Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant as follows:

Professional Organizer: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around objects, space, and data; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding function, order, and clarity.

Productivity Consultant: supports evaluation, decision-making, and action around time, energy, and resources; helping clients achieve desired outcomes regarding goals, effectiveness, and priorities.

If you have ADHD or any other type of chronic organizing challenge, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization is the place to find a qualified organizer.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

23 Comments for “Hiring a professional organizer”

  1. posted by Janine Adams on

    These are all great suggestions of things to ask a prospective professional organizer. The only thing I would add is to listen to your gut when you’re talking to someone you might want to hire as an organizer. You’ll be working closely with this person and you want to make sure you have a connection.

    Terrific post!

  2. posted by Eco-friendly professional organizers | green LA girl on

    […] if you’re not sure what to look for in an organizer, Unclutterer has some great tips on how best to choose the best organizer for […]

  3. posted by momofthree on

    i know i should consider this a noble profession, but i can’t for the life of my figure out why people would need the services of such a person. guess my thinking is i don’t need someone else to help me pitch or purge or recycle or donate items no longer needed or wanted.

    small space living is probably just getting to me…was raised in a small house, raising my kids in a small house. If we didn’t need it then or don’t need it now, away from the house and garage it goes without too much thought.

    still need to take the time go go through stuff whether a person hires an expert or not. is it that this person hired is the “authority” and will allow you to get rid things?

    guess it’s also my lack of full time work that is getting to me too!! been a stay at home mom for 18 years and i am looking to get back to work so that hubby and i can send our oldest away to university come fall.

  4. posted by Dave on

    there are two parts I can see that would be good from them,
    One: as a teacher/resourse for systems that work, if they just come in and organize without teaching you how, it will fail, if they come in and say this is the only way to do it, it will fail, so they need to find out how you work, then make a system for you and teach you to use it right.
    Two: for those that have the compulsion to save everything.
    You seem to have no need for them

  5. posted by Amanda on

    I can also see a great need for them in business settings where there can be lots of politics related to what to keep where rather than what works best for all.

  6. posted by Angela Esnouf on

    These are all great points. And very often it comes down to some intangible reason for hiring. I’ve had people say I got the job because they like my business name or logo. Others have said it was the way I answered the phone. You have to “click” with the person you’re entrusting with your most personal stuff.

    And thanks for mentioning AAPO – the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers.

  7. posted by Alice on

    @momofthree, I actually hired an organizer a couple of years ago, and while that match didn’t work out, I am considering looking for another one for a host of reasons. As you mentioned, one challenge of uncluttering is finding the time to do it, and an organizer can help with that either by providing additional person-power her/himself or by providing a team of people who can assist. My friends and family are all busy and don’t have the time (or want to spend the time) helping me dig out from years of accumulated clutter. The help doesn’t come cheap, but my clutter situation is so bad that I am beginning to think it would be worth it to have a clean slate. At the rate I am going, I’ll never get out from under by doing 30 minutes worth of work here and there.

    It sounds like you also are blessed with the ability to see stuff as just stuff, and get rid of that which you do not absolutely need. For some of us, that’s really hard, and it helps to have an objective person to coach us through letting go and remind us that things are just things.

    And as Dave mentioned, I’m hoping the right organizer could teach me the skills I need to get out from under my bad habits once and for all.

    As I experienced, you do have to find the right organizer, and I envy those of you who don’t need this kind of help. But for some of us an organizer really can be a godsend.

  8. posted by STL Mom on

    I’ve always thought I didn’t need an organizer because, “I know what to do, I just need to do it.” And yet, after reading tons of books and blogs and watching nearly every episode of Clean House, I still don’t have a good system for my papers that I can stick with. And paper isn’t the only problem.
    Maybe the right organizer could help me get started. I’m starting to think it’s worth a try.

  9. posted by Nancy on

    As a professional organizer I’m always struck by how brave the people are who hire us. For most people it is very difficult to allow strangers to touch and go through all their stuff.

    All of the people we work with hire us because:
    1. They don’t have time.
    2. They need someone impartial to help them see with “clear eyes.”
    3. Their system isn’t working for them because it doesn’t fit the the way they live.

    We have several clients who hire us for just an hour or two to help them get on the right track. Most people have the skills, they only need a push in the right direction.

  10. posted by Lia on

    clients with ADHD

    How is this different?!!

  11. posted by PleinJane on

    @Alice, I had to laugh at your clean slate comment. My husband just told me tonight that he had an idea of just buying another house and starting fresh – to “wipe that slate clean”…to bring in the bare necessities and a few of our children’s toys (they have too much – they’re 4 and 2). It’s a struggle to keep everything organized only to see it destroyed by our gremlins. I’ve accumulated furniture that my late father refurbished, so there are memories associated with furniture that otherwise would be given away. One other thing I would add, is that for those with hobbies (such as art), it comes with many tools and depending on your space…you have to either have the “master plan” on how to organize it – or have the space to separate it out from the regular house stuff.

  12. posted by Katie on

    Also great to ask about car advertising if you hate car advertisements. I know I do. They are distracting visual clutter on the road.

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Lia — Some professional organizers go through training courses for specifically working with clients who have ADHD. The organizers learn about the disorder and strategies for helping people with ADHD get organized. Not all clients with ADHD would benefit from working with a specially trained organizer, and not all organizers need to be specially trained to be of assistance to someone with ADHD. It’s just a specialty for those who want it and feel that it can help them better serve their clients.

  14. posted by dee on

    Their prices are way too high for my sensibility. I had my garage organization quoted at $900 (they bill at $75-$100/hr for someone to do the physical labor-what a crock) and I did it myself with some help from the housekeeper in about 3 hours and it cost a total of $75.

  15. posted by Erin Doland on

    @dee — Rates for organizers vary based on the organizer. Some charge per hour, others charge per project or service. For a garage project, I would have recommended that you pay for an hour of an organizer’s time to have him/her make recommendations for your space. That’s it. Like you said, you were able to do the dirty work, so you wouldn’t need an organizer to help you with that.

  16. posted by Laura on

    I tried to give the services of a professional organizer to my daughter as a gift (which she had asked for). The organizer told me flat out that she refuses to serve anyone who is not on medication for ADHD and seeing a therapist. I gave up looking for one. What a wacko.

  17. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Laura — Wow, that is wacky … and definitely not the standard across the industry. If you haven’t completely given up hope on the idea, I would contact the NSGCD for a recommendation for a professional organizer for your daughter.

  18. posted by Denise Lee on

    I would like to add that the value of an organizer goes beyond de-cluttering – although, de-cluttering is important. A good organizer can look at a situation objectively to provide systems and ways of doing things that address the challenges a client faces while complimenting and supporting her lifestyle. Efficiency is important but so is comfort.

  19. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    Great list and great comments. I especially like Janine’s comment about going with your gut.

    There were times when I was running my organizing business that I would say to a potential client that I didn’t think we’d be a good fit and pass them onto someone with whom they’d work better. It’s better for the client and for the industry as a whole. Sure I might have needed the money, but not at the expense of my reputation (nor of the reputation of the whole industry).

    As a client, remember that you might go through some pretty strong emotions with your organizer as the emotion clutter tied to your stuff comes up. You want to feel 100% comfortable with that person, or the process will not work.

  20. posted by John Trosko on

    When I was growing up in middle class New Jersey, it was unheard of to have someone mow your lawn for you. You did it yourself!

    But I live in Los Angeles now. And I don’t know anyone who mows their own lawn. I think it’s a cultural thing. When you realize you can hire someone to do the things you don’t want to do, can’t do, don’t know how to do, or want to learn how to do it, then the reasons and the price begin to make sense. Your leisure time begins to take on more value and you look for ways to save time. Some people take that more time and turn it into more time with the family, or more time to make more money– the choice is yours.

  21. posted by STL Mom on

    Okay, a new friend who has never seen my house started raving about her organizer today. Maybe this is a sign that it’s time for me to join the new generation of don’t-do-it-yourselfers and get some help!

  22. posted by Pam Holland on

    Hi, Geralin and Erin and thanks for making it easy for folks who are looking for an organizer to know what to look for. Sometimes the decision-making involved in finding support can leave folks so overwhelmed that they just stay stuck and overwhelmed by their clutter and disorganization. Finding someone who matches your style and makes you feel safe and inspired is critical to long-term success.

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