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.

January is Get Organized and Be Productive Month

The National Association of Professional Organizers has once again declared January Get Organized and Be Productive Month!

We love the idea of starting off the year on the right foot, and we hope that you get in on the organizing spirit. NAPO has many events scheduled across the country as part of their Get Organized and Be Productive Month.

Also, Amazon is interested in helping you get organized in January with a number of good deals on storage solutions and organizing books.

Do you have plans to get organized in January? Let us know about your plans in the comments. You can help inspire all of us.

 

 

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

Sharing space and dealing with moments of chaos

There are many wonderful things about living with others, but dealing with their clutter is most certainly not one of them. Living with my husband (and before that roommates) has always been a special challenge during times of emotional stress.

You see, when I’m sailing through life, everything finds its way back to its place quickly because I put everything away as soon as I use it. However, when I’m feeling chaotic, you can’t see the bedroom floor and nothing goes back where it belongs. I nest using clothes and papers.

When I lived alone, it did not bother me. When I was feeling this way, I would just wade through the clothes to find the bed, knowing that I would get out of the funk and get things cleaned up sooner or later.

Now that I live with my husband in a tiny apartment, I can’t let the chaos take over too much.

We’re both human, though, and the chaos does hit, sometimes at the same time but usually at different moments (meaning one wants to clean while the other is in a nesting mode).

Living with others offers a challenge to staying organized because if one person is feeling chaotic, their clutter encourages others to let their own organizing slack off: “If his stuff is all over the place, why should I clean up mine?”

Say you are in a chaotic moment and your spouse/partner starts ranting at you about the mess you are leaving around. What would you do? In my case, my inner teenager comes out and I want to make the mess even worse just to get back at the unfair authority-figure ranting.

Let’s say however, that you are more mature than I am, and recognize the ranting is not an attack on your intrinsic goodness. Instead, you use it to move yourself out of the chaos, dealing with the physical side first and letting the emotional clutter clear itself out. How wonderful, no?

But what happens if it’s your companion(s) that let the clutter take over? How do you deal with it?

Here are three Definitely Don’t and three Possibly Do actions.

Definitely Don’t:

  1. Don’t nag. It will just bring out the inner teenager and they might rebel and do things on purpose just to annoy you.
  2. Don’t get judgmental. People in a negative state don’t need negative reinforcement. Besides, it’s not like you have never had moments of clutter, hmmm???
  3. You can re-order the place yourself, but don’t do it with a “how great am I?” nor with a martyr attitude. Do it because you want to or not at all. A superiority complex will only cause more problems in the end.

Possibly Do:

  1. Live with the chaos and hope that the person will snap out of it soon. After all, you go through chaotic periods too, I’m sure.
  2. Suggest an order the house day and make it a big fun event. Put on music, dress up in housekeeper outfits (or at least tie funny colored scarves on your head) and do a re-ordering.
  3. Re-order the place on your own and hope that the calm space will bring calm to the other person/people.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with the clutter in the home caused by multiple people experiencing the ups and downs of life at different rates.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Dealing with teenager’s clutter

As a father of a toddler, I can easily clean up the toys that she plays with and eventually leaves strewn about the room. I am not looking forward to her teenage years, however, if she turns out to be as messy during that stage as I was. I’m not exactly sure how I will deal with it, but maybe some of our readers can give me some pointers?

The reason I bring up teenagers and clutter is an old article I stumbled upon from Kevin Duggan of The Coloradoan. An excerpt:

Clutter is as natural to teens as acne and mood swings; it’s as aggravating to parents as gray hair and hearing loss. There lies the conflict.

My home is not immune to this problem. A tour at any time through my daughters’ bedrooms (and nearby rooms, for that matter) will reveal all manner of clothes worn or tried on in recent days strewn about the floor like so many pine needles in the forest.

There’s no telling which clothes are dirty and which were recently washed but never put away. Included in the ground cover are food wrappers, CDs, papers, books and every shoe they own. Prized possessions are mixed in with trash.

So do we have any readers who deal with teenagers and their inevitable clutter? Would any parents be willing to brag about strategies for helping to raise a clutter-free teen? Trust me, I’m all ears!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader suggestion: Storing a George Foreman Grill

Reader Liz sent us the following solution for storing the removable plates and body of her George Foreman Grill:

I got the wonderful George Foreman grill with the changeable plates for Christmas a few years ago. I have since been struggling with how to store the 5 grill plates since they don’t stack conveniently and can get easily scratched. I live in an apartment, so storage space is hard to come by. After several disappointing online searches, I decided to create my own [storage solution]. I used a vertical, metal sorter (similar to this one) placed on top of a locker shelf (similar to this one) so I can store my Foreman grill underneath the plates. The file sorter that is holding the grill plates is coated in plastic so it won’t scratch the plates, which is vital!

In addition to being a great solution for a George Foreman Grill, it would be wonderful for waffle iron plates, lids for reusable storage containers, lids for pots and pans, and even baking pans and cookie sheets. Thank you for such a terrific suggestion, Liz!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Free pass to return or re-gift presents

Gift giving is an art. Some people have an amazing talent at picking out the perfect something. I, however, am not blessed with such a skill. Every now and again I’ll hit one out of the park, but those occasions are rare. I think that it’s my disdain for crowded shopping centers that fuels my ineptitude.

Regardless of the reason, my gifts are often received with a strange facial expression and the question, “What is it?” I’ll never forget the gift I got for my sister-in-law that drew the response, “This is such an interesting … uh … watering can?” It was a purse.

When I give a gift, I want the gift to be exactly what the recipient wants. I want it to be loved. I also want the gift to not end up as clutter or to cause stress. To avoid giving the imperfect gift or to cause stress, I’ve decided to follow David Seah’s suggestion in his post “Print Your Own ‘Re-Gift Receipts’” and create my own re-gift receipts to accompany my future gifts.

I’m not going to write mine up exactly like he has, but the principle is the same: a guilt-free return policy. It seems to be such a nice way to let people know that you will in no way be offended if they decide to return your gift.

Be sure to check out Seah’s template at the bottom of the post to save yourself time creating your re-gift receipts.

 

This post has been updated since its publication in 2008.

Unclutter your refrigerator before Thanksgiving

If you host Thanksgiving at your home, then now is the time to start making room for all of the dishes that need to be stored in your refrigerator. Use up the items that are currently taking up space. My wife calls the process of clearing out the ingredients available in the refrigerator as “creative cooking.” It consists of not shopping for groceries for a week while concocting dishes from the ingredients that remain in the refrigerator and cupboards. Creative cooking also takes place at our house prior to long vacations.

While you clear out the space in your refrigerator it is freeing up valuable real estate for the turkey along with the side dishes that will reside in there while they wait to be prepared. This also allows for room in your refrigerator for the all important leftovers.

With just a little more than a week to go, clear out your fridge and give it a good cleaning. Let us know about some of your favorite “creative cooking” recipes in the comments. One of my favorites is a good old fashion stew using up meat and savory vegetables.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

What to do with pajamas during the day?

I have never known what to do with my pajamas in the morning. They usually end up being folded and set on top of my dresser. The dresser location is functional, but it’s cluttered. Years of living with clothes strewn on my dresser left me wishing I had a place where my pajamas could live that wasn’t on top of a flat surface.

After a recent trip to the hardware store, I came home armed with a “S” hook to solve my problem. The hook fits over my closet’s clothing rod and provides an instant place for my pajamas during the day. I also have enough space in my closet that my pajamas don’t touch any of my clean clothes. My pajamas are out of sight, off a flat surface, and behind the closed door of my closet.

If I had children, I think that I would install more permanent hooks that screwed into the closet wall at a height convenient for them. This way, they would be able to hang up their own pajamas even if they couldn’t reach their clothing rod in their closet.

I know that some people will likely comment that pajamas should be stored either under your pillow or in your pillow case. I just can’t do this. I think about how I sweat on my pajamas during the night and am not comfortable with then storing them next to where I put my face when I sleep. The reality may be that it is more hygienic than I am imagining, but I can’t do it. It gives me the willies. For me, the “S” hook works perfectly.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

When previous uncluttering can come back to haunt you

Once upon a time, my husband and I were filling out forms for a background check and the forms required that we list all of our previous addresses. My husband can count the number of his residences on his fingers and recite all of them from memory. It took him about two minutes to complete his portion of the forms.

It took me about an hour to remember all of my previous places of residence, and then another two hours to track down the information. To count my addresses I need to use my fingers, toes, and maybe an elbow, knee, and ear. For example, during the decade of the 1990s, I had 10 different residences. In the year 2000, I had three residences. It was my first year living in D.C. and I moved three times in a single year. In my defense, though, my first apartment that year had snakes in the ceiling. SNAKES!

I have purged all of my pay stubs and tax documents from before 1998, so the years from 1991 to 1998 were the most difficult for me to obtain. And, of course, these were the years I was in college when every fall meant a new dorm room or apartment. I also imagine that if I did have these documents, that my parents’ address would be listed on them as my “permanent” address, anyway. I searched my home for old address books (to no avail), emailed former roommates (one address was found this way), and called my mom (she produced another one). I even discovered an address on a ski lift receipt I had pasted to a page in a scrapbook.

I eventually found the remainder of my previous addresses in a box of old love letters I had forgotten I had saved. My husband was laughing as I transcribed information off the fronts of the envelopes.

“You should write about this on Unclutterer,” my husband said when his laughter had subsided enough that he could speak. “Advise your readers to hold onto their old love letters so that they’ll have a record of where they used to live.”

“I think it would be easier to recommend that they keep a list of their previous addresses,” I countered.

“Yes,” he agreed, “but these letters are hysterical! This one guy talks for an entire page about how your souls are connected by invisible forces, like bungee cords.”

“Old letters from you are in that box,” I reminded him. “I could write about them on Unclutterer.”

“The list idea you mentioned sounds like a good idea to me,” he said.

“I thought you would like it.”

When purging papers from your home or office, let me recommend that you keep a list in a file in your filing cabinet or on your computer of all your previous addresses and addresses of your former places of employment. Even if you don’t have a need for them now, things could change and you might one day need the information.

Now I’m off to either scan and purge or find a more preservation-friendly storage option for my old love letters … well, after my husband and I get a few more laughs from them. Let us know in the comments if you have ever been too eager with uncluttering and what lessons you can share with our readers!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

How much of your mortgage is going toward clutter storage?

If there is a room in your home that is off limits because of clutter in that space, you are not only wasting space but also wasting money. An article from 2008 explores the findings of a study by IKEA on the costs associated with cluttered rooms. From the article:

In a survey of UK homes, Ikea found 77% of us have a big problem with clutter, which contributes to wasting a whole room.

Squandering that space but paying for it over the years on our mortgages costs us on average an eye-watering £38,246 [about $50,000 USD] in Middlesbrough.

Research by another company, junk clearance business Any Junk?, confirmed the “wasted room” evidence and put it at only a slightly lower cost. It estimated on average householders waste around £32,000 [about $42,000 USD] worth of space – in Middlesbrough the figure is about £14,870 [$19,500 USD].

In the past 10 years, these costs have only increased. It can be important to take stock of what you own. If your possessions are filling up a room in your home, then it is probably a good time to clear it out and purge the items that are wasting an entire room. Downsizing or finding a more utilitarian way to use the space may help you out financially over the long term.

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

The 5-, 10-, and 15-minute unclutterer

When it’s hard to carve out an hour or two (or more) to complete an unclutter mission, sometimes we forgo organizing at all.

That’s where the speed unclutterer comes in handy. When your boss is about to drop by your cube or friends have called to say they’re coming right over, uncluttering has to take on velocity. I have found that this works best when you close off all distractions, focus solely on the targeted area, set the timer for 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments and unclutter until the timer dings.

What you do in your 5-, 10- or 15-minute increments depends, of course, on the degree of disarray in the area you plan to unclutter and the system you use. Here are some ideas to get you started. Adjust them according to your situation.

The 5-minute Unclutterer

To know where to begin on a 5-minute uncluttering project, asking yourself questions will sharpen your focus. As I wrote on page 20 in The Naked Desk:

If you have limited time to organize, ask yourself, “What single action would make the greatest impact right now?” Or, “What can I do in five minutes that will make the biggest difference?” Scan the office and choose the area that is calling out for order the most. Then take action!

These questions will help you quickly home in on the area that if you unclutter it, will bring you the greatest relief, serenity or beauty. Overwhelmed? Put a bull’s eye on one corner of the table to get started, rather than trying to conquer the whole thing.

Zen Habits also has a great list of 5-minute uncluttering actions in the article 18 Five-Minute Decluttering Tips to Start Conquering Your Mess.

I love Leo’s tip #6:

Pick up 5 things, and find places for them. These should be things that you actually use, but that you just seem to put anywhere, because they don’t have good places. If you don’t know exactly where things belong, you have to designate a good spot. Take a minute to think it through where would be a good spot? Then always put those things in those spots when you’re done using them. Do this for everything in your home, a few things at a time.

Make a mental note of the new spots for items so you can retrieve them when you need them.

The 10-minute Unclutterer

You can power through a small uncluttering task in 10 minutes or make progress on a larger project.

Admittedly, the morning dishes in our home sometimes get left unwashed as family members dash out the door for work and school. I set the timer daily for 10-minute dish washing blasts — instant sink and counter uncluttering. Other things you can knock out in 10 minutes include:

  • File one inch of paper
  • Organize a book shelf
  • Start a load of laundry

From home to work, there are many 10-minute uncluttering opportunities. For example, you can reserve the last 10 minutes of the day to unclutter your desk to start fresh and clear the next day.

To fend off return-from-home clutter piles, make it a habit to use your first 10 minutes through the door to put things away, such as your umbrella in the umbrella holder, your jacket in the closet and your keys on the landing strip.

The 15-minute Unclutterer

With all that you can accomplish in five or 10 minutes, 15 minutes can make an even bigger dent in clutter. You won’t streamline a bedraggled garage, but you can clear out one box.

When you find yourself with an unexpected block of 15 minutes, you can use the time to clear out clutter from your home or office. For example, you’ve arrived 15 minutes early for a lunch appointment — unclutter your car. Additional ideas:

  • Remove all broken or obsolete items from a junk drawer
  • Clear out your purse or wallet
  • Organize your monthly receipts

To unclutter and clean, check out About.com’s Sarah Aguirre article”15 Minute Cleanups.” The article provides cleaning checklists for six different rooms, from the kitchen to a kid’s room.

I put the Bedroom Cleanup checklist to the test one evening from 8:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. As I followed each of Aguierre’s steps (except I substituted vacuuming with dusting), the room took on an extra sparkle. (Earrings that had collected on my dresser got returned to their home. I also unpacked my husband’s suitcase from last week’s business trip.) It was fast and easy to run through someone else’s pre-made to-do list. I’m glad I did it and will try her suggestions for other rooms.

Some cluttering projects do take hours, days, or months to finish. But, starting with 5-, 10- or 15-minute uncluttering bursts can give you instant progress. These timed uncluttering sprints are also useful for daily maintenance.

What are you able to get done in 5-, 10- or 15-minute unclutter sprints? Let us know your regular routines in the comments.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

An impartial participant can help get rid of clutter

Little League BaseballSentimental clutter can be the most difficult clutter to clear from your spaces. “Oh, I remember this!” is the exclamation that inevitably gets tossed around while trying to clean out a closet, basement, or attic. Until you went to organize the space, you probably had no idea that you were holding onto these items. You’re then struck with the pang of nostalgia and you flirt with the idea of keeping everything you’ve rediscovered.

If you are going to take the time to clear your home of clutter, it can be a good idea to get someone impartial to help handle your sentimental clutter. Whether you hire a professional organizer or you get a friend or spouse to help you, their impartiality may help you get rid of sentimental clutter.

Trying to get rid of things that you think you’ll miss or one day need is a problem for most of us (I struggle with it). This article in the San Diego Reader is entertaining and shows how the process of getting rid of clutter can be helped by having an impartial participant. From the article:

David sat on the floor and began unloading a large box; I stood beside him and sifted through a crate. Every few seconds, I would hold up an item and say, “You don’t need this. Trash?” I’d wait for him to nod before placing it in the big white plastic bag. David grumbled here and there, but an hour in, I’d filled three large bags and broken down four boxes.

If you’re struggling with clearing sentimental clutter, you may want to read the full article for some inspiration.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.