The first person who told me about professional organizing was my career counselor.
I was nearly 30, and completely unsure about what I wanted to do with my life. At a certain critical point a few sessions in, she asked me what I was passionate about. “Interior design and space planning.” I said. “And organization. And helping people.”
She looked at me and gave a long, meaningful pause.
“You know that there are people who do all of those things, right? They are called professional organizers.”
Prior to that life-altering conversation, it had never occurred to me that there might be such handy people out there in the world, bestowing their organizational skills upon the general public. Gobsmacked, I left her office with a whole new mission. By the end of the month, I attended a chapter meeting at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, met Missy Gerber and started my training at Organizers Northwest.
If this all sounds like a fairy tale, that’s because – in a way – it was. I was finally doing the thing I longed to do. The thing I had grown up doing, never understanding the strange look my relatives gave me when I asked if I could please clean out their cupboards.
The recent uptick in household management shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy have brought the concept of decluttering, simplifying and leading a more intentional life to the forefront. People are learning about the professional organizing industry, and there is much more awareness around the notion of hiring someone to help create the life you want, rather than simply spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.
If you are interested in becoming an organizer (or you’re desperately curious about what sort of person we are before hiring us), these myths about the industry might be enlightening for you.
My All-Time Favorite Myths About the Organizing Industry
#1. “Being an organized person means you will be a good professional organizer.” Were you “born” with the organizing gene? Great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be a good organizer. There is SO MUCH more to this work than organizing someone’s possessions.
In fact, the primary work that we do isn’t even related to stuff. It’s about helping people to move forward at their own pace. It is about patience, understanding and rapport-building. It’s about meeting the client where they are, no matter how you feel. It’s about doing all of that and never judging them. Ever. So, no, simply being an organized person is not enough to make it in this industry.
#2. “Organizers love to label everything.” I wish I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I love labeling! Don’t get me wrong, labeling can be a great tool. But in truth, this is a very small part of the work, reserved for the very end of an organizing job. Until then, we use sticky notes to sort items, communicate and clarify where things are, and keep trash and recycling separate. They work great and are completely temporary!
In a residential setting, stick-on labels can make the client feel like they don’t have any flexibility with their own system. Our goal as organizers is to teach clients to fish for themselves. We want to teach people the joy of seeing something that doesn’t work and understanding that they have the self-agency to go ahead and change it. If labels are too much upkeep, we skip it! The end result has to be manageable for the client and, for many, labels are not.
#3. “Organizers have OCD.” FALSE! In fact, many organizers got into this profession because they struggled with organization themselves; they have learned how to manage it and want to help others do the same thing (my book review on Joshua Becker’s The Minimalist Home gives a good example of how human we really are). If you are a perfectionist, this is definitely not the career for you.
We often have to make the call that an area is “organized enough.” If it works for the client and gives them peace in their home, that’s a win. You do NOT have to be “perfect” to be in this profession. You do, however, have to be able to put your own biases aside and focus on the client with a completely neutral point of view.
#4. “I think organizing is so much fun, so this would be a great career for me.” While we do have a lot of fun doing this job, the reality is that it isn’t about us (do I sound like a broken record yet?). Creating organizational systems for a client is about the client’s needs alone. So the amazing system you have in your head may not be the right one for them. Asking the person open-ended, neutral questions is what leads us to the golden setup that they will be able to maintain. Yes, the client will rely upon your expertise, but ultimately it is all about their process, not yours.
Some clients may have hoarding tendencies or suffer from excessive acquisition. Many struggle with ADD and executive function challenges. No matter what they are dealing with, our clients are usually struggling in some way. So while you can have lots of fun, it is also important to remember that the work is about helping them create change, which is sometimes about having hard conversations, sitting with them through difficult moments and being patient and loving at all times.
#5. “Marie Kondo is so inspiring, and it made me want to be an organizer.” The myth here is the idea that Marie Kondo is a traditional organizer. While we think her show is good entertainment value and she is certainly an expert, she does not appear to be doing the organizing herself. I would never show up to an organizing appointment in a white blouse, pencil skirt and heels. This work is dirty, demanding, and hard on the body. You have to be in good shape and understand the importance of bending the knees before you lift.
Organizing is not a reality show. It is so much better. It is hard work and diligence, it is the light in your client’s eyes at the end of a powerful session. It is the satisfied feeling of an after photo. It is challenging and rewarding, in equal measure.
We hope that these myth-busting facts have helped you understand a little more about this new and growing profession. We are so proud to be trusted with our client’s homes, to help them live their best lives and to make a difference in the world.
If you are you are in the Portland area and you think you’ve got what it takes, please reach out. We’re hiring!