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How to hire a professional organizer

At last, the day has come. You’ve moved those dusty, unopened boxes one time too many. You’ve stared at your closet, knowing there has to be a better way, every morning for months now. Your friend’s “help” was so damaging to your self-esteem that you’ve been licking your wounds for months. It’s time to get help. You’re going to hire a professional organizer!

Excellent choice. But before you start hunting through the web and making phone calls, take a moment to think about what sort of help you’re looking for. ‘Professional organizer’ is an umbrella term that means different things to different people so it’s important to make sure you and your organizer are on the same page.

A Professional Organizer (and one day we’ll get rid of that job title, and join other professionals who don’t feel the need to let you know they’re a Professional Doctor or a Professional Accountant) usually has a focus. Beware those organizers who say they help everyone with everything, that’s not a recipe for finding the most skilled help.

Residential organizers focus on moving, design work or decluttering

Moving specialists 

Oversee your move from start to finish, usually letting your movers handle the actual packing but stepping in to unpack every last box and set up your space.

  • A team of multiple helpers will work under the direction of the organizer, who acts as your general contractor, supervising the whole process so everything is where you want it to be.
  • You don’t have to lift a finger, in fact you don’t even have to be there, you can come back at the end of the day to a move-in ready house.
  • You’ll save time, your back, and the discouragement of boxes everywhere long after the move.

Design specialists 

Create and install closet systems and such, and the emphasis is on appearance. Although most of these organizers do suggest decluttering, their heart is in creating beautiful ways to store your stuff.

The few, the brave… 

And then there are the declutterers. We can see how your space will look when all that clutter is out of the way and we know how to work with you to get it there. We want you to be able to find your things easily and so we come up with creative solutions that enable you to keep your space tidy and highly functional long after we’re gone.

Within those three broad categories, some organizers will have a specific focus:

  • People with ADHD
  • People on the hoarding spectrum
  • Seniors
  • Kids and kids’ rooms

Some have developed a fascination with time management, others with coaching, all the while keeping organizing as their broad focus.

Other organizers choose to function more as household managers and concierges, working to make the details of everyday life more organized and efficient for their clients.

What are you looking for?

So, it’s important to know what sort of help you’re looking for. If you want someone to go through all the boxes in the garage with you (excellent idea!), you’re going to want to make sure your organizer isn’t hoping they’re there to help you arrange all the tools in alphabetical order.

Make a specific list of what needs doing to discuss with potential organizers.

Now ask Google who’s around in your area. Go beyond the first page of results, because not all organizers are paying to play. Some of the organizers who pop up will be members of the National Association of Professional Organizers or the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, some will not. I wouldn’t rule anyone in or out solely on that basis, but those are good places to start your search.

The way to choose an organizer (and for your organizer to choose you) is to listen to your instinct.

  • Do you like this person?
  • What do you feel when you look at their website or talk to them on the phone?
  • Do they email or call you when they say they will?
  • If you schedule a consultation, do they arrive on time?

And most important of all, how do you feel when you invite them into your house? If you haven’t let someone in in years, this is a huge step.

You want someone who won’t gasp or wince or let you know in a thousand non-verbal ways that they think this is an unholy mess.

Look for these tell-tale signs

You want someone who listens to you, respects you, and is interested in your specific project. How will you know?

Look for someone whose eyes light up when they see your crammed attic or your overflowing desk. It’ll be subtle, because we try not to jump for joy when we see a project like that, but it’ll be there.

Or look for someone who’s excited to whip out the measuring tape if you don’t want decluttering but do want closet installation. If all you want is a closet redesign and the potential organizer wants to declutter every nook and cranny of your space, and doesn’t adjust when you tell them about the project, move on. 

The best organizers will tell you honestly if your project doesn’t fit their specific area of expertise, so don’t be afraid to ask them if this is something they would enjoy working on.

Think about your energy and your life – how long can you work for? Most organizers have two-hour or three-hour minimum sessions, but some want far longer than that. Organizing is exhausting work and many people burn out because they try to do too much too quickly.

Make good use of the FAQs page

Once you’ve found someone you think you can work with, you’re going to have logistical questions. Don’t ignore their FAQ page, because it’s going to save you a lot of time. No use getting all excited about someone if they don’t do virtual organizing and that’s what you need.

If you look at my FAQs page, you’ll see my coverage area, my rates, my cancellation policy – all the sorts of details you need to know but don’t necessarily want to wait for someone to call you back about.

FAQs tell you who this person is

You can tell a lot about an organizer’s style by the way they answer broader questions.

Are they a drill sergeant?

You might be looking for that, or it might be upsetting to you. Either way, wouldn’t you rather know upfront?

Are they judgmental?

Keep your spidey sense open as you explore their website. Look at blog posts and throughout the site, not just the bit where they tell you they’re not judgmental. Listen to your gut.

Good to know: If this FAQ doesn’t get addressed, this is most likely an organizer who works with busy people who are pressed for time. If it gets addressed, the organizer understands that you’ve tried to do this yourself and given all the time in the world, you’d still want some help.

What if there’s no FAQs page?

Not everyone has an FAQs page and that’s information too. Sometimes you have a question that’s make or break, non-negotiable, doesn’t matter how anyone tries to persuade you otherwise.

  • Where the organizer works
  • Whether they offer in-person or virtual organizing
  • What their rates are

When you live outside of the coverage area of an organizer who doesn’t do virtual organizing, wouldn’t you rather know that upfront so you can continue the search?

Knowing what an organizer charges saves you time and energy. If you’re not in the same ballpark, this isn’t the organizer for you no matter how much you like them. How many other service providers do you consider hiring without knowing their fees before you contact them?

Consider a trial 

If it’s a long-term project rather than a move, once you’ve agreed to terms, I highly recommend setting up a trial period. If you work three sessions and then review, that gives you both a chance to confirm the fit is right.

It also gives you the opportunity to discover that a different subcontractor is showing up each time. Maybe you’re okay with that, maybe you’re not.

Most importantly, it lets you establish the personal connection that will see you through the emotional ups and downs of sorting through all your stuff. It’s all there because you couldn’t decide what to do with it at the time. You want someone who’s sensitive to that, who isn’t going to insist you “just” get rid of things, who helps you consider the matter rather than telling you what to do.

Make sure the organizer’s laugh doesn’t grate, the amount of scented products they may wear is within your comfort range, you don’t mind the smell of stale smoke if they’re a smoker. This isn’t the time to be polite and put up with things which will mess with your energy on a level you may not be aware of.

Please don’t choose an organizer based solely on price

The majority of organizers don’t post their prices up front so it’s hard to get a sense of what’s reasonable and what’s not. But common sense tells you that when you find that great deal on groupon or thumbtack, where the organizer will only charge you $15 an hour, you’ll be working with someone who has an unsustainable business model. They won’t be around for long. Choose someone who’s “reassuringly expensive” but not outrageously so. Could the $150 an hour organizer really be 10 times better than the beginning organizer charging $15 an hour?

It’s a lot like choosing a therapist. There are hundreds of them, all seemingly qualified. Who do you work with? The one you connect with who gets results. The one you’d find a way to pay for if they were twice as expensive because it just makes that much of a difference in your life.

This trial period also gives you the chance to make sure your organizer is listening to you. Of course, you hired them because you wanted outside expertise. But each organizing project is different, each person’s priorities about what to keep and what to let go are different. If it gets to the point where an organizer is insisting you get rid of something, run, don’t walk. If you’re not actually ready to let things go, then it’ll cause more trouble than it’s worth to do so.

So, how do you hire a professional organizer?

  • Know your project
  • Look for someone you feel a connection with
  • Give it a few sessions to be sure you’ve got the organizer you want

And don’t be afraid to interview a whole bunch of organizers until you find The One. This is important work you’re doing here. People who get organized can find things, invite people over again, park their cars in the garage and avoid hail damage, stop shuffling stuff and get on with what they were put here to do. When done right, organizing changes lives. Make sure you’ve got the right helper.