What should I know about becoming a professional organizer?
September 16, 2011 11:30 AM   Subscribe

What should I know about becoming a professional organizer?

I currently work part-time and also run my own small design business. I've been debating about starting up a third business "prong" of offering organizing services. It's something that I enjoy and believe I have a knack for and it seems like something that people can always use more help with. I'd also be happy if I could bring in a little more money as well.

I'm wondering if anyone here does this and what are the pros/cons of the business? How does one become a "professional organizer"? Why would I NOT want to do this?

(anonymous so I can explore career options without having to explain to everyone I know who reads metafilter...)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You could always check out what other professional organizers are offering on this handy dandy website and tailor your offerings based on that.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2011

I do (did, before the baby) this part time and found only a couple issues. The first is finding clients. I only used word of mouth. The second is how to price your work. I charged per hour but would consider per room/task etc. The issue is that the purging can take a really long time with some clients so the hours really add up and that can make the bill too large for some people to manage. So price/market yourself accordingly.
posted by saradarlin at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2011

And unlike design how fast you can work is much more dependant on your client. For large jobs or anytime we had to "edit" belongings I found that I became a cheerleader, friend and therapist! Oh and EVERY client will cry/lose it during the process, be prepared to handle a lot of emotion at work.
posted by saradarlin at 11:46 AM on September 16, 2011

Geralin Thomas is one of the professionals on "Hoarders," and someone I've read up on and researched in my "Maybe I'd like to do that" career search. Her website has some information on classes and training you can take, which of course, is a for-profit business for her.
posted by xingcat at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2011

Here's info on a professional organizers certification program, which is entirely voluntary.

I will say that, if you're going to be doing anything with other people's things, in their houses, you should look into what sort of insurance/bonding you'll need to protect yourself in the case of accident/breakage/other situations.
posted by xingcat at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2011

I am a professional organizer, but I am not your professional organizer. I've been a professional organizer for almost ten years, and am also a Certified Professional Organizer®. I could write a whole tl;dr response, but I hope to strike a balance.

First, xingcat's link is a good one, but premature. Certification is an advanced status; one needs 1500 hours of hands-on paid client work in the three years prior to sitting for (and passing) the Board of Certified Professional Organizers' certification exam. So, think of that as something to which you might aspire, not necessarily a starting place. (That said, the recommended reading list at Board of Certified Professional Organizers web site is a good place to start your research about the practice of professional organizing.)

Second, and considering how I've waited through about 11 years of lurkdom to feel comfortable posting to AskMe, I mean no disrespect to KokuRyu, but please don't give too much credence to that site. Many of us have serious concerns the ethics of that site and the impact it has on the more delicate prospective clients.

Third, please start your research with the National Association of Professional Organizers, which has been around for 28 years. It's not a trade association, but a a professional association aimed at education and support in the organizing field. I urge you to visit a chapter meeting near you to interact with others already practicing in the field and to have the opportunity to add to your knowledge base. NAPO offers teleclasses, webinars, and an annual conference to help educate members and prospective professional organizers. If you are not in the U.S., there's Professional Organizers in Canada and other affiliated associations.

Fourth, I'm so pleased that xingcat mentioned Geralin Thomas. Given that there are only about 4000 professional organizers in the U.S., many of us know one another. Geralin is an amazing professional organizer, and does, indeed, offer training courses and materials.

As for what you should know about the field (and pros/cons), please know that professional organizing is no more one monolithic area of study and practice than medicine. Within our field, there are sub-specialties in terms of types of organizing (general residential and business, financial organizing, packing and relocation (general and for senior citizens), and so on) and sub-specialties in terms of clientele (people with ADD or ADHD, people with traumatic brain injury, senior citizens, children/students, persons with mobility issues and other disabilities, etc.)

There is no such thing as a typical organizing practice, but the vast majority of the people who seek professional organizing services are not necessarily just needing a help creating systems and skills. Certainly there's that, but beyond situationally disorganized clients, there are also chronically disorganized clients and hoarders. Long story short, as I tell anyone who will listen, it's not about the stuff, but about how people interact with their stuff. If you're only concerned with the tangible objects, and not the psychological and motivational issues of the individual, the newly-organized areas will get organized, but they will not necessarily stay organized.

I should note, that except in such cases where professional organizers ARE mental health professionals (and we have among our ranks physicians, psychologists, counselors, and a bunch of other mental health experts), we collectively point out that, as a profession, we are not mental health professionals. We encounter clients who have clinical depression, anxiety, chronic health issues and all sorts of "issues" that render us incapable of being the primary line of defense. A professional organizer needs to know where the line exists between organizing and ... everything else, from parenting to financial and legal advising to medical caregiving.

Psychology is important, and in the cases of chronically disorganized persons or those with hoarding disorders, an untrained (or under-trained) person can cause damage. Thus, taking classes and learning as much as possible about the field is vital. In addition to NAPO, you might want to look at exploring the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (formerly the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization).

Beyond issues related to psychology, most "cons" are the same ones you probably face in terms of running a small business already: marketing to prospective clientele, determining pricing, the cost of getting continuing education, dealing with taxes and financial issues, coping with last-minute cancelations (as "disorganized people are disorganized") and, as sandarlin alluded to, the speed at which progress is made is dependent upon the client, not the professional organizer.

Anonymous, since I (finally) joined specifically to answer this question, I don't even know how memail works yet, but if you memail me, I'll be glad to figure it out and answer any other questions you have. For everyone else, I promise that no other comment is likely to ever be this long.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

Another professional organizer here; I've been in business almost 7 years.

The Wrong Kind of Cheese said most of what I would say - including the praise for Geralin Thomas. But I'd like to also point you to the advice from organizer Janine Adams and my own list of recommended books.
posted by jeri at 6:42 PM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

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