How to best work with a professional organizer?
April 11, 2018 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I have a consult tonight! What are some tips, words of wisdom, questions to ask, strategies to ponder, things to watch out for?

Me: hopelessly ADD, near-hoarder levels of ~stuff~ lying every which where, paralyzed about organization

Also me: smart enough to seek professional help getting my house in order, lucky enough to be able to afford it! (in moderate amounts) (PS: how much did you all pay for your organizer??)

Maybe me: not interested in owning a ton of pretty containers especially if purchased new, because, um, exorbitant and irresponsible, I think? (Nearly everything I own is from craigslist or consignment stores for $ and environment and flipping-off-corporations reasons.) Can I tell her this? Will I be the client from hell if I forbid her to buy new storage-type things?

Definitely me: jittery, anxious, and convinced I won't ever be able to keep up with any system anyone sets up for me, and desperate not to use this organizer as my therapist by venting this anxiety on her. Instead I choose you! Lucky you!

Likely me: clueless about all the things related to this, and in need of your wisdom and stories from experience.
posted by MiraK to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's okay to tell her your preferences AND at least lightly outline your feelings. "So...this is my mess, and there's a lot of anxiety tangled up in it, and I'm worried I'm going to fail organizing and I'm worried you'll make me buy a bunch of containers."

This isn't the first time she's dealt with someone anxious, I promise. She may very well make a case for some storage stuff, but she may also be like "hey, let's see what you've got and figure that out later, okay?" Maybe hold off on the forbidding until you see what she's actually trying to help you accomplish, and then decline at will if you don't see the value in it.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:47 AM on April 11, 2018

AskMe's Own professional organizer The Wrong Kind of Cheese just mentioned that fancy new storage containers are not a priority at all. (Their AskMe history might be worth poking through - they often give really good advice on the subject!)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Will I be the client from hell if I forbid her to buy new storage-type things?

When I worked for an older couple, part of my job was to be there when they had sessions with their organizer. For the sessions I was there for, we mostly just chose a room or area and did "keep-donate-trash." The organizer had ideas and suggestions for organizing the "keep" piles that were really helpful! No new storage-type things were ever mentioned.

I got the impression that the organizers knew (a big) part of their job was emotional support and gentle encouragement and they were very good at that.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, what restless_nomad said? That's me! I am all fizzy about being "Mefi's own" in this regard. ;-)

I'm on the road right now, so I can't grab links for you, but please do know that any true professional organizer will focus first on reducing clutter and second on creating organized, categorized systems, and will only incidentally talk to you about containers, and should try to find serviceable items in your own home (small boxes, lidless Tupperware, hanging file milk crates instead of fancy filing cabinets, etc.), to stand in as containers until you know exactly how much you have of any given thing. No NAPO professional organizer should/would ever encourage you to acquire any particular kind of container before dealing primarily with the possessions themselves.

A PO may encourage you to buy things like tabbed folders and hanger folders if you're working on papers, or might point out that the tangle of wire hangers is not useful and you should consider X or Y style of hangers, but most of us try to maximize our clients' money by avoiding buying anything that's not necessary or at least incredibly useful FOR THAT CLIENT. Also, most professional organizers are pretty concerned about sustainable living and I can't imagine any pushing you to buy things, especially decorative ones.

As for things to ask, you want to know things like:

--how long has this person being organizing (as a professional)? Someone in business for under a year, especially one who hasn't been mentored by a veteran, probably isn't right for your current needs.
--will she (or, less likely, he), be working directly with you, or will one or more of her (his) contractors/employees be assigned to working with you? Most of us are sole proprietors, but with teams/groups, some clients prefer to interview with the owner of a firm even if planning to work with a staffer or a team of organizers.
--does the organizer have any credentials? Certified Professional Organizer from BCPO®? Residential Certificate from NAPO? CPO-CD or CPO-Hoarding from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization? A credential isn't necessary -- it's a huge bonus indicative of extra continuing education and mentoring at the highest level. (I've written about this elsewhere here, but again, I'm on the road.)
--what's the organizer's philosophy on sustainability? On recycling/repurposing?
--will the professional organizer help you identify specific non-profits to which to donate your excess? Will the PO deliver the donations for you (to help you get them GONE)? Is there a charge or is that value-added?
--does the organizer have a cancelation policy? (Must you cancel by a certain number of days before a session to avoid a cancelation fee?)
--how many hours are a session? For example, I only work (for in-person, non-virtual clients) in four-hour sessions. For some POs there's a minimum number of hours, for others, they go with your flow.
--does the organizer develop/assign homework to help save you money on sessions (by letting you do work the organizer isn't needed to oversee) and to help you practice the skills you learn? Do you WANT to be given homework and accountability?

An experienced organizer should ask you questions about your lifestyle, preferences, goals, etc., and should really guide the conversation, but give you the opportunity to expand upon your concerns without interrupting you, like a good doctor or therapist (although, except in the cases where your PO is a medical professional, we are not generally health professionals).

An organizer should work with you to develop systems (behavioral as well as physical/structural) and check-in with you as you go along to make sure you believe you can maintain. It's natural to be nervous -- I wrote a blog post about this for my colleagues called In Checkbooks and Underwear Drawers, about how we have a huge responsibility because of the vulnerability our clients are showing us in working on their issues. We take this seriously. It's OK to be nervous, but remember, if the organizer doesn't put you at least somewhat at ease, it's not the organizer for you.

[Please excuse any typos -- I'm standing at a coffee bar in a friend's co-working space in a city that's isn't my own, trying to type on an iPad.]
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2018 [18 favorites]

I’ve been an organizer. I found my basic role was to guide and emotionally support the client. It’s amazing how much easier it was for them to keep/donate/toss with someone else just being there. They will listen and support you.

I only did it for a short time, but after the toss/donate, no extra storage-type things were really needed.
posted by Vaike at 12:44 PM on April 11, 2018

I ditched my so called organizer - it was like having a consultant in and asking the time for them to borrow your watch, tell you the time then charge you.

Try to Kon Mari method - that appears to involve de-cluttering an a massive scale.
posted by jallypeeno at 8:39 AM on February 26, 2019

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