Help me get someone else to help me with my life
January 15, 2022 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I think all the time about having some kind of organizer or assistant to help with tasks that I find really difficult (as a person with a cognitively demanding job and ADHD). But I also have a paralysis of choice and struggle to take even small steps towards this. I want to spend money to save time and improve my life. Can you help me, with clear and simple steps, figure out how to get this to happen?

I've thought about writing this question so many times and never done it, which is essentially the problem. I have so many ideas, but by the time it comes to executing I'm on to the next thing. I get so excited about a project and then abandon it. I have very little ability to follow-through on actually carrying out the steps of accomplishing something. It would be really helpful to have another brain to work with to figure out how to improve my life.

Some projects have so many steps that I never get anywhere towards them. For example, getting my room set up with storage, shelves, means researching options, selecting something, buying it, getting it delivered or picking it up, putting it up, and this all takes more time for me to do than someone else I think. Projects like getting things framed and putting them up on the wall, choosing and scheduling someone to do some cleaning, figuring out what to eat and getting the supplies into my house, and other simple things are disproportionately hard and it would be helpful for someone else to do them. It would also be nice to have someone help with more complicated things like financial planning for example.

The choice is the most difficult thing, like even going to a store I get stressed over remembering what I'm supposed to be doing, and selecting from different options. I get distressed sometimes for example looking at the wall of toilet paper options. This is much worse when it comes to an open-ended task like finding art to put on the wall. I would want someone who can listen to what my goals and priorities are, then provide a smaller number of options to choose from. My job takes up so much of my cognitive capacity that there is a limited amount left for anything else.

This might mean multiple types of help or I suppose sub-delegating, like someone to install something, fix something, someone to clean stuff, but the act of figuring out what I need, contacting someone, scheduling, and carrying through with it feels impossible and never ends up happening. Ideally there would be one person I could talk to, and that person could carry out the steps of getting whatever service is needed.

Is this a professional organizer? An assistant? It would have to be some kind of hourly rate service I think? Basically, what I'm hoping is that someone can give me the simplest possible plan for making this happen or at least taking steps towards it.

A vague sense of how much this would likely cost would also be helpful, and how I could do it cost-effectively. I have a reasonable amount of resources to put towards this, let's say I think I could probably pay for a couple hours of someone's time every week, and would be willing to consider spending some savings on setting things up (especially because I think planning better would save me money). The more specific the better - e.g. contact this organization or service. It doesn't have to be perfect, I just need to take steps towards it happening.

I don't think it would necessarily have to be someone physically located close to me, but that might also be helpful. I'm located in Vancouver, BC.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.
posted by lookoutbelow to Human Relations (7 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (sorry to comment again but had something to add)

Even someone remote, let's say to make me a checklist of the steps I need to do to accomplish a task. E.g. I want to clean up my old (sadly dead) plants and get new plants, providing a step by step list of the steps I need to take to do that task, and a few options for what plants to get, and where to get them. I don't always need someone to do something for me, but someone to tell me what to do without having too many choices or too much planning involved, if that makes sense.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:42 AM on January 15, 2022

Best answer: Perhaps what you are looking for is a private household manager.

They plan, coordinate, pay bills, do administrative tasks and more. If you aren't sure who to find or how to do something, they do the research and hire and supervise that person, do the task themselves or assist you in doing the task.

Pay depends on experience, location and tasks.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:26 PM on January 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can get a personal assistant, or a virtual assistant, from $25 an hour. I think that's what you need. Honestly this is the sort of thing I would hire for off of Craigslist Vancouver. There are a couple of people advertising for a role, so you have something to look at to start, and a couple of people offering their services.

If you need someone to help you write an ad, just say so -- I have time this weekend and would be happy to draft something for you based off this post.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:02 PM on January 15, 2022

Best answer: There is a saying that "When have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Thus, whenever organizing, productivity, and project management questions (and yours is all three) arise, and because I am a professional organizer, the services of my profession are what I offer most often. And I will do so here. But first, I'd like to address some other options you are/may be considering.

First I'd like you to consider that in addition working with a professional organizer on addressing each of your projects, developing a strategy and tactics, and getting help selecting the right people/resources for each element of each "project," that you also consider the benefit of working with an ADHD coach.


Because you mentioned that you have ADHD, I'm going to assume that this was officially diagnosed, and that you've also verified that you don't have any other executive function disorders that can complicate your life and increase your overwhelm. (If you haven't, though, I encourage you to speak with your physician or health care team.)

An ADHD coach can help with all the kinds of projects you're talking about, but their significant benefit is that they help teach you how to develop the cognitive and life skills you need for counteracting the obstacles your ADHD puts in your way. In other words, a professional organizer will (mostly) help you accomplish your tasks for changing your surroundings and your life; an ADHD coach will (mostly) help you accomplish changing things about yourself to make everything easier.

ADHD coaches often work with clients virtually, as there are (relatively) few such professionals contrasted with the number of people who need/want these services. However, lucky you, Vancouver has quite a few! You don't have to worry about finding one of these specialists now, and a professional organizer (particularly one you work with in person in Vancouver) should be able to recommend one for you. My point is, with everything going on in your life, I'd encourage you to consider not just working with someone on the "tasks and stuff" but on yourself, as well, to make you feel more empowered.


A personal assistant, a virtual assistant, and other task-oriented individuals are great for taking the instructions you give them, or even just the end-results you want to achieve, and getting those tasks done. These solutions work great for my clients who are decisive, know what they want, and can give detailed instructions to a VA regarding the end-result they are seeking and any specific obstacles they are trying to avoid.

However, these solutions tend to be really problematic for my clients with ADHD because, absent detailed instructions, telling someone to "order me a filing cabinet" without them knowing your technical specifications (measurements, drawers needed, lock concerns, windowsill clearance, yadda yadda) means frustration for you and the assistant. It's one thing to have someone who lives-in or spends all day in your house, who can keep tabs on what you eat (and hate to eat, or won't bother to prepare), figure out your weekly food order; it's quite another to have someone without intimate knowledge of your life make these decisions without input from you.

A satisfying adult life (sigh, unfortunately) requires making lots of decisions for oneself. You can outsource the labor and some of the decision-making, but the more agency you give up to someone in the name of convenience, the more dissatisfaction you may experience with the results. After 20 years as a Certified Professional Organizer, I can tell you that it's a delicate balance, and giving up too much control can lead to just as much overwhelm as feeling all the weight on yourself.

I'm not saying you shouldn't consider an assistant, whether a VA or someone local, but until you can clarify what you want so you can give good guidance (and I don't mean micromanaging), the assistant route may be frustrating and a stop-gap measure, at best.


For all the things you've mentioned that you want to accomplish, there are sub-skills that someone else possesses in order to guide you in:

* clarifying steps in a project and anticipating potential sticking points (project management)

* sticking with a project to completion (accountability)

* organizing your space (identifying needs, recognizing which solutions require behavioral changes and which require purchasing resources, accomplishing the actual purchasing, setting up, organizing, and maintenance, etc.)

* meals (meal planning, creating a pantry and fridge system that supports your desires, arranging for grocery acquisition, scheduling time to prepare food, considering and vetting options for food delivery services or personal chef services., etc.)

You said you want someone "who can listen to what my goals and priorities are" but you may also need someone who will prompt you (with the right questions) and help you see the smaller and smaller incremental steps for those goals.

A professional organizer won't cook for you, but will help you determine whether what you really need is to have specific systems (that do not depend on your desire or mood) to accomplish the tasks to get food in your tummy or invest in services (like a personal chef or food prep delivery service) to accomplish that goal.

A professional organizer will help you organize, may help you decide about products and even shop for the resources you decide on, and may install them or help you hire a specialist to do so. A PO may even work with you on "maintenance" but you're skill going to be the person living there, having to do laundry and put clean clothes away, and a PO can help you create a process/routine customized so you will actually follow it for maintaining your space (mostly) painlessly.

What I suspect you need, most of all, is a professional organizer with depth of experience in working with clients with ADHD, but who also has a generalist practice in residential organizing. A two-for-one, basically. Most professional organizers work in residential organizing; some in business and productivity. You want one with the ADHD speciality, as all of those other things will likely be included as well.


Normally, I'm advising the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). While a NAPO organizer like myself or one my colleagues would be one way to go, you've got a more customized option.

Because you're Vancouver, your first approach will be looking at Professional Organizers in Canada (POC). Their search functions are different, but similarly granular to NAPO's:

1) Go to POC's Find an Organizer page
3) Select from the drop-downs for your province and city. (You can ignore the stuff before that.)
4) Under "Special Needs" select "Business and Residential - ADHD"

This will narrow the list quite a bit. But since making decisions is frustrating for you, you may want to also select either Silver Leave or Gold Leaf (YES) from a drop down. Those are veteran/length-of-experience markers the POC folks use (similar to my NAPO Golden Circle length of service).

When I narrowed it down like that, I got a smaller handful of names, one of which caught my eye: Debby Lea CPO-CD®. That alphabet soup after her name? It indicates that she carries that credential of Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization from the Institute of Challenging Disorganization, a sister organization of NAPO (and POC) that specializes in education and training.

Unfortunately, I know far fewer of my Canadian than American colleagues, so I can't just give you outright recommendations. And though I can explain Debby Lea's credentials, I don't know her. But I can walk you through how to cross-check for people with advanced skills to make sure you get someone top-notch.

If I search the ICD's subscribership (what they call their membership) for Vancouver (as I don't know your actual postal code), I get 32 names. Almost anyone in ICD is ALSO going to be in NAPO or POC, but this gives you deeper information about their training. At the bottom of each person's little box, it lists the certificates they've achieved. If there are only one or two intro certificates listed, that's not going to be enough experience for you. You don't want a newbie.

Here, I see Debby Lea's whole list of certifications within ICD (and again, this is just an example) tallies up at 15 certificates, including a level II in ADHD and certificates in time management and productivity.

Again, I had no postal code, but even just by inputting "Vancouver," ICD is listing service providers from the closest to Vancouver to the farthest. You'll also see Cynthia Ford listed; she's also got a level II certificate in ADHD and a certificate in time management in productivity. She's not a CPO-CD, but because you haven't given me any input to think you are chronically disorganized, that's OK. But it looks like she's only working with people virtually now, due to COVID, so FYI.


Some professional organizers charge by the hour, some by the session, some by the project, and some by the package. Rates are determined by level of experience and geography. In the US, professional organizers in NYC and LA have much higher average rates than our colleagues in rural Montana. And it's been a long time since I needed to know the correspondence between American and Canadian exchange rates. So, I can't tell you how much someone will charge; and only you will know whether the value someone brings to the table is worth the financial cost to you. In the US, according to the last survey I read, PO rates can average from $60-$200 (but everything on the higher end comes from wackadoodle NYC/LA rates).

If you go the professional organizer route and want someone in person, POC and ICD are going to help you narrow people down. If you're willing to work virtually, then a either someone in POC/ICD or someone in NAPO and/or NAPO/ICD could be useful.

The point is, you don't want just a residential organizer; you want someone with a depth of experience working with ADHD clients and the process of helping clients clarify their needs and stay focused on the project at hand. And please do not work with someone who claims to be a profssional organizer but is not affiliated with at least one of these three associations; all three of these associations require members to abide by a code of ethics, require continuing education, and bring a wealth of resources that cannon be paralleled by someone who just decides to pop up and claim to do this kind of work.

I'd advise that you pick three names, email a shortened form of this question to each, and ask them to explain their processes. Have a phone call. Pick the person who makes you feel most like they "get" you.

There's no one RIGHT answer. That said, feel free to MeMail me and bounce some questions off of me. This is what I do all day. And if you're still having a sticking point, I let me know and I can contact some of my Canadian colleagues and ask, "If this were your friend/partner/adult kid, whom would you call?"

Finally, if you decide to work with a Canadian (or American) professional organizer virtually for your ADHD/project management needs, they can still help you bring in a PO or other service provider for things like installing organizing products, and help you identify a DMM (daily money manager) or financial organizer or bill paying service, a personal chef, and any of the other service providers you want. POs in Vancouver will have more Vancouver-specific information, but organizers love doing research.

I wish you good luck in finding a skilled and empathetic individual who can help empower you to accomplish your life goals.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 2:11 PM on January 15, 2022 [40 favorites]

Response by poster: Man, thank you so much. I cannot even express in words how helpful this advice is.

I do have lately diagnosed ADHD and have read a lot about it which has helped a lot, along with medication. Many years of that and mental health challenges causing dysfunction without them being properly diagnosed means a lot of my life skills and habits are very underdeveloped.

The idea of an organizer specializing in business and productivity is very interesting, as I have similar issues in my work life that are quite problematic. I may ask a further question on that at some point.

I'm not sure what would indicate chronic disorganization or lack thereof. I certainly oscillate wildly between a fair bit of house chaos and house organization (i.e. it doesn't get cleaned until someone is coming over), but I actually enjoy organizing things as a basic activity and so when I do get interested in doing that a lot gets done and everything does have a place it is supposed to be. I will ask about it to whoever I end up speaking to.

I will email a couple organizers as suggested.

Also DarlingBri, thank you for that incredibly generous offer. I think I will see what is recommended by the organizer types first before going ahead with finding someone to help with the many delayed household tasks.

As a last comment, of course the vocation of organizing is the most organized! I truly wish that similar certification, training and manner of finding the exact thing you need existed in my profession. I am very impressed and excited to work with someone who has the skills I need.
posted by lookoutbelow at 4:47 PM on January 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing I have come to accept is that any single Thing To Help is temporally limited. So right now I have reactivated my planners, am ordering vegie and fruit boxes, and those two things are helping. I have a list of things, and a set amount and type of food which gives me enough structure to manage. Meaning I have a bit more brain to out to bigger projects.

I've pondered meal kits or meal plans but I have a kid so those aren't as suited. Sometimes I get into meal prep.

One thing I plan to do when I have the money is a cleaner. A regular garden maintenance person. That way I can tackle projects like hanging art, new plants, whatever, from a solid foundation.

Also body doubling. My partner is staying with me and we both have ADHD (as does my kid) and it helps enormously to have the other person there. I can remember he needs to eat better than recognising it myself - he realises I need to get up and move out of hyperfocus before I do.

Also harness the hyperfocus. I just have to trust sometimes, that eventually I will hyperfocus and hang all the art or whatever.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:54 PM on January 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you might benefit from a good life coach. It's not a highly credentialed field, but someone to listen and help you organize your thoughts and plan your actions would be useful.
posted by theora55 at 5:18 PM on January 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

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