Note: A version of this article was originally published in November 2012 and has been significantly updated since then.
We've all been there.
Looking for lost keys, a missing wallet, a file that's just gotta be around here somewhere!
Maybe it's putting the grocery list together or organizing all your food into something that resembles a meal.
Perhaps it's bringing order to a relentless barrage of information or keeping track of the kid's schedule (and your own).
There's a reason why Closets magazine exists and why the home organization industry is a multi-billion dollar business. So maybe you could use a shortcut to organized happiness by hiring a Professional Organizer (PO).
But are a Professional Organizer's services priceless … or worthless? And why would you need one?
All the answers – from and about Professional Organizers – plus helpful organizing resources are coming up.
(This is also a great time to download the tools that I and countless others use to simplify, organize, and be money wise).
Why Do Professional Organizers Exist?
There seems to be a profession for any problem, and organizing is no exception.
Because organizing struggles are so common, Professional Organizing has been booming to help people sort through their issues (often literally).
Here are some of the top reasons why POs have grown in popularity:
- Because people bury important paperwork under mountains of useless stuff.
- Physical and digital chaos is overwhelming.
- Some folks have no system to decide what possessions to keep or toss.
- Many people routinely can't find the things they need.
- Organizing your home before or after a move is serious work.
- The difference between cleaning and organizing is lost on many people.
That's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Break It Down: National Association of Professional Organizers Style
I'm paraphrasing, but according to the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) – the industry authority – a Professional Organizer:
Enhances people's lives by teaching core organizing skills and designing systems or processes based on rockin' organizing principles. A Professional Organizer also educates the public on organizing solutions and their benefits. Also, Professional Organizers help people and businesses take control of their environment, time, paper, and habits.
What's not to like there, right? To back up their statements, the excellent NAPO website has Professional Organizer facts like their top ten services or the top reasons a PO is hired.
NAPO also has case studies about different types of people and businesses who benefit from their services. People like:
- A relocating corporate professional.
- A single mother needing serious time management skills.
- A scrap-booking and sewing fanatic with way too many supplies.
- A work-at-home project manager whose bed-based home office (yes, seriously) needs major changes.
- The worst hoarder you can imagine.
- A visually impaired woman with stacks of paperwork and no good way to purge them.
Want to have some nerdy fun? You'll love the NAPO database search for tons of organizing related stats, facts, and quotes.
For example, 30 percent of all employees' time is spent trying to find lost documents.
But let's get personal for a moment: what can a Professional Organizer do for you, your kids, or your business?
What a Professional Organizer Will (or Can) Do
The sky's the limit for Professional Organizer services if your need is remotely organizing related. There are even customized memorabilia organizing systems and specialists available!
At a high level, here are the skills and services you can expect from a Professional Organizer.
- Collection and hoarding identification … and explaining their hazards.
- Process and system creation for maintaining a tidy environment (and brain).
- Solutions to your behaviors, personality type, or disorders (e.g. ADD or chronically disorganized).
- Possession management for moving or downsizing your living space.
- Workflow designer and spatial relationships guide.
- Emotional coach to help reconcile your deep-seated relationships with “stuff.”
- Resource connector to recycling, donation, and disposal options.
- Storage and action system expert (physical and/or digital).
- Creator of efficient email systems and how to manage your inbox.
- Teacher of moment-to-moment time management skills.
- Assessor of the elderly's special physical, medical, and emotional organizational needs.
- “Document life cycle” guru.
Ask a Professional Organizer if they do “that” and the answer may just be, “Sure!”
What Professional Organizers Can Do For Your Kids
People with kids can appreciate the, shall we say, distinct organizational challenges of having them. I have two young boys and I know exactly how tough it can be.
Although kids have some of the same issues we do, POs deal with kid-specific struggles like:
- An out of control toy box or accessories drawer.
- A haphazard mess in their room, play zone, or study area.
- Time management with homework and chores.
Now, if only someone could get my baby to pick up after himself …
What They Can Do For Your Business
Professional Organizers typically work with small businesses, especially those with the same problems as individuals. But most won't shy away from a mid- to large-sized businesses, even if their needs and solutions are way different.
A really good PO can step in, assess an overall business situation, identify needs and goals, and develop a customized organizational system for many aspects of the business. Some can even help with project management initiation and implementation.
If you have a small business and need a Professional Organizer, definitely make sure they have experience with a structure like yours (not to mention the systems).
What They Can't Do For You
Unlike a Daily Money Manager, I couldn't find definitive information on what a Professional Organizer can't or won't do for you.
However, here are a few of things most POs won't do.
- Clean your house.
- Provide long-term manual organization of your physical or digital space.
- Forcibly work with someone who hasn't requested their services (e.g. a hoarder).
When in doubt, just ask, “Do you do that?”
How to Know If You Need a Professional Organizer
What symptoms make you a good candidate for Professional Organizer services? Here's a great starting point:
- Trouble categorizing, sorting, and identifying the excess in life.
- Struggles with document, space, workflow, and time management.
- Chronic disorganization, especially the kind causing stress and quality of life issues
- Repeated failure to reconcile organizational problems yourself.
- A lack of skills, patience, or emotional balance to convince or train a family member/friend about being organized.
- Issues setting SMART goals.
Where to Find a Professional Organizer
Professional Organizers may network with local neighborhood associations, Geriatric Care Managers, non-profits, the AARP, or social workers, but they don't have typical hangout spots.
The best bet is searching online for one near you or one that offers virtual services if nobody's close to you (or even in your country).
In the U.S.
Use the NAPO Professional Organizer Directory.
Note: If you click on the link to “Country,” you can search for NAPO certified POs in countries like Brazil, France, and Israel. As of May 2015, there are few results for most countries outside of North America, but this will change over time.
Use the Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) Find an Organizer Directory.
In the U.K.
Use the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers (UK) Find a Declutterer tool.
In Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Singapore
Use the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers (AAPO) Find An Organiser directory.
How to Analyze a Professional Organizer
I've curated some of the best content on the topic from the web and aggregated it here.
Start with basic questions about their work history, references, sample contracts, what's unique about them, and whether they sub-contract out their work. Make sure to ask some more advanced questions too such as:
- How do you address challenges of space, paper, and time management?
- What's your code of ethics?
- How do you facilitate decision-making and identify resuming bad habits?
- Do you charge an hourly rate, by the session, or a flat fee per project?
- Do you have a minimum number of hours or sessions you bill? Can I stop without penalty at any time?
- How often can you work with me (e.g. weekly, monthly, intermittently)?
- Do you offer a free consultation? If I have to pay for the consultation, will you subtract the amount from the services you provide if I hire you?
- Do you have a list of other professionals you can refer me to?
- Do you offer any guarantees on the services you provide?
- Do you specialize in specific types of organization (e.g. digital) or specific types of clients (e.g. small businesses)?
- Are you a member of my country's Professional Organizer industry group (e.g. NAPO, POC, AAPO)?
- Do you offer remote consultations and virtual sessions (e.g. Skype-based)?
- Do you have special training or certifications (e.g. chronic disorganization, feng shui, ICD certs)?
- What does your general approach and process look like (e.g. hands-on, team based, workshops)?
- Have you successfully resolved problems similar to mine? How?
- Do you have insurance?
Fantastic Professional Organizer Related Resources
Note: Most of this article's original resources below are no longer available. So let me know in the comments if you have a great one and I'll consider adding it to the list.
- Tips for Dealing with Hoarders: Courtesy of the Professional Organizers in Canada, this two-pager has some great tips for dealing with the hoarder in your life.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the tools that I and countless others use to organize their physical and digital landscape. You'll have them instantly when you join my email newsletter with the button below.
The Bottom Line
As with any professional help, you'll have to weigh the time, energy, and financial costs against maintaining your status quo. But if the status quo is too painful to sustain, contact a Professional Organizer to determine how they could help you.
Hiring one might not be the right decision. But if reading books and blogs or watching videos about getting organized isn't cutting it, they might help a ton.
For the comments: What was the most valuable part of this article for you? What else would you like to see added to it?