Tidying up is currently trendy, but professional organizers have long promoted the benefits of getting rid of unnecessary possessions and organizing your space. Whether they’re tackling a messy car, chaotic closet, or cluttered bedroom, professional organizers help people simplify and unclutter—and no, they won't judge you while they're doing it. We spoke to a few professional organizers about the realities and misperceptions of the job.
1. THEY’RE NOT TRYING TO MAKE YOU GET RID OF ALL YOUR STUFF.
People often think organizers want you to pare down your possessions to as few items as possible. While some people subscribe to extreme minimalism—and challenge themselves to limit their belongings to just 100 items, for example—most organizers care more about how your stuff complements your life than how many items you have.
“Some people believe that an organizer is going to come in and make them get rid of everything,” professional organizer and productivity consultant Jennifer Lava tells mental_floss. “The truth is I just want people to be able to not be overwhelmed and to get to a level of stuff that is right for them.”
2. HOARDERS ARE THE EXCEPTION, NOT THE RULE.
According to Lava, people with hoarding tendencies make up only two to five percent of the population. “Many people seem to think all we do is work with people who have a hoarding disorder, when in fact, it is only a small part of the population,” she tells mental_floss.
Rather than wade through ceiling-high piles of old magazines and mounds of dirty clothes, most professional organizers work with non-hoarders who are simply overwhelmed by their possessions. “Americans tend to have a lot of stuff and feel like they don’t have a lot of time. But by reducing the stuff they have to what they need, use, or love, and then creating an effective system to manage these things, they spend less time dealing with their stuff and more time doing the things they want to do,” Lava explains.
3. THEY BURN A LOT OF CALORIES.
Organizing is a physically demanding job. As professional organizer Rachel Seavey of Collector Care tells mental_floss, organizers spend a good chunk of their time lifting, bending, carrying heavy items, and building cabinets or shelves. “New organizers are always exhausted when they first start out. Clients are usually tuckered out as well! It’s not easy work,” Seavey says.
Suzanne O’Donnell of My LA Organizer echoes Seavey, adding that organizers can expend a lot of calories. “I’m constantly moving during a session, and because I track my heart rate and calories burned, I know I am getting a great workout,” she says.
4. DRAWERS ARE THEIR NEMESIS.
No matter how neat your home may appear, you probably have a few messy drawers where you stash random trinkets that you’re not sure where else to put. Because drawers help people conceal messiness, organizers detest them.
To keep drawers orderly, organizers suggest that you clear out unnecessary stuff and insert drawer dividers. “Whatever tool you use to divide the drawer, put like things together in those dividers. If you need extra help getting things back in the right divider, you can label them too,” Lava suggests. That way, drawers have designated spots for specific items, and you’ll be able to quickly locate what you need.
5. THEY’RE NOT JUDGING YOU.
According to professional organizer June Bell, most people think their homes are messier than they actually are. “It’s kind of funny, but every time I enter a new client’s home or business for our first appointment, they always say, ‘Oh, my home/office must be the worst you’ve ever seen. I’m so embarrassed because it’s so messy!’” she says in a Reddit AMA. But good organizers leave their judgments at the door, so don’t feel bashful about your messy home on their account.
Bell admits that even some of her friends worry that their homes aren’t orderly enough for her to come over for a social visit. “I tell [my friends] that when I visit them, I’m there to see them. I value them for who they are, not the tidiness of their stuff."
6. THEY STRIKE A BALANCE BETWEEN PRACTICALITY AND STYLE.
Unlike most interior designers, who focus more on aesthetics than function, professional organizers put more emphasis on their clients’ specific lifestyle needs. For example, organizers may put commonly used items in shelves that are easily accessible and stash bulkier or rarely used items out of reach.
But while function is key, organizers don’t completely ignore design. As professional organizer Jeffrey Phillip explains, making a room stylish yet also practical requires a balancing act. “I bring in my influence of blending style and efficiency, so everything has the right flow and function and sings as one cohesive space,” he tells Brit + Co.
7. THEY HAVE A VARIETY OF SPECIALITIES, SOME OF WHICH YOU MIGHT NOT EXPECT.
While some organizers are generalists who work in typical home and office spaces, others specialize in emergency preparedness, genealogy research, digital clutter, or collections and memorabilia. Some organizers also get extra training to help clients who suffer from physical disabilities, ADHD, OCD, or hoarding. Still others—who often refer to themselves as productivity consultants or time-management coaches—help people organize and manage their time more effectively. These professionals encourage their clients to avoid procrastination, plan their tasks for the next day, and take enough breaks.
8. THEY OFTEN HELP PEOPLE UNDERGOING MAJOR LIFE CHANGES.
Many people hire professional organizers during times of stress and upheaval, such as a divorce, death in the family, or move to a new residence. Even positive life changes—a child moving away for college, the arrival of a new baby, or someone losing a large amount of weight—can be stressful times that prompt people to call on a professional organizer. Good organizers are empathetic and encouraging, knowing that in some cases clients may be grappling with feelings of frustration, shame, or anxiety. As they help clients tackle an empty bedroom or redo a closet, organizers also help clients sort through their emotions and adjust to life changes.
9. CAMERAS HELP THEM DO THEIR JOB.
While organizers certainly use their keen eye for detail to assess a space and figure out how to improve it, they rely on cameras more than you might think. Cameras come in handy in a variety of organizing situations, from encouraging people to donate old stuff to making shopping trips easier. For example, organizers may encourage clients to take photos of sentimental items (and then donate them) rather than keep them in a closet. Additionally, some organizers take photos of the space they’re working on. Referring to the photos while shopping for boxes and bins helps organizers pick the right size and quantity of organizational tools.
10. THEY CAN HELP YOU SAVE MONEY.
Because of their insider knowledge and relationships with vendors, professional organizers can save you dollars on everything from junk pickup to closet shelving. They can also help you find reputable appraisers for the paintings in your attic or the coin collection in your closet. Organizers may even help you find forgotten cash. When Bell and a client were organizing files in her office, they found a forgotten bank account worth $7000!
11. THEY WISH YOU’D HOLD OFF ON BUYING STORAGE CONTAINERS.
At the beginning of a big organizing project, most people rush to a store to buy containers, bins, and dividers. While these tools are useful, organizers wish you’d wait to purchase tons of containers. Their advice: Before bringing more stuff into your home, first go over the stuff you currently have and determine what you can get rid of. Once you know how much stuff you want to keep, you can shop for the appropriate number (and size) of containers.
12. WHEN THEY BECOME CERTIFIED, THEY’RE CALLED CPOs.
Forget CPAs and CFOs. CPOs—Certified Professional Organizers—are professional organizers who have completed 1500 hours of paid work and passed the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers exam. CPOs must also renew their credential periodically by participating in continuing education courses or attending conferences. Four thousand professional organizers and CPOs belong to The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), an organization that provides education, networking, and professional development opportunities to organizers across the U.S.
13. YOU PROBABLY WON’T FIND THEM WITHOUT A LABEL-MAKER.
Because electronic label-makers are lightweight, portable, affordable, and versatile, they’re a must-have tool for the majority of organizers. Label-makers also print labels quickly, making them a handy tool for labeling boxes, office supplies, and items in kitchen cupboards. Besides label-makers, organizers often travel with soft tape measures so they can easily determine the dimensions of the space in which they’re working.
14. THEY LOVE HELPING PEOPLE.
Although organizing a space gives them a sense of satisfaction, organizers ultimately love working with people and helping them achieve greater productivity and peace of mind. “I love seeing the relief on my clients’ faces at the end of a session. They are already feeling more at ease in their home or office knowing that they can find their stuff,” Lava says. Good organizers also teach people the skills and knowledge to be able to organize their stuff on their own. “There is nothing like doing something that I enjoy and comes easy to me, and sharing all the wonderful benefits with others,” Lava adds.
All photos via iStock.