Get to Know a P.O.
What are the biggest organization mistakes
you see people make?
Bacon: People organize and make the space look good, but it turns out not to be functional or very difficult to keep up. They fall back to old habits, and before you know it, they are back where they started.
Carter: Over-shopping is one of the most common habits causing disorganization today. There was a time when people only purchased things they needed. I am a reformed estate-sale junkie. I think I bought stuff for the excitement of getting a bargain (which I learned from my mom). Today, many people buy things to make them feel better, to overcome boredom, because they dont want their kids to feel deprived and many more reasons. They cram their closets and their pantries full until they dont know what they have and there is no way to organize it.
Kolberg: People tend to take on too many projects at the same time with equal passion, rather than taking on projects in phases over time. They also tend to wait too long to get help clearing out clutter.
Plait: I see clients who go too far one way or another with paper retention. You dont want to keep everything, but you also dont want to throw it all away. Ask yourself if you will need or want it again. Obviously, you want to keep legal documents and tax-related documents. On the other hand, you probably dont need a receipt from the grocery store that is six months old. Check with your accountant and then set some guidelines.
Ricci: One of the most common mistakes people make is trying to organize before they declutter. Culling out what is no longer giving value is the first step to take in the organizing process. You cant organize clutter. You have to first sort it to eliminate what is no longer important and then you can get to the business of classifying, sorting and storing. Another common mistake people make is buying organizing tools before they know what they need.
What are your biggest dos and donts?
What pieces of advice can you offer?
Bacon: Do try to keep a function in one area. For example, scrapbooking on the kitchen counter, on your bed and in the basement is a surefire recipe for clutter buildup. Keep your scrapbooking in one area all the time with all the tools you need to complete your project at hand. Dont try to tackle too much at one time. Its better to do one small space at a time well before proceeding to the next. Do establish a schedule for cleaning up. If you are not good at cleaning up after yourself as you go, establish a pick up time every evening and stick to it. It soon becomes automatic, and kids are especially successful at this method of cleanup.
Caputo: Do make lists before you go shopping. Not only will you save time by going to a store once and getting all the items you need in a fewer number of stops, but youll also only buy what you need, sticking to your family budget and making it back in time to start on that project at home youve been meaning to get to.
Carter: If you dont need it, use it, or love it, dont keep it. Do weed out constantly. The less you have, the less there is to organize.
Kolberg: Do get support to organize and maintain your organizing systems. Dont rely on yourself if getting organized is not your strength. Do use vertical, not horizontal, file folder and paper holders. Vertical is visible, horizontal is hidden. Do use color as a cue to action. Dont just use manila.
Plait: Do purchase a good crosscut shredder that will shred paper and credit cards. It is so risky to toss your private information in the trash. Identity theft is such a huge issue now. Dont put your outgoing mail in your box unless you know the mail person is coming soon. People steal outgoing mail looking for checks. Find a mailbox and consider using online banking and bill-pay services.
Ricci: Do increase your awareness. Be aware of where your disorganization is coming from so you can address it at its source. Do live within your space. Be realistic about how much space you have. Do know your priorities. The secret to getting what you want out of life is knowing what you want out of life. Sit down and write out your top five priorities for this month, and when planning your schedule, make sure that the tasks you are doing support those priority items.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Bacon: Keeping clients on track after the initial organizing job is by far the hardest part for me. Hey, that is hard evenin my own home. I do try to keep up with my clients and see what is working and what is not working, and then I like to offer fine-tuning services a few months after the project, to go in and maybe tweak things a little to make them more effective.
Caputo: One of the most challenging aspects of my job is figuring out the specifics of each and every client. Some individuals are very visual, while others need a logical, by-the-numbers approach. Being a professional organizer requires having to interview and truly get to know the individual youre working with. Sometimes these personality traits are hidden below the surface, and you have to help them become apparent.
Carter: The most challenging part is making organizing feel fun. A lot of clients think it is a bore and a chore, but a friend or P.O. [professional organizer] can make it bearable and even enjoyable.
Kolberg: Keeping up with demand. We live in a society that generates a lot of clutter and paper, requires us to make many decisions and provides very little time for everything we need to get done. Gratefully, I am able to draw from other organizers in metro Atlanta who can work on projects with me as subcontractors.
Plait: Making time for myself is a constant challenge. Managing my own business involves so much more than the time I spend with clients. I am also the bookkeeper, the marketing person and the visionary. Its hard for me to put it down and just relax.
Ricci: Believe it or not, the administrative duties are the most challenging part of my job. I just hate that kind of work!
Whats the strangest thing youve ever seen while organizing?
Bacon: The grossest thing I come across is old food. I have seen food that was a week old, or at times, months oldwhich obviously leads to critters invading the area. Luckily, I havent ever come face to face with a live animal living off the old food.
Caputo: The strangest thing Ive seen while organizing is probably also the grossest. I worked with a client on her bedroom and found several bags of half-eaten fast food at least a month old, with French fries smashed into the carpet. I dont think her carpet had been vacuumed in over a year.
Carter: I love the big sorting process. To me its like a treasure hunt. I almost always find money or gift certificates; the bigger the pile, the bigger the treasure. Just this week I found a gift card worth $500. Once I found $30 in cash tucked inside a greeting card that was a first birthday present for a baby. That baby was 15 years old when I found it.
Kolberg: The strangest thing I have seen is the fellow who used his oven as storage for books and cassette tapes. Clearly he does not plan to cook. The grossest was the woman who collected nail clippings. I turned down that job. And the funniest are the children who organize by hiding things.
Ricci: On occasion, I have seen some things that took me by surprise or could be embarrassing for the client to know that I saw. Part of the art to this business is being able to remain calm and to not judge the client in the midst of the discovery.
Do you have any heartwarming stories to share from your organizing experiences?
Bacon: After the initial consult and client interview, I can feel the apprehension and sense of shame fade away and a sense of relief coming from the client. It is so difficult to feel defeated every day before you even walk out the doorto live in a space that is working against you. I can feel they can see the light at the end of the tunnel; I can feel their hope for something different for themselves and their families. I really like bringing that kind of hope to people and helping my clients get there.
Caputo: One client and her husband were in their 60s and beginning to consider retirement. Her brothers and sisters had children, and the client was the only sibling with no kids of her own. Because of this, she became the family historian. Her brothers and sisters granted her the privilege of storing and keeping all of the familys heirlooms. She was paralyzed about getting rid of anything relating to her familys past. We spent painstaking hours together looking at all sorts of artifacts from her familys history. I helped her sort into bins items that she wanted, items that she was going to give back to her siblings and items she planned to donate to a local historical society for the Jewish faith. When I left she stood up, began to cry and gave me a huge hug. She was speechless, and so was I.
Carter: We all do this for the hugs. Not many people get to hug their clients.
Kolberg: One woman was about to be evicted. We organized her apartment from top to bottom so quickly and completely (using a crew) that the landlord changed his mind, the client saved her home, and I felt very glad to be doing what I do.
Plait: The work I do is highly confidential. Clients allow me to see very private information. I often remark that I have seen so much and know so much that I could already have written that book and made millions, but I know I never will. I do, however, love dogs! I am overjoyed when I discover that a client has a dog or two. I always have dog biscuits with me. So now the joke is that one day I am going to write a book about my clients dogs. (A special hello to Buddy, who eats Cheez Whiz!)
Ricci: Every time I leave a client and they have experienced a positive change in their environment, its heartwarming. One lady e-mailed me to say that after attending one of my seminars, she successfully cleaned out several file boxes worth of old files that had been weighing on her mind for 10 years. She couldnt have been more thrilled, and of course, that was gratifying for me. Also, while I was working with a recent client, she discovered $150 in cash that she had forgotten all about. Bonus!
Is there a certification program for professional organizers?
All of the professional organizers profiled here are members of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO). Although NAPO does not currently have a certification program for professional organizers, the association is working to establish one by 2007. Members of NAPO agree to uphold a code of ethics as practicing members of the association, and many attend seminars and conferences designed to keep them abreast of industry advances.
What do professional organizers charge?
Some organizers charge by the hour or by the day, others charge by the project, and many use a combination of fee systems, depending on the scope of each organizing job. A flat fee is often charged for an initial assessment of what services are needed. Hourly rates for professional organizers in Atlanta can range from $40 an hour to more than $100 an hour.