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I recently was contacted by a person who wanted advice on becoming a professional organizer. I get asked about this A LOT, and when I have the time I try to share what I know. I decided to post my most recent response in hopes that it sheds some light on what I do as an organizer. And maybe one of you readers out there who has been wondering if a career as a professional organizer is right for you will find that this post provides you with a bit more information to help you make that decision:

Hi _________,

I usually don’t answer these kinds of emails because I just don’t have time, quite honestly. But humor speaks to me and I liked how you signed off on your name, so I’m taking a few moments to email you back. I hope you get a lot of responses to your questions so you can note the common themes that will appear among other organizers’ answers. Here is what I know to be true as an organizer for almost 7 years:

1. Some people want more of a “Therapist Organizer.” Some people want more of a “Designer/Project Manager Organizer.” Figure out what you LIKE and what you are SKILLED at, and market yourself to that group of people. It’s the rare organizer who is effective at being both kinds of organizers.

2. If you decide to work with clients who hoard and/or therapists, PLEASE join the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) so you can receive additional training. Working with clients who hoard and/or are struggling with neurological differences or mental illness is far more difficult than any other kind of organizing, and an untrained organizer can do a lot of emotional harm to this population unintentionally. I strongly suggest you work for a year or two with clients without these kinds of struggles before you start working in the highly complex area of hoarding.

3. Do not call people who hoard “hoarders.” It is a deeply shameful word for people who struggle with Hoarding Disorder. You can refer to this population as “people with Hoarding Disorder” instead. I know you meant no harm in your original email when you used the term “hoarder,” and I do not mean to condemn you for using it. It’s something nobody told me when I first started out, so consider this me trying to save you from future misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

4. Marketing and pricing are particular to your region, demographic and region’s demand for organization, so there’s not much a Portland-based organizer can tell you about that. Instead, ask all of your local friends who run their own client-based businesses (like your Realtor/therapist friends) how they price/market themselves. You are all in the same boat; thus, you can all learn from each other. Note that if potential clients merely see you as a glorified cleaning service or someone who lines spice jars up on shelves, they will never see the value of paying you the $50-75/hour that you will probably want to charge.

5. Final word of advice: The organizers who do well (i.e. last more than 2 years) are those who have the heart of a teacher, coach or therapist. Yes, knowing about organizing products/systems is helpful. Having a natural affinity for organizing is helpful. But having strong teaching skills AND being the kind of person who people feel comfortable around almost instantly is what will make or break your organizing career.

“It’s not about the stuff,” Peter Walsh likes to say. So if you want to be an effective organizer, focus on reaching the hearts of your clients, not on the stuff they surround themselves with.

Best of luck to you.


MaryJo Monroe


The biggest organizing mistake I see people make …

by respaced on November 24, 2014

Closet collage The biggest organizing mistake I see people make ...

… is that they invest in a beautiful organizing system, but then don’t work the system.

See, organizing is one part physical and one part behavioral. That is to say, you need the physical space to store your items, but you also need to develop the habit of putting your things back in their space after you use them.

  • Without the physical part of your system, your organization will fail.
  • Without the behavioral part of your system, your organization will fail.

As a professional organizer, I am often called in to create that physical space to store a client’s items. I can solve that part of the equation. I can (and often do) write out a list of strategies the client can use to develop the habit of putting their things away, but ultimately it is up to the client to take that extra 5-10 minutes a day to put everything away.

That behavioral component is definitely the harder — much harder — part of getting organized. What is even harder is going it alone as you try to create these new habits to get more organized. Everything is harder when we try to do it alone! So reach out to me for help if your attempts to get organized never quite seem to work. We will get to the bottom of things, make a plan, and perhaps even have fun doing it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Easy, cheap DIY way to organize kids’ art supplies

by respaced on November 13, 2014

Art Shelf Easy, cheap DIY way to organize kids art supplies

Art supplies can look so messy and cluttery so fast, especially when the kids are in charge of putting them away. But I have found that if we sort/store them by COLOR, kids are much more likely to put them back after they are finished with them. Plus, the supplies look so colorful and lovely when they are organized this way! If art supplies are a part of your life, they might as well look great, right?

The colored paper on the top shelf is sorted by color into 5 rainbow-colored folders I bought at Staples (the folders are essential because otherwise the papers will not stay in the rack). The mesh incline file sorter is also a Staples find for $12.

The magazine holders on the second shelf were a Goodwill find for about $3 each. One magazine holder holds art books (like all of those “How to Draw” books). The other magazine holder holds specialty art supplies and papers, like Nathan’s stamp set and stickers.

The little chalkboard labels came from Michaels for about 50 cents each. (Tip: Don’t skimp on labels! Kids need stuff labeled so they know where to put things BACK when they are done!)

The red box on the bottom shelf is just a shoebox lid. The little red cups are cheapo plastic cups I found in my kitchen (you can buy similar ones at the Dollar Store). I sorted all the crayons, markers and pencils by color — and I threw away all the broken crayons, pencil nubs and dried-out markers. No use in storing art supplies that aren’t in primo condition!

Finally, the corner shelving unit was a freebie from a friend who couldn’t find a need for it in her house anymore. I like how small it is, because it means there is no room for clutter to pile up on the shelves.

The whole set-up came to about $20, which is great because who wants to spend a lot of money on stuff to organize more stuff?

Happy Organizing!


When your child won’t play in the playroom

October 28, 2014

If you have been reading my reSPACEd blog for a while, you know that one of my specialties is organizing kids’ spaces. And one of the most common reasons I get hired to organize a kid space is because the parents are frustrated that their child will not play in the designated playroom. Usually there […]

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Need more space? Try this first before you buy anything new

October 20, 2014

In the quest to find ever more space in our homes, we often neglect to think VERTICAL. Beyond installing more shelves and bookcases, look around and see if some of your furniture may be able to be tipped on its side to give it a fresh new look. This is what I did here with […]

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Unique DIY take on a kids’ desk

October 13, 2014

Would this kind of desk work for your kids? Perhaps it would even work for YOU as a bill-paying, schedule-checking, paper-management area in your home. I like how it forces all of your stuff to live inside that crate, preventing the “Stuff Creep” we all have to deal with, especially when it comes to mail […]

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Exciting news! I’m in a magazine!

September 30, 2014

So this really neat thing happened to me: I was contacted by Real Simple magazine to submit a tip for their article “76 Greatest Organizing Tips of All Time.” The magazine is the October issue, which means it is on newsstands now. This is so thrilling for me! For professional organizers, Real Simple magazine is […]

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The flat surface clutter cure

September 12, 2014

Sick of everyone in your family using the kitchen counter (or any flat surface) as a dumping ground? Try putting a handy-dandy little sign there to break this habit: Need it bigger so it can’t be ignored? Try this: I know it seems so silly, but when I use this with clients’ families, it WORKS […]

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How to track your kids’ homework, manage their schedules and get To Do’s done

September 2, 2014

If you are a parent to a school-age child or children, Back to School Week is a huge week for you. It’s exciting, scary, expensive, stressful and thrilling all at once. And it completely tests your organization skills. If you are a parent who struggles with organization, starting a new school year can be really […]

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10-minute organizing tips for your home

July 29, 2014

Most of us are pretty pressed for time most days. At least, that’s the most common reason people give me for their disorganization — they have no time to sort through their things! It’s understandable. It’s hard to carve out four hours or more to do a major organizational overhaul of a room. So what’s […]

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