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:
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.