Do you need a professional organizer?

Amazon: File.starter (by one of my favorite organizing brands, Buttoned Up)Tereza's suggestion brings up many thoughts. Have a read, then let's talk:

I'm part Czech and a piece of our New Year tradition is to clean and organize on New Years Day. I've been I known to partake in some serious Container Storgasms with my husband, getting our small and open home — which is really short on storage — into shape.

[FULL STOP. It must be repeated: CONTAINER STORGASMS! Organizing as a marital aid! I love it. Okay, back to the hack. — Asha]

My hack: if you're facing an organizing task that's overwhelming, consider bringing in a professional organizer to devise a system and structure that will uniquely work for you.

A few years ago I found myself overwhelmed with paperwork while having recently left my job…and I had a new baby, my parents were ill, and I was the executor for two (!) estates. My desk became a pileup and I didn't know where to begin.

My husband would hound me — he's a very organized guy — but his systems are incredibly complex and time-consuming and don't work at my speed.

[I can identify with this. My husband is Mr. Systems and could never understand my more-intuitive way of working. It has taken us years to appreciate each others' organizing/working strengths and weaknesses (and to accept our own), and to team up rather than work at cross-purposes. — Asha]

On the suggestion of a friend, I brought in a professional organizer for just three hours. She gave me the boost and motivation I needed. I could see the end of the tunnel and got excited about that vision.

With her support, I was able to get through my paperwork and create a gorgeous little workspace that's my "sacred refuge." I've kept it in excellent shape for four years now.

Her help cost me a total of $185. It seemed like a lot, but the strategies I learned — which were tailored to me — have more than amortized themselves over time.

Alternatively, swap "organizing services" with a friend. Having a friend help sort and file is a cheap, fun + effective way to "see" your items in a more neutral light…it can really help you to let things go. At the very least, it makes a boring, onerous job more fun.

When my mom died and I had to clean out her office, her friend was invaluable in helping me curate which 5% of her stuff had sentimental value and which 95% needed to go in the dumpster. So cathartic!

Applause for Tereza! I could not agree more. I believe every family needs a supporting cast, and a professional organizer is just such an example. Getting organized is not difficult but it DOES require the ability to think systematically. Those of us for whom this doesn't come naturally are at a disadvantage…and spouses and other family members aren't always the best "coaches." Even with good intentions, plenty of baggage can get in the way of what should be a straightforward job.

Also, some of us are just better collaborators than solo workers. I feel distracted and sorry for myself when I have to work alone for too long…but with a partner, my energy level and motivation soar.

As for the suggestion of swapping organizing help with friend, again: YES. I hate filing and have a teetering pile of papers I need to process sitting on the floor of my office. But when my friend asked me to help file her backlog? I flew through the job and had a great time doing it. Plus, I got a bonus lunch date out of the deal.  (She's going to help me with my pile, too.)

There are many good books and online services that can help you get organized. But if you've tried them without success, consider bringing in a partner — either a friend or a pro.

Let's talk! Experiences, good and bad? How did you go about finding a good professional organizer in your area? Have your improved organizing systems "stuck" or do you need periodic reboots?

Another chance to swap organizing ideas: my live talk about getting organized on Monday, 1/23/12! It's gonna be a great 30 minutes — especially because I've got two fantastic co-hosts who are full of use-it-now advice: Christine Koh (Boston Mamas) and Meagan Francis (The Happiest Mom). Register now at The Motherhood (it's free).

More: Hundreds of hacks about getting organized (our most popular topic)


  1. says

    As a person who used to swap friend help, and then at their request started an organizing business, I have to say that even I have to reboot systems every once in a while. It is rare that you will find a process that works perfectly the first time, and as kids get older their needs change too. Friends can be valuable tools in helping you see things in a new light. However professional organizers often have ideas that they have seen work in lots of homes.

  2. says

    This is great, Asha! An organized home just runs so much smoother. I tackled my in-box yesterday during a piano lesson. For me, it helps to bring 1-hour projects to lessons, etc. so I can sit undisturbed and work on them. At home, I’m easily distracted – phone, computer, reading, etc. There’s a great book called, “File, Don’t Pile” written by a librarian (of course) and her methods really influenced my organizing techniques. I love that you did a trade, too. Smart and resourceful!

  3. says

    Sarah: Thanks for the reminder that our organizing parameters change, and that systems inevitably need adjusting as the family’s needs evolve.

    Sara: Will check out “File, Don’t Pile.” I love to read that sort of stuff (perhaps more than I like to do it).

  4. Q. Pete says

    Great ideas and this is true. We constantly have changes with our organization needs. We are always getting new stuff because the family is always picking up new activites and hobbies. But with my Flow Wall System and determination to keep things organized, we manage to run smoothly most of the time.

  5. Judy says

    I have to admit that I’m way better at organizing others people’s stuff instead of my own. I don’t do it for a living, or a hobby even, but maybe I should….

  6. Nina says

    That Czechs organize as part of New Year culture made me smile. It’s also part of the Asian (in particular, Chinese and Vietnamese) tradition. Everything must be repaired, organized and cleaned before New Year’s day, or you get a year’s bad luck! I don’t really believe in the bad luck part, but I could sure use motivation getting started with the spring cleaning, and having a deadline sure helps! Gung Hay Fat Choy, everyone!

  7. Jen says

    I think it’s a great idea to have a friend (doesn’t need to be a professional, although that’s a good way to go too) help you go through your stuff. I think it could be great for closet organization – purging your clothing is hard but when a third party comes in and can tell you what looks good on you and what doesn’t, and maybe help breathe new life into your existing wardrobe, that can be very helpful. It would have to be a really honest friend though!