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How to Work with a Professional Organizer

If getting organized topped your New Year's resolution list, but you've already fallen off the wagon, don't feel bad--it happens to most of us. But if clutter is taking over your life and making you crazy, it might be time to hire a professional organizer. Read on to ensure a smooth experience from start to finish.

Finding a Pro

  • Be specific about your wish list. Do you simply have one or two problem areas or is your whole house a jumble? Do you want the pro to simply come up with a plan of action that you can implement or do you want her to do the hands-on work?
  • Budget accordingly. Fee structures vary widely, but expect to pay $50 to $90 an hour. Many variables will dictate the amount of time needed.
  • Decide how involved you want to be. Some professional organizers prefer to work independently, taking full charge of the process; others prefer more client input along the way. Which style works best for you?
  • Search reputable sources. If you know someone who has used a local organizer, ask questions about the process and the results. The New Jersey chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers has an excellent directory. Browse the websites of those in your area and then give the most promising candidates a call. You're looking to check off several things: Are your personalities a good match? Will the organizer's style mesh with yours? Does her professional manner and communication skills inspire confidence?

Getting Started

  • Get over the mess. Before the hard work begins, the organizer will likely schedule a consultation in order to get an overview of the task. She needs to assess your home in its normal state, so get over the urge to clean up. She's probably seen worse!
  • Prepare to put in some effort after hours. Many organizers give clients "homework"--small jobs that road-test techniques and practice processes. This is also an excellent chance to pinpoint things that you think might not work well for you and ask for alternatives.
  • Invest in the tools that your organizer suggests. If she provides a list of recommended products, don't skimp. Spending the money now will pay off down the road.
  • Commit to personal change. A well-organized room isn't going to stay that way on its own. Your pro will coach you on improving your skills, figuring out new approaches and devising ways to circumvent bad habits.

Following Through

  • Give yourself time to get used to the new process. It may not feel natural at first, and that's okay. Just stick with it until it becomes routine. If weeks go by and you are still struggling, call the organizer to troubleshoot.
  • Don't beat yourself up for slipping back into old habits. It's inevitable: sooner or later your carefully orchestrated system is going to miss a few beats. Mail will pile up on the kitchen counter. Hats and scarves will blanket the mudroom floor. It's okay. Take a deep breath, then take stock. Does the problem simply lie in the lack of discipline, or is the scheme not working for you as well as you'd hoped? If necessary, the pro can help you fine-tune the process. And some are even happy to schedule regular "checkup" calls or visits in order to keep your home at its well-organized peak.
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