Starting a professional organizing business..advice?

March 24, 2009


Recently I sat down and tried to figure out what I wanted to be "when I grew up". I decided that first off, I want to be happy...so then the next question was..."what makes me happy?"..and the answer was: decluttering and organizing..neat and tidy spaces make my heart go pitter pat. I drive my family crazy with my organization obsession...(how many times can a pantry be reorganized before it becomes a problem or a sickness??). I've run out of spaces in my house to organize, and run out of willing victims (my family) to let me organize their personal spaces.

I've done a ton of research and have decided that I would love to become a professional organizer. I am having a hard time finding "real" classes (like at the local community college or adult education center)...I've run across many e-classes/webinars (web seminars) but I would prefer something "real" (I still have a hard time convincing myself that "online courses" are a practical and useful way to learn). Are there any professional organizers on here? How would you recommend getting started? I want to start with baby steps, educating myself (I've already signed up for small business classes at the local community college), certifications (Napo?)...I am not particularly concerned about finding customers, my many realtor friends are clamoring for me to help them get their clients organized and de-cluttered prior to listing their homes for sale. I do want to make sure I go about this the proper way, and learn all I can before jumping in...any suggestions?

Comments (23)

  • jannie

    Working thru realty companies seems great, organizing people who want to move or downsize seems a natural! And you should get word-of-mouth references. Maybe you should contact a local business (not personal) bank about setting up a small business, like advertising, bookkeeping, etc. I don't know, sounds like a great opportunity for you!

  • brutuses

    You by chance live near N.O. do you? I'd hire you in a flash.

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  • gailee

    I say go for it, find out what kind of licence,and insurance you need. then go ahead with it you will probably learn more out there doing it then you will in a classroom. Then if you in fact hear of a class sign up for it. I think a lot of it would depend on the person you are working with. Some will want you to just do it for them, and some will be very difficult.Set up consultation first, to find out what you are working with, what to charge etc. Just my thoughts. Gail

  • jiggreen

    Thanks for the responses!

    Jannie, I went to our local bank today to inquire about opening a small business checking account, which I will be doing on Monday. I also have looked into our local chamber of commerce and plan on joining :)

    Sorry Brutuses...only SouthCentral Pennsylvania!

    Gailee, I think you are right...I think practical experience is the most effective way to learn. In theory, I have been "practicing" all of my life! My mother always likes to tell people that ever since I was a kid, I was always rearranging my room and reorganizing my stuff. She used to joke that she hoped nobody in our house ever went blind because they wouldn't know where things were from one day to the next!

    I have taken on some of my friends' organizing/clutter challenges free of charge and it is keeping me quite busy at the moment! One of my friends is a hoarder, and I figure she will be good practice for the "worst of the worst". If I can convince this woman to part with some things and work out some way to organize what's left, I figure it would be worth a gazillion classroom hours! All I ask from my friends is that they allow me to take pictures of the "before" and then the "after", and if they are pleased, to allow me to use them as references.

    The following pictures show one of my current projects...this is my hoarder friend's kitchen. These are the "before" pictures taken a couple of days ago. She has nowhere to put her groceries, no available counter space and is adamant about not getting rid of anything. She has approx. 25 Easter baskets (the cheapo dollar store kind!) that she stores overtop of her kitchen cabinets (why???????). I'm having to use tough love on her, but I am hoping to work miracles! Her pantry was so overloaded that it was falling apart. We have actually ripped out her old cabinet style pantry and my husband is in the process of building an actual closet style pantry.

    Here are her "before" pictures:

    I'll keep you all posted on the progress of this kitchen project! If I get through this and still have the passion to be a professional organizer, then I will know that I have it in me to be successful!

  • des_arc_ya_ya

    Omigosh! You DO have your work cut out for you, don't you!? LOL Good luck to you in your new endeavor. Sounds like you are going about it in the smartest way and congratulations for doing something that you truly enjoy!

  • mustangs81

    If you tackle this--you should instantly qualify for NAPO certification!!!

    I'll be checking in to monitor the progress. Best of luck with your endeavor.

  • graywings123

    and is adamant about not getting rid of anything . . . but I am hoping to work miracles!

    jiggreen - it is admirable that you are willing to help your hoarder friend. Dealing with hoarders however is not about "the stuff," and it is not a situation where you can clean up her house and show her the way so that she will become organized. Before you go further with your friend, read the David Tolan book on hoarding, "Buried In Treasures." Consider it part of your business training.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Buried in Treasures

  • graywings123

    Oops, his name is spelled Tolin.

  • jiggreen

    graywings...I will be sure to check the library for that book, or order it if I can't find it.

    As for my friend..I don't really think that she has mental or psychological issues leading to her hoarding. I think in her case it's more of an acceptance of the mess, and her inability to see her way through it that has led to her inaction. Instead of dealing with the situation, she has allowed stuff to accumulate and when I talk to her about getting rid of stuff..her response is that she still won't have any space for things, so she might as well keep it all. (makes ZERO sense to me!!!) She is having a hard time seeing the big picture...that small changes can have a huge impact. That if we start with the kitchen, and find a system that works for her (and if she accepts the space limitations and makes a commitment to putting things back to their assigned "home"), that we can create a workable, usable, functional kitchen. I think she needs encouragement, support (and yes, a kick in the pants!!!!) and definitely a helping hand. I might be being optimistic, but I am hoping that once we get the kitchen done, she "sees the light" and sees how much more relaxing and pleasurable the space is and changes her behavior and takes pride in her home. Worst case scenario...as soon as I walk out the door, it all piles up again.

    Some professional organizers work with truly ill people, I don't see myself going in that direction at all. My friend's situation is about as intense as I would like to go. If I have a suspicion that someone is clinically ill and that their hoarding is a symptom of their illness, I would prefer to steer them towards someone who has experience working with people with mental illnesses. I intend for my niche to be typical people who are too busy, too overwhelmed, too unmotivated, or just can't see the "forest for the trees".

  • brutuses

    jig, from what you say, she is a hoarder or just someone who is very depressed. Her inability to let go of things, having quantities of useless stuff. I see one cat, does she have others? Allowing her animal to live in that mess is another indication she has a mental issue going on.

    Is she excited about you coming in to help clean up her mess? If she is not enthusiastic, you may want to reconsider, just to save yourself the aggravation.

    It appears all her cabinets are in need of shelves. Is your poor DH going to build shelves for all those cabinets too? You'll need them in order to get things organized.

    I wish you luck, but I'm afraid it will be a very difficult and thankless job for you. However, if you can get before and after photo's of this mess to show for reference, you'll have no trouble getting jobs. LOL

    I wish you luck and hope you are successful. Do keep us posted.

  • jiggreen


    Yes, she has several cats and a dog as well as 3 kids (one of whom is autistic). She is very enthusiastic about our project and I think she truly looks forward to being able to actually function in her kitchen. On the other hand, she lacks the self confidence to understand that she is capable of keeping it up, but in my mind, that's all part of the process. I do understand that I can only give her the tools, systems and encouragement....behavioral changes have to be up to her. Up to this point, she hasn't had the storage space to work with so in her mind, it's been a hopeless situation. The pantry cabinet shown in the photos has been completely useless (I have no clue why there aren't shelves in there!). Actually, that pantry cabinet no longer exists...it has been completely ripped out and is being replaced with more of a closet style pantry of an approximate height of 8.5 feet, 56 inches wide and 32 inches deep (The shelves will run across the rear wall and will be 18" deep, the excess wall area on the sides will be for hanging her broom, mop, dustpan, etc...). The opening of the new pantry will be 48" to allow for double doors and easy access. The new pantry has been framed out and the drywall will be installed this afternoon. Once the drywall is finished, I will sit down with my friend and together we will work out the shelf configuration. She only grocery shops every 2 weeks so she needs a lot of storage area for canned/boxed items. I have had her make a list of the types of items she wants to store in the new pantry, which will help with determining the differing heights of the shelves. I am hoping that through this process she will understand the necessity of prioritizing the things that bring functionality, usefulness and pleasure to her life and be more open to getting rid of all of the extraneous "stuff". (I have negotiated with her and she will only be keeping 6 of those Easter baskets..so that's a big step so far!)

    I think we're making pretty good progress so far..I am really looking forward to next week when the construction will be complete and we can get down to the real work!

  • brutuses

    Good luck and I can't wait to see some photo's of your handy work.

    I am hoping she'll appreciate your hard work and understand how to keep things nice and tidy. I know it's easy to get overwhelmed. We are moving in a couple of months. I don't have a lot of clutter but, I do need to clean out some things and I find myself just walking around in a circle not accomplishing anything. The other weekend when DH was able to take off from building the other house, he was home with me and I was able to get some things accomplished. Sometimes I think we just need someone there for company if nothing else. LOL

    Realizing what you are taking on gives me incentrive to get a move on. Good luck, I'll be thinking about you.

  • Ideefixe

    There's a professional association, and membership might be worth persuing. In these economic times, you might also branch out into helping people who are downsizing, or moving aged parents into a smaller place, etc.

    Here is a link that might be useful: NAPO

  • talley_sue_nyc

    You might also try to get some work as a "cleaner AND organizer," to help people who need another set of hands but aren't in dire straits.

    I strongly recommend "before" and "after" pictures of any projects you tackle (whether yours or anyone else's), along w/ bullet points about what you did that made a difference.

  • des_arc_ya_ya

    Good suggestions from Talley Sue!

  • Frankie_in_zone_7

    This could indeed be fun and work out for you. Do a lot of research, as prospective small business venture-er would do.

    I agree with above post. Think about what your ideal jobs might be but then think about what you might do to get the "chops" and clientele and experience and make $$. You probably will need to take small jobs, and so talley_sue_nyc 's comment about cleaning and organizing seems a good one--kind of, no job too small to start, then you get more selective.

    So,you are not going to want to be hired to "fix" entrenched hoarders. You need clients with disposable income who want a friendly helper and cheer-leader. Also,folks may start with a room and not their whole house "Putting off tackling that garage? Call_____!"

    Your competition includes the closet people--installers and designers of various lines of closet shelving and modular units. I would think you would want to gain installation expertise, or link up with a contractor, or have contacts with companies. Just a consideration--if you are good at seeing solutions, quite a few of the ideal solutions will require installing new shelves, brackets, interior organizer stuff--not just buying containers. If you have a way to help the client go from idea to execution, that would be a plus.

    Or, maybe I should say, think more about how you envision your specialty and then see who your competition is. A very personal "clothes closet organizer" often includes fashion advice (what to toss and what to keep, what to put on "to buy" list). A kitchen organizer might overlap with suggesting mini-makeovers. What will you offer? Better service, cheaper service, something unique?

    If you want to give seminars or community classes, usually (but not always) you first get the real-life experiences, so you have credibility and your seminars include your real anecdotes and before and afters. Once you have credibility you have a lot of potential clients for speaking engagements--community groups, professional women's groups, going-off to college dorm advice, all sorts of stuff. A lot of overlap with the interest in time-management or motivational speakers.

  • jiggreen

    Well, after lots of hard work, some tough negotiating and brainstorming......I'm happy to say that my friend's new pantry is completed. (with the exception of the doors...she's now leaning towards putting up a pretty curtain instead of double doors for ease of access). I'm also happy to report that she has (so far) loaded up about 25 big black garbage bags of stuff and the charity people will be stopping by tomorrow to pick up the bags! I think she's becoming motivated, and her husband is just ecstatic about the house beginning to show signs of order.

    We've still got a long ways to go, but I'm feeling hopeful!

    Here are some pictures:

    Remember what that old pantry cabinet looked like inside? It was a nightmare..........

    And....the 27 Easter baskets were negotiated down to 6, and we added in a few baskets for extra storage (in keeping with the wicker theme and so that the easter baskets didn't look silly sitting by themselves).

    This week we will tackle the deep, dark, depths of the base cabinet units. Once we clear out space in those cabinets, hopefully we can begin to clear non-essential items off of the countertops.

  • bspofford

    If it were me doing this job, the next thing I would do is clean off the refrigerator. Take every last picture, magnet, and all the other stuff off. They are put on there just like the pantry shelves and it looks like crap. Its a five minute job that will give you a lot of bang for your buck. (Put the stuff in one of those baskets for the time being.)


  • bspofford

    By the way, that was a very nice result with the new pantry!

    When I look at the pictures of the whole kitchen from before, I think to myself 'how would I tackle this'. I'm sure your friend is totally overwhelmed with the mess and has no idea where to start, hence you have come to her rescue. You are a good friend.


  • mariend

    I like taking pictures before and afterwards. Be sure and label time/date. This protects you in case something shows up missing. Also you might think about having the owner through the stuff out instead of you. If you see something valuable, make sure it is in the after photo also. I am thinking of anything the owner thinks is antique--whether it is or not. Also you might talk to your insurance agent to see if you need to get any insurance for that missing item which might/might not be valuable. Also ask the home owner if they have home owners insurance. If you get hurt on their property this could help pay medical bills. think about it----our best friends until something happens. You always have to think about protecting yourself. If you go into a home of a person you do not know, take someone with you. Be careful. Pets sometimes have off days too. They should be put into a area away from you. Children should not be home either or teens or a man etc. You cannot be too careful. At any time if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, leave. These are things that people who start home businesses usually don't think of. When I have a person come in and clean, I always am here, even if it is a friend. But then I have had money stolen while we were gone. I pretty well know who, but cannot prove it.
    Good luck

  • brutuses

    You are doing a fabulous job. What is the recipient of all your fine work saying? Is she feeling relieved or anxious? You can see she has a problem, with all the multiples of everything. She'll save some money at the grocery for a while now that she can see what she actually has.

    Keep the updates coming. You are such an inspiration.

  • mustangs81

    Great job! I am curious too about the owner's response.

    Mariend, Good tips.

    You have encouraged me to contact a local organizer and ask if I can take her to lunch for an informational interview about her business. I think professional organizing is something that I would enjoy doing.

  • brutuses

    jiggreen, we haven't heard from you in a few days. How are you doing with that large project you took on? We're dying to see your handy work. Please, come back and inspire us. LOL

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