Reinventing as a Professional Organizer

These women share their insights on how to become a professional organizer

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Evaluate your skills

Stephanie L. H. Calahan managed teams ranging in size from eight to 300 people for a large consulting firm in Chicago. “I loved my work, but the company was changing,” she said. “They became a publicly traded company and over time, it became more difficult to fit my values with that of the company, so I decided to make a break and start something of my own.” She launched Calahan Solutions, Inc., focusing on electronic and document management, business systems, and time management. “I work with my clients to help them actually live life rather than run around crazy every day,” she said. “So many people are busy being busy. Over time, we lose focus on what is really important to us in life. Reclaiming our time, space and thoughts is a way to energize our life and business and enjoy what we do.”

Tip: “Take time to honestly evaluate your skills. There is a big difference between being organized and helping others to achieve long-term success. Can you answer YES to the following?”

• I ask the right questions and understand what the client wants as well as what they need
• I separate my personal desires for the client's situation from their desire
• I teach and transfer basic organizing skills
• I have the ability to "see space" or visualize a space to see the big picture
• I break goals down into manageable steps and communicate those steps

Photo Credit, Marlon L Calahan

Attend a NAPO meeting

“I was miserable as a CPA,” said Gayle M. Gruenberg, as she struggled against a glass ceiling, performed work she didn’t enjoy, and most of all, wished for more time with her children. When a former manager suggested she’d make a good professional organizer, Gruenberg launched Let’s Get Organized, a firm specializing in the chronically disorganized, as well as downsizing seniors. “I love making a very direct, positive difference in people's lives,” she said. “It's common for a client to cry after a session or project, releasing their pent-up frustration and feelings of hopelessness, now that they know things can change with a little outside help.”


Tip: Join the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) to meet professional organizers as well as strengthen your skills and abilities. “Go to a local NAPO chapter meeting and talk to other POs to get a sense of what life is really like,” Gruenberg said.  

Photo Credit, Cherie Palmer of Keep it Reel

Read as many organizing books as you can

Monica Ricci worked for over 20 years in the hospitality industry. Then she decided to go into business for herself. “I wanted it to be something that didn’t feel like work, an extension of something I do naturally, so I chose organizing,” she said. She opened Catalyst Organizing, and is a recurring expert organizer on the HGTV show, MISSION: Organization. “The best part about being a professional organizer is the gratification I get from helping people change their spaces, their attitudes, and their lives,” Ricci said.


Tip: “Read as much as you can before you begin your business to broaden your universe of possibilities for creating solutions for your clients. Your way is not always the right way, and the more solution options you can offer a client the more valuable you are.” 

Photo Credit, Lauren Rubenstein

Find a guinea pig

Sandy Jenney worked as a pediatric nurse for almost 30 years--and still does. But organizing is her passion. “I’ve had people ask for my help many times and when I stopped to think what kind of business I'd like to begin and what I really enjoy, organizing was it,” she said. She started Organize with Sandy focusing on home organization. “I love organizing craft rooms and offices the most.”


Tip: “Ask a friend or family member if you can use them as a guinea pig. Organize their space, but be sure they are there so you can get those questions in, like, ‘Tell me how you use this.”  

Photo Credit, Courtesy of Sandy Jenney

Decide on your specialty

Maeve Richmond was employed as an event producer when her neighbor asked her to help organize a front hall dresser. “I began to share my philosophies on space planning and ‘stuff’,” Richmond said. “When we were done, my neighbor was so inspired she told me I had to do this professionally.”


Richmond took the advice and opened Get Your House in Order. “I focus on behavioral change. This means after a client is done with me they'll have new skills that they can use to get and stay organized for a lifetime,” she said.


Tip: “Figure out if you want to organize for people or with people. It's two different styles. Doing so will help you to determine what type of client to take on. It's very different work, but it’s both organizing.” When you find your passion, you’ll know what type of organizing to specialize in. 

Photo Credit, Maeve Richmond

Find a mentor

A former kindergarten teacher, when Ellen R. Delap became an empty nester, she wanted to try something new to help people. “I think of organizing as a teachable skill, and that I am teaching new routines to people,” she said. She launched as a Certified Professional Organizer. “I specialize in working with ADD/ADHD clients,” Delap said. “They are very smart individuals, who are creative, problem solvers who crave organization.”


Tip: “Work with an organizer who will coach you through the process, helping you stay on track and focus on what will work best for you to build your business.”

Pat and Ray, Kingwood, TX

Create a portfolio

While working in sales, Amanda LeBlanc lived in a small house in New Orleans with very little storage. “Family and friends would come over and see how I had maximized the space in my home and ask for help in their homes,” she said. “I inherited the organizing gene from my father's side of the family. As a child, whenever I felt anxious or upset I would turn to organizing a room or re-folding clothes in a drawer to calm myself; creating order allowed me to be at peace.” She turned her passion for organizing into a business, The Amandas of Organized Affairs. “I love the relationships that I have with my clients and trying to understand their family dynamic and what it is that got them to their unorganized state,” she said. Now she’s also the spokesperson for freedomRail.


Tip: “Create ‘before and afters’ in your own home and the homes of friends and family. This will allow you to begin a portfolio of your work and to start to understand the dynamic of relationships, habits and systems. Before you put yourself in the situation of getting paid for your expertise, you want to develop some expertise. And if you're willing to put in those hours unpaid in order to gain experience and a good reputation, then you will learn if this industry is right for you.”

Photo Credit, freedomRail

Set your organizing fees

Jacquie Ross spent 18 years working at the British Embassy and the World Bank in administrative support positions. “My long workday commute eventually took its toll as I tried to balance time at work with being a wife and mother,” she said. “It forced me to learn time management and organizational skills to stay on top of things.” That inspired her to start CastAway the Clutter, to help moms and families eliminate clutter and develop strategies to reach their goals. “As a certified life coach, I am also trained to help clients remove mental barriers, so that they can more effectively change their unhealthy relationship with clutter,” she said.


Tip: “Get an idea of what organizers are charging in your area by doing some research online or ask an organizer you know who works in your area. When determining fees, remember to factor in costs for gas, supplies, etc. However, to get some experience, you may wish to offer a low introductory rate for your first few clients.” 

Photo Credit, Maureen Cogan Photography

Network, network, network

A certified back office medical assistant, Monika Kristofferson left the work force to stay home with her children. “I’ve been organized since childhood when I wouldn’t let my mom make my bed because she didn’t do it well enough,” she said. “I feel calmer when I am not surrounded by too much stuff.” Other moms noticed her organizational skills and said they felt motivated by her.

When her youngest daughter started school full time, Kristofferson started two professional organizing businesses, DIY Organization, which helps women balance life through organization, and Efficient Organization, for managing paper and clutter. “I have had clients who have recovered money with me, lost weight or finally went on vacation because they didn’t have the burden of paper or stuff to worry about anymore,” she said.

Tip: “The work that we do is very sensitive for people, so be prepared to allow others to get to know you before they allow you into their space. Teach classes in your community so people can meet you before inviting you into their home and office. Be prepared to get out and network in person to build relationships in your community.” 

Photo Credit, Sharon Crockett

Set up a web site

After earning a Ph.D. in history, Regina F. Lark worked as a professor, eventually becoming the Director of Programs for UCLA Extension. After she was laid off, she decided she didn’t want to work for anyone ever again. “When I first began thinking of becoming a professional organizer, I knew that the need ‘out there’ was tremendous and that people will pay a premium for peace of mind, clarity, happiness,” she said. She founded A Clear Path, specializing in boomers, seniors and those with ADD or hoarding disorders. “I love connecting with people cerebrally, and helping them understand how surface clutter is a manifestation of the clutter in their head.”


Tip: Once you come up with a company name, make sure it isn’t trademarked, and then purchase the domain name. “Look at other organizers’ websites to see what you like and start building your own,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nothing is. It just has to exist.”

Photo Credit, Valerie Kieselhorst

Come up with a game plan

After Janice Marie Simon earned a master’s degree in Humanities, she landed a job at MD Anderson Cancer Center's Faculty Development Program, aimed at providing career development for the clinicians and researchers. Several faculty members there mentioned they needed help with time management and organizing. “My director noticed I had natural organizing skills,” Simon said. “I hung out a shingle offering my organizing services at work, and my director and I had no idea that it would explode into essentially a full-time job.” She is now the only in-house Certified Professional Organizer in an academic institution, and also runs an organizational service, The Clutter Princess. “I like talking to people, and communication skills are necessary if you want to figure out what's really going on with your clients,” she said. “A messy office more than likely is not just a messy office, and other issues are at play.”


Tip: “If you want to become an in-house organizer like myself, you need to draft a proposal and talk to the decision-makers. When people are productive, it saves companies money, and you will need to show them the bottom line.”

Photo Credit, Barry Smith/MD Anderson

Be an entrepreneur, or work for somebody else

Lorie Marrero spent two years in corporate America before becoming an at home mom, moving her family eleven times, building four homes along the way. “I learned from moving so many times that I really was good at setting up a household and managing details,” she said. Marrero, who in fourth grade saved up her allowance to buy a label maker, launched a virtual organizing business, “We give people unlimited access to get their questions answered by our team of Certified Professional Organizers®,” she said. “They can even upload photos for us to consult with them, and all of this costs less than a pizza." Her experience led her to write, “The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life.” 


Tip: “Make sure that you are clear about whether you’re starting a business to create a job for yourself or to create a business that will grow. A common mistake I see is that people are entering the industry because they enjoy the work, but they don't know anything about running a business or don't realize that being a businessperson is a big portion of what enables your success. If you just want to do the work and not run a business, find out if any local organizing companies in your area are hiring employees and join them instead.”

Photo Credit, Korey Howell Photography

Dream up promotions

Geralin Thomas worked in the travel industry coordinating vacations and continuing education seminars. “I ‘retired’ and stayed home after having two boys, born 14 months apart,” she said. With two boys underfoot, she managed to keep her home organized. When she visited other at home moms, she’d help them organize their kitchens, laundry rooms, and pantries. “Their husbands started calling and asking me to help get their garages and home offices organized,” Thomas said.


Once her boys reached third and fourth grade, she decided to launch Metropolitan Organizing to help others streamline their lives. “I’m an excellent secret keeper,” she said. “Besides that, I’m most comfortable using equal parts logic and creativity when solving problems. Both of those are good traits when planning spaces, sorting objects, and categorizing.”


Tip: “Creatively dream up promotions. Think outside the basket! Buddy-up with a like-minded business person in a complementary business (a handyman, an interior designer and so on). Share the expense of business cards, with your information one side, hers on the other. And you each carry those cards and distribute.” 

Photo Credit, Josef Solc

Be adaptable

Miriam Ortiz y Pino naturally gravitates towards jobs that involve organizing: her resume includes office manager, inventory control, and volunteer supervisor. “They all involve keeping up with details, creating and using systems and knowing what resources to deploy,” she said. And because she thrived in those roles, and desired to be her own boss, she saw professional organizing as a natural fit. She started More Than Organized, specializing in entrepreneurs who work from home. “Helping people discover their buried passions and the path to their success is really rewarding,” she said.


Tip: “The way you do things won't work for everyone - you need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the clients’ needs.”

Photo Credit, Hazel Thornton

Learn what to do with the old stuff

While in college, Cinda Pfeil worked as a nanny. “I was known as the ‘tidy nanny,’” she said, as she constantly cleaned up after her charges. One of her employers, Jane, hired her to organize other spaces in the home, and was so pleased she referred Pfeil to family and friends. “My clientele grew on its own,” Pfeil said. Upon graduation, she took a job as a visual designer for Neiman Marcus. But after her stint at an interior design firm, Pfeil felt ready to branch out on her own. She launched Style-Infused Living, a boutique interior design house that offers space planing and organization, as well as design and decorating services. “Making pretty things look even prettier, now that's exciting,” she said. “But keeping it real--when I see my client's reaction after a big organization project is revealed, that's priceless.”


Tip: “A big part of organizing is moving out old stuff. Learn to have compassion and patience with each client. Every person is different when it comes to their "stuff". You will be there to help advise them on what to hold onto, what to donate, what to consign and so on. Make a list of your local donation, consignment and salvage centers, as you'll be visiting them often.”

Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a freelance writer and author of 52 Fights. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three children. Find her blog at Unplanned Cooking.


Related: 16 Tips for a More Organized Home

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Photo Credit, Meghan Doll of Meghan Doll Photography

First Published September 19, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Lis 09.21.2011

Each one of these women are so deserving of this recognition. I was inspired to launch my organizing business after writing an article for a social networking site about three women who left their corporate careers to launch their own specialty food companies. I didn't know it at the time but they were the reason I found the courage to be an entrepreneur.
Lis Golden McKinley
Oakland organizer

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