‘Organize Me’ empowers individuals to get past the clutter of everyday life

Barb Forsyth

KAIMUKI—There is a burgeoning field in Hawaii and throughout the United States that is open to enterprising individuals: professional organization. In today’s society, people are facing more demands at both home and work, resulting in fewer hours to devote to either, with free time becoming increasingly in short supply. Any hours gained by enhanced efficiency translates into more time for work or play. By designing custom organizing systems and teaching organizing skills, professional organizers help individuals and businesses take control of their personal and/or professional lives.

The profession has grown substantially in recent years, with multiple national and local organizations supporting it. In Hawaii, we have HAPO, or Hawaii Association of Professional Organizers, Inc. Nationally, the leading organization is NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers). Both organizations help individuals in the field network, market themselves, refer each other, and acquire new valuable skills. Intrigued, I set out to better understand the profession and the people within it.

“Professional organizer” is an umbrella term for a host of services that are performed in one’s home or office. According to the NAPO website, professional organizers use “tested principles and expertise to enhance the lives of clients.” OK, that sounds quite open ended, and it has to be. Part of the job is assessing what, exactly, needs to be done. Most professional organizers offer free consultations to develop a strategy and provide an estimate for how many hours a project would take to complete (they tend to charge by the hour). Many HAPO members have their websites listed in the directory, allowing potential clients to get a sense of their aesthetic, specialties, and personalities.

Donna Glatzel started her East Oahu business “Organize me” a little over a year ago, through which she offers home, business, and life organization. After having been an administrator for over 20 years, most of those as a legal secretary, she was laid off a few years ago when law firms all over the country witnessed drastic cuts to their support staffs. At that point she was hired as a personal assistant to a family with three children with hectic schedules that needed coordinating, and two homes that needed organizing. 

After that, she briefly returned to work as an administrator, but lost her job again during recession cutbacks. When she reflected on what she wanted to do next, she realized how much she enjoyed her work helping that busy family simplify their lives and wanted to expand it into a career. One referral of friends and family led to another, and she has been busy with work ever since—so busy, in fact, that she has yet to build her own business website. As a mother of three, she enjoys the autonomy and flexibility her job offers. She works from home, selects her own clients, and sets her own hours. She also enjoys the inspiration she gets from her clients and the potential to learn new skills herself in order to satisfy a particular assignment.

The latest edition of The Atantic features the cover story “The End of Men: How Women are taking control of everything.” In the article, Hanna Rosin discusses the many ways in which our economy has shifted to privilege women. The job sectors hit hardest by the recession, and even well beforehand, are those that were dominated by men, many of which were tied to manufacturing. By contrast, looking at the fields that are growing most rapidly, such as nursing, food preparation, home health assistance, and child care, 13 of the top 15 are occupied primarily by women. 

Rosin does not outline all 15 top growing job categories, but she does lay out some of the attributes most valuable to today’s postindustrial economy: social intelligence, open communication, and the ability to sit and focus—all of which women arguably hold an advantage. I immediately thought of professional organizers, whose success is only as good as their ability to listen to a client, understand his or her needs, and create results that build trust and refrain from judgment. A professional organizer needs to be able to look at something overwhelming and see solutions, all the while honoring the specific preferences of the client. With this in mind, it should not be a surprise that the vast majority of professional organizers are women, both Hawaii and nationally.

Interestingly, most of their clients are women, too. Women, regardless of whether they are mothers or holding down a career, often find themselves responsible for the daily upkeep of the home: putting away laundry, opening the mail, storing Costco purchases, cleaning the children’s bedrooms. Sometimes this role is by default, as it might not otherwise get done. As someone who lives in a small house with a husband and two young children, and who who works from a home office that doubles as the baby’s room, I immediately sensed that I, too, could benefit from the services of a professional organizer. 

Admittedly, I have simply adapted to living with an unruly amount of clutter. Clutter, as Glatzel explains it, “is the result of unmade decisions.”  All too often, I have to consciously decide to ignore the clutter, whether it be my own or another family member’s, in order to accomplish my work; to tackle it could easily consume the entire work day. As a result, organizational tasks tend to invade precious weekend time, which I would much rather dedicate to personal or family fun time. What would happen if I could sidestep contstant purging projects in favor of regular streamlined maintenance?

Historian and author Gretchen Rubin, in her most recent book The Happiness Project, acknowledges that clearing away clutter can boost both mental energy and happiness. She sites a study suggesting that eliminating clutter could cut down the amount of housework in the average home by 40 percent. Similarly, tackling a long-neglected task can remove a big weight from one’s mind, freeing up mental energy and lifting one’s mood. One of my favorite tips from Rubin is the “one-minute rule,” which essentially states not to postpone any task that can be done in less than one minute: hang your coat, file a document, place a bottle in the recycling bin. Strict adherence to this rule nips a lot of daily clutter in the bud.

Another rule she observes is the “evening tidy-up,” something Glatzel advocates as well: Spend 10 minutes every night before bed doing basic clean up and preparation for the following day. Not only does this strategy ease the morning grind, but it can prepare the mind for sleep, establishing a mood of calm and order. 

“Ultimately,” Rubin writes, “many people believe that their physical surroundings influence their spiritual happiness.”

Quoting the 18th century British author Samuel Johnson: “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.”

According to Glatzel, the goal of a professional organizer is to help a client set goals, eliminate clutter, create a place for everything, simplify one’s life, get organized, and stay organized. She talks about organization being a process, not a one-day project. To that end, she teaches her clients the skills and provides them with the tools necessary to maintain order, to make it a part of a daily routine. 

The primary goal is to streamline and simplify, so that businesses become more productive and home life less stressful. Yes, some of us could set aside a few months to achieve this goal for ourselves, but the majority of us, frankly, lack the time or objectivity required, and that is where a professional comes in.

Some of her projects, such as setting setting someone up to do all their finances online, are very contained; others, such as reorganizing an entire house, can go on for months. A sample of the other services she provides include setting up calendars, photo organization and digitization, estate management, event planning, and travel arrangements. Do you lack the necessary supplies that could transform your living or work space?  Donna can supply those for you as well.

One cool tip Donna shared with me had to do with file management. She explained that paperwork that is lying down (i.e. laying flat on a desk or in a drawer) is “sleeping or hiding,” while paperwork that is standing up “communicates with you.” To that logic, she suggests keeping a small hanging folder box on your desk labeled by action, such as “to do,” “to call,” “to attend (invitations/appointments/tickets),” “to calendar,” “to buy,” “to pay,” “to file,” and “pending.” This box is intended to serve as a temporary clearing house for such tasks, so she advises her clients to set aside a few minutes each day to sort mail, school handouts, and handwritten notes into those categories. 

Next she recommends finding a consistent strategy for tackling these items. Some people handle many as possible right away, others set aside a time on their calendars once or twice a week to go through the bin and pay the bills, make the calls, place the catalogue orders. Not only will this plan keep you organized, but it will avoid the accumulation of piles that characterize most desks, such as my own.

Personally, this strategy is so tempting that I plan to spend a portion of the holiday weekend creating this file for myself. The allure of an organized desk may just be even more thrilling than fireworks. 

Thank you to Island Organizers, Donna D. McMillan and Karen L. Simon, for providing source material for this article.

To contact Donna Glatzel and have her kickstart your new organized existence, email [email protected] or call (808) 220-5836. For more information about professional organizers in Hawaii, visit http://www.hapoonline.org/.