A Cautionary Tale for Professional Organizers


I was doing a phone consultation with one of my clients the other day and we were talking about things we should not tolerate. Out of the blue came “I don’t like working with organizers.”

Whoa! Where did that come form? Had I done something that hurt her?

Well, as it turns out it was not me that set this off but some of her other experiences but as I listened and made notes, some of what she said hit home – especially in my early career.

Here’s her list:

  • They don’t really listen to what I want to happen in the session. If I am asking for help in finding homes for my belongings, I am not asking them to purge or mess with things that are already working. If I already have a home for many of my items, it is not right for them to move those things. For example, I have some tools and household items stored on some small shelves in my bedroom closet. These shelves are even labeled. Why would they spend their time going through and rearranging those items?
  • They argue. If they suggest I need to toss something (and remember, we were not even talking about purging) and I say I want to keep it, they continue to push their point. They say things like “if you are not using it now, toss it” or “how many calculators or pairs of jeans do you really need?’ or “if you are not going to mend that now, you should just toss it”. I feel they are not really listening to me and are disrespectful of my wishes.
  • They don’t respect my values. If I indicate that I recycle then they should not toss recyclables into the trash. After the organizers left I noticed my glass jars for recycling were missing. This made me mad, so I crawled through the dumpster to retrieve them. While making this dig, I also noticed some small toy pieces from my child’s toys and some paper that was mine. Now I can’t find a check from my mother and my season pass to the aquarium and I wonder…..
  • They insult me. One organizer suggested that I paint a piece of furniture with slate paint. It was my grandfather’s chair. I felt she had insulted me and my furniture. She was not invited into my home to do interior decoration but just to help me clear the clutter.
  • They don’t take ownership of their mistakes. When I talked to one of the organizers about my dissatisfaction, she said that she was sorry for the miscommunication. If feel that I was very clear on my communication. 
Now, I am not so naïve as to suggest that this was all the organizers fault. We all know that there are two sides to every story. but the scary thing was that I have said some of these things myself and I wonder if I have upset clients but they were just not willing to confront me.
So, if you are an organizer, read this and see if any of it resonates. If you are a client, read this and know how important it is that as you work with us and things are not going the way you envisioned, that you stop us right then and there and tell us what you are experiencing. The last thing we want to do is hurt someone or be disrespectful. 

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Helping an Elderly Parent Declutter

Your mom or dad is now living alone in their own home. Each time you visit you see more and more clutter build up and less and less cleaning going on. You want to help but don’t want to embarrass or upset your parent. This has been the situation with a couple of my clients.

The plan:

  • If possible, invite someone to the home with you who can get a fresh look at the situation. Because this clutter has grown over an extended period of time, you are probably missing some key components. 
  • Analyze why certain areas are cluttered. As parents get older it takes more effort to pick things up from the floor. If something gets dropped or spilled it just may stay there. They may do most activities from one or two places as it is more difficult to move around. They may not see the clutter.
  • When you start to attack the clutter, keep the parent involved. Get permission before moving things around or getting rid of anything. Talk it out before doing any work. 
  • Work in small bites. Don’t overwhelm the parent by doing a lot at one time.
This past week I was invited by my client’s dad to come into his home. I came as a friend who had helped his daughter with some organizing. Her dad had noticed some of the work his daughter and I had done together when he was at her home on a recent visit. My client had shared with me that her dad was now having back pain and some headaches. He had fallen this past winter. She was very concerned about his environment but did not want to disrespect him or overwhelm him.
He is an artist and likes to look through magazines for ideas. When he works from his chair in the den, pieces of paper drop to the floor. Magazines are stacked up waiting for his attention. Some food wrappers are dropped. His studio shows signs of things having been stacked but are now toppled. We chatted together about getting a sorting system set up for his cut-out pictures and a trash can by his chair. He liked the idea and his daughter will get those items for him.
After the visit, my client and I brainstormed other tasks that could be tackled over time. With permission she could remove a couch that is now blocking the bookcase and is never used. She might find a basked to hold the waiting to be worked on magazines. A huge fire extinguisher (still in the box) could be replace by a smaller kitchen sized fire extinguisher. Another day she could hang the pictures that have been leaning along a wall for years (surprisingly neither daughter nor dad really noticed the pictures or had thought of hanging them). Then later still, remove the exercise bike that has never been used. The idea is to let her dad get used to each change before adding another. When the clearing of the den is complete, a day could be spent cleaning. Then they could move on to another area.
While each case is unique, I feel the most important premise is to respect the parent and make them a part of the decluttering experience. 

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer