Most of us have one of those spaces. The place where we stuff odds and ends we don’t know where else to put, or think we might use one day and never do. But what happens when you dedicate more and more space to this junk till the chaos finally overwhelms you?
Eight in 10 Canadians believe they’re disorganized, especially those with children in the household, says a 2009 Leger Marketing survey commissioned by Professional Organizers in Canada (POC). And all this disorganization makes us frustrated and stressed. But when you consider that many of us with kids also have time management issues, it may seem easier to just shut that door on the problem than deal with it.
This is where the experts step in. Using workable systems, professional organizers bring order to spaces, time and information so households, and businesses, can function more smoothly. And they do so in confidence and without censure. Here’s how the process works:
Search for a pro. Google professional organizer and you will find a plethora of options. Most companies list their specialties and offer testimonials. Professional Organizers of Canada (organizersincanada.com) — a national non-profit organization that supports professional organizers — offers a handy tool that makes the process easier. Click on “Find an Organizer” and search by city and specialty. Find member organizers across the GTA and surrounding areas that help busy households under “Family and Time Management.”
Find your fit. Once you have some prospects, spend time to figure out which one offers the best fit for your lifestyle. Visit their websites, then call to ask questions. They should be able to offer the nuts and bolts of what a typical session entails and explain their hourly fees. Don’t be shy about asking how long they have been in business and why they got into this line of work. Many have varied backgrounds they bring to the field.“I started almost five years ago after over 20 years in healthcare and healthcare management. I found myself in the same situation that many of my clients do: working full time with two young children and overwhelmed,” explains Carolyn Caldwell, owner of Wellrich Organizers in Toronto. “As a professional business woman, I was not used to being disorganized — I was interested in the principles and concepts of organizing and found that by using them I could get back in control of my life and help my family prosper.”
Finally, be sure to ask for any photos of their work, testimonials and referrals you can contact to help you make an informed decision. This person or team is going to be in your house — and private mess — for an indefinite amount of time, so be comfortable with your choice.
Schedule a consultation. Although you will have explained your needs over the phone, it is impossible for an organizer to accurately assess the full details of a job until you meet face-to-face. “The service starts with an on-site initial consultation in order to see the home and understand the specific organizing needs of the family,” says Jane Woolsey, owner of An Organized Vision in Toronto. “From the consultation, a plan is developed as to what areas of the house will be worked on and what the vision is for those areas, including a budget.”
This plan takes into account how you envision your space looking, the ages of your family members and anything that may be contributing to the disorganization, including physical, emotional and mental challenges. Maybe mobility is an issue so storing items up high is impossible. Or you inherited a whack of knick-knacks from a grandparent who passed away, which you’re finding tough to toss. Whatever the reason, an effective plan will cover it all.
Decode the costs. As with many professional services, a consultation fee may apply. Caldwell charges a flat price of $250 for a tour and assessment that usually takes two to three hours and includes a comprehensive report and recommendations. Thereafter, some professional organizers charge by the session (Caldwell bills $200 for three hours), while others work on an hourly basis.“My residential rates for Toronto range from $75 to $85 per hour, depending on where the clients are located, and their parking situation. A junior organizer might charge less per hour, but in Toronto, I don't know of anyone charging more than $95 per hour, so there is a range in hourly wages based on experience level,” says Nancy Drolet, who spent 25 years in the travel business coaching managers on how to prioritize and manage their time before opening Clearly Organized in Bolton five years ago.
Put the plan in action. According to Woolsey, every organizing project is different. Some easier jobs take just a couple of sessions; others that involve greater time and organizational commitment can stretch out over several months.
Caldwell agrees, explaining: “There is no 'typical' situation — every client is different, has slightly different needs, budgets, time. I may visit a client weekly, monthly, bi-monthly or each quarter. I may keep in touch via email, or phone. Some clients need me there to tackle the jobs; others will do 'homework' before I return. Some clients will call me in for a room then not call me back for six months until they are ready to tackle another area of their home.”
Use what you learn. It’s tempting to hire someone to make the mess disappear. But that isn’t what most professional organizers do the best — some, not at all. Their primary goal is to see the big picture and come up with a plan to tackle it; teach skills and systems that work not only for the project at hand, but that can be implemented in other jobs and situations moving forward.
“The real goal is to phase ourselves out!” emphasizes Drolet.
Home Organization 101
Some ways your busy family may need a helping hand:
Schedules A family calendar, located in a communal area such as the kitchen, is key to planning activities, important events, chores and car pools. For younger kids, stickers work to identify when it’s gym day etc. Keep activity information pasted or in a binder nearby so family members can easily access important details, phone numbers and invitations, suggests Carolyn Caldwell from Wellrich Organizers.
Paper trail Usually, residential clients need a system to move paper in and out — and a comfort level on what is okay to toss, says Nancy Drolet of Clearly Organized.
Meal planning Preplan the week’s menu and post it where your family can see it. This eliminates unnecessary shopping trips and can save money by not overbuying food that won’t be used.
Storage systems Toys, homework and clothes all need a place in your home. But the key to success is making sure they work for all family members. If coats and backpacks need hanging up, make sure all age groups can reach them.
Clear out Unused, broken and outgrown items build up. Break the “too much stuff” syndrome by regularly going through toys, sporting gear, school supplies, artwork, appliances and more. Don’t limit yourself to key calendar dates such as end of a school term and a change in season. Pre-plan and you’ll always stay a step ahead, says Jane Woolsey of An Organized Vision.
What to expect
Say that you’re like most of us and you have too much stuff. How can an organizer help? We asked Carolyn Caldwell of Wellrich Organizers to walk us through a typical session:
1. From the plan, you decide whether you want help sorting and purging or would like to take the recommendations and follow through on them yourself. If you need onsite support, the two of you get going.
2. You dictate the pace and process Three hours is a long time to spend in chaos, so an average session lasts no longer than that. And keep in mind the mess will get worse before it gets better.
3. When you can see what is staying, you need to decide how often the items will be used. This dictates the type of storage and retrieval systems, which must be age-appropriate to the ages and stages of your kids. Young kids can retrieve and put away clothes on hooks and open shelves. Shallow bins are great for toys.
4. If you don’t already have appropriate storage in your house (and many of us have some usable bins etc.), you can either pick it up at the recommended stores or request your organizer do that for you. Once you have everything you need, the to-stay items are stored and the to-go items recycled, thrown out or delivered to charity.
5. Digital photographs taken at the beginning of a job and the end provide a visual reminder at the progress made.
Team uniforms, camp clothes, school supplies, crafts. Labels identify items for easy sorting and storing or retrieval from the Lost and Found. Check out these websites for a variety of options: