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Rhyll Interviews Lisa The Professional Organizer

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When the Lady Biest’s collection of empty soda cans and take-away boxes became unruly, she sought the help of a lovely former professional organizer (now writing full time), one Lisa Ireland. Once Rhyll had tied poor Lisa to her ergonomic chair, it was a cinch to get her to agree to an interview.


Rhyll: Do you think the job of professional organizer would have dramatic potential in a romance novel?

Lisa: Absolutely. Definitely potential for an opposites attract romance. Organizers meet so many different people that the possibilities are endless!

Rhyll: Why do people generally hire a professional organizer?

Lisa: There are many reasons! Most of my clients feel overwhelmed by clutter in their homes. These clients are looking for help getting the clutter under control and keeping it that way. Other clients feel they are under pressure to fit too much into their schedules and are looking for someone assist them to organize their time better. Some organizers work with chronically disorganized clients or hoarders. These clients need specialized help from a number of services, including professional organizers.

Rhyll: Who usually hires a professional organizer? Is there a typical client?

Lisa: No, there’s no typical client. All sorts of people use professional organizers. Not all clients are messy and some are very organized people who recognize the value of getting professional help in one specific area of their life e.g. organizing their wardrobe. Clients are incredibly varied. I’ve worked with teachers, doctors, church ministers, museum curators, stay at home mums, I.T. specialists, just to name a few!

Rhyll: What sort of things do organizers organize? What won’t they organize?

Lisa: There is an organizer for pretty much anything you can think of! Many organizers specialize in one or two areas, e.g. wardrobe organization or office organization. Personally, I specialize in family organization. I help families build routines with the aim of providing a calm, stress free environment. I also work with clients to clear clutter from their homes and make better use of the space they have available to them. I work with individuals as well as families providing similar services. There are things individual organizers won’t do, for example I’ve never done a garage. It’s just not my thing! But there are organizers who specialize in garages. Obviously organizers have to look after their health so they can’t work in an unsafe environment or handle dangerous materials. However they can usually organize expert cleaners/rubbish removal to deal with this type of thing.

Rhyll: Do you get to know a client fairly well when you organize them?

Lisa: It depends. Sometimes clients only need a small, specialized service. For example a client might need help sorting, storing and displaying old photographs. This might only take one session therefore I wouldn’t get to know that client very well. However some clients need or want ongoing help and in these cases we do get to know each other very well. My favorite thing is to work with a family over a long period so that I can watch their progress. That’s very satisfying.

Rhyll: What skills do you need to be a good professional organizer?

Lisa: I guess it goes without saying that you need to be organized! However, you don’t have to be naturally organized or tidy. What I mean by this is anyone can learn to be organized. It’s very important to be a good listener. Organizers need to hear their clients’ concerns (and not make assumptions!) in order to properly help clients. Organizers need to have empathy and discretion. It is often very difficult for clients to admit they need help. Sometimes they may feel embarrassed about their situation. Organizers must be able to gain their clients’ confidence and assure them they are not being judged. Clients need to know their privacy will be maintained at all times. Organizers need to be patient. It can be hard for some clients to make decisions. It’s very important for clients for comfortable with every step they are taking and organizers need to understand the difference between encouragement and pressure. Flexibility is another important attribute. Every job is different and whilst the basic principles of organizing don’t change, it’s essential to understand there’s not a “one size fits all” solution for every problem. Organizers should have the ability to think laterally. It’s also really important to have a good sense of humor.

Rhyll: Have you met interesting people through this line of work?

Lisa: Absolutely. I love hearing people’s stories and being an organizer has given me a wonderful opportunity to hear some beautiful tales. I particularly love hearing stories about how clients met their partner and also what led them to their current profession.

Rhyll: How many clients will a professional organizer generally organize at one time?

Lisa: It varies on the type of jobs the clients need done. I usually only physically see one client per day. My minimum session time is three hours. When you add in travel time, paperwork, planning, marketing and professional development that’s a full day.  There is no such thing as a typical day in terms of the job I might work on with the client (one day it might be reorganizing a kitchen, the next sorting out a family’s daily routine) but I do have a typical structure for the day, which looks like this:

8-30 – 9am (after school drop off!) Check diary. Send out confirmation email to following day’s client.

9am – 10am travel time (if not all this time is needed this time is used for promoting business on social media, blogging etc.)

10am - 1pm client session (2pm if longer session)

1pm – lunch!

1-30 – 3-30 travel (including dropping off unwanted client items to charities) shopping for client items, phone calls, emails, planning following day’s session.

3-30 – 7-30 – personal and family time (including housework, dinner prep etc)

7-30 on  - planning for tomorrow.

I try not to work past 9-30, but occasionally it can’t be helped. Weekends are set aside for family and I don’t work at all then unless it is a professional development session. Of course, sometimes the client session maybe earlier or later according to client needs. In that case the rest of the day would be shuffled around to accommodate that. Other organizers see more than one client per day. Some work weekends and others may only work a few days per week. It really depends on the individual organizer.

Rhyll: There are professional organizer associations. What do you need to do to become a qualified professional organizer?

Lisa: Technically, anyone can say they a professional organizer. Currently, in Australia at least, there is no official qualification that an organizer must have to start working in the industry. Having said that many organizers have undergraduate degrees in fields that enhance their organizing skills. My undergraduate degree is in teaching. I know organizers that have come into the field from nursing and social work backgrounds. Some organizers may come from a business background. When I first became interested in professional organizing I joined AAPO – Australasian Association of Professional Organizers. This is an industry body that sets standards that their members must uphold. It also has a professional “ranking” system. Members who qualify may apply to become an Accomplished Member or an Expert Member. I would highly recommend anyone looking for an organizer to choose one who is a member of a professional association (AAPO for Australians.)

Rhyll: Do professional organizers tend to be organized at home?

Lisa: Short answer – yes! Long answer – if you can’t organize yourself then you really can’t help other people. That doesn’t mean all organizers were born organized or don’t occasionally have a messy house. I am not naturally tidy. When I had very small children I got tired of living in a constant state of chaos and so I set about learning how to be organized. When I realized how much easier my life was once there was a bit more structure I became a bit of a zealot! I just wanted to help other people to see how simple it can be to live a less stressful life. That led me to work as a Professional Organizer.

Rhyll: How do professional organizers like to unwind after slaving over a messy room all day?

Lisa: With wine and a good book

Rhyll: Can you name a ‘famous’ professional organizer?

Lisa: Peter Walsh is the most famous organizer I can think of.  He got his start on Oprah and is well known in the USA, but he’s actually an Aussie.

Rhyll: If a movie were made about a professional organizer, which actor would you like to see play the role?

Lisa: Hmmm ... good question! Needs to be someone who appears serene but has a good sense of humour. I can see Toni Collette as a zany PO or maybe Cynthia Nixon (from Sex and the City) as a more “A type” PO.

Rhyll: What’s the best gift you could give a professional organizer?

Lisa: Something consumable – wine, chocolates always go down well. Other great picks would be flowers or a day spa voucher. We like presents that don’t contribute to clutter!

Rhyll: What would a professional organizer not be caught dead with?

Lisa: I can’t speak for all organizers but personally I’m not a fan knick knacks. If it hasn’t got a purpose then it’s not for me. (NB sometimes an object’s purpose is to make me smile!) Seriously, though, I am a big believer in making life simple so for me that means a minimum of dust collectors. I’m ruthless about rehoming objects I don’t love or have a purpose for.

Rhyll: Please finish the following sentence: If professional organizers ruled the world…

Lisa: it would be a less stressful place (and dust free too!)