My friend, Linda Groat, owner of Simply Back to Basics Organizing and Coaching, helped me reclaim my home office space, making it a much more enjoyable space to work in. Because that project worked so well I wondered if she could help me get through the frenzy of cooking, baking, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating and card distribution that comes around this time of year. Recently she graciously invited me to her home to explain how a professional organizer works.

I've used your services to help me organize both my offices at home and away
and still use the systems we set up. Can you describe how an organizer helps
people for those new to professional organizing?

Of course, Dr. Aletta. People get stuck in their projects usually because of a major life change
(illness, injury, recent or impending move, death of someone close to them,
birth/adoption, a new/demanding job, obligations to aging
parents, etc). People have busy lives that make it difficult for them to
keep all their commitments running smoothly.

Professional organizers provide
ideas and resources, support and
encouragement, planning and implementation of organizing projects, as well as follow up
and maintenance.
NAPO, the
National Association of Professional Organizers, is a group of
thousands of organizers across the US and other countries, committed to helping
clients achieve their goals.

I work through a consultation process, where I identify the
goals and vision of each client and tailor a plan that will work with their
personality and habits. The systems are set up initially within the first
session or two and are tweaked as needed within follow up sessions to ensure
everything is working properly. Clients are encouraged to share their feedback
with me to ensure things are working well.

When a client first contacts me, I provide a free 15-20
minute phone consultation about their concerns. Upon mutual agreement, we then
schedule a 2 hour initial consultation session in their home or office where I
conduct a detailed assessment of their goals and spaces. From that session, we
establish a shopping list of needed supplies and a detailed plan/scope of the
project. The time needed to complete each project varies with many factors. My
follow up sessions are a minimum of 4 hours to allow for optimal

I usually work hands on in clients’ homes or offices, but now
I am also offering a new service of consultation through a webcam, using Skype,
where we can work on certain things long distance, like vision planning and
time management.

thinking there are a lot of people like me, who feel completely blindsided that
it's already Christmas time! How can an organizer help me get a grip?

The holiday time creates a lot of opportunity for joy, and at
the same time can be stressful. Organizers can help you get both physically and
emotionally ready to make the most of your family time. By streamlining and
systematizing kitchens, laundry rooms, play areas, paperwork and daily
routines, those every day chores that are so taxing become automatic and even
enjoyable. That leaves time and energy left to do other fun projects for the

Do you have any special tips
for organizing gift giving?

I do! I wrote a whole tip on this very topic, called “It’s
a Gift to Be Simple”
which can be viewed on my website. I know that gifting
can be a mixed blessing. We each have so much already and often it is hard to
know what others have or need or want. It is often one of the few
connections a far away relative has with a child.

Try opening a dialogue with
your gift givers (grandparents, aunts, uncles). Explain that you are trying to
simplify your lives. Relatives may be grateful to hear
it and may be open to suggestions for gifts.

For my children, I tend to pick
one type of present or theme (such as playmobil sets, lego sets, MP3 players)
each year for each child and encourage relatives to add to the set/theme. You
could even offer to pick out or even purchase/wrap the gifts for out of town
relatives and just have them reimburse you. Some relatives may really like this
and it gives you much more control over what comes into your house. Another
important idea is to encourage the kids to tell you what they like (a wish
list). Kid’s interests change and it is useful to see what they will pick out
for themselves.

Start early, end early, don’t overbuy, wrap and label as you
go (Keep a list of what you wrapped so you don’t forget). Store gifts in
non-see-through bins, preferably an unattractive color and label it “dirty
laundry” to deter peeking. You may want to
label each bin with a color or shape to distinguish one person’s gifts from
another, without naming them.

As far as wrapping goes, try setting up a wrapping center. It
does not have to be very large, but an old chest/dresser with a long drawer
would work great for rolled paper. Keep bows, tape, scissors, markers, and tags
in the drawer ready to go. Set up a fold away table near the wrapping center to
make it a quick, easy and fun activity.

What if I
know someone who could really use a Professional Organizer, is there some way I
can gift your services?

Yes! This is a great idea and
something that several of my clients of have benefited from.
It is important to recognize that the recipient must be a willing participant!
Gift givers may mean well, but unless the recipient is on board, it will be a
waste of time and money.

Sometimes, clients I am already working with will ask their
relatives for organizing time for birthdays and holidays,
which is a great help
to their budget.


would you tell a client to consider when thinking about hiring an organizer?

1) Select a NAPO
organizer. This assures that you are hiring a professional who holds themselves
to high standards, engages in ongoing learning and connecting with other
organizers and is adhering to the NAPO code of ethics.

2) Be aware that organizing is a process, not an event.
And it takes time and energy and money. It is well spent effort though, if you
are willing to do the hard work. Sometimes people do it only partially or
haphazardly and then they do not accomplish their goals. Organizers are great
consultants, coaches and facilitators, but they are not Miracle Workers. The
client owns a great deal of the responsibility and credit for lasting change.

3) Expect that there will be some anxiety and upheaval as
things begin to change. Organizing is a highly personal process. It takes time
to establish new habits and it can be unsettling to let go of things and ideas
that you have had for a long time. Your organizer will help you to verbalize
and address these feelings and support you while you do it!!

4) Know that there is light at the end of the tunnel! NAPO organizers have assisted thousands of
clients to simplify their lives and regain control. You can be one of them!

For more information on professional organizers:

Simply Back to Basics Organizing and Coaching

National Association of Professional Organizers

Photo Courtesy of Riv via Flickr

Here's a little video of our interview. Enjoy!