Day 206 Hiring a Professional Organizer

Recently I received an email from Deb J in which she revealed the fact that she has worked as a professional organizer. Not being one to let a chance go by I asked Deb if she would be kind enough to share her insight with us on hiring a professional organizer. She has written a very thorough post for me giving us lots of detail as to what we should expect. So set a little time aside especially if you are considering getting professional help and have a good read and I am sure you will find all the information you  need on this subject.

Hiring a Professional Organizer

By Deb J


I have not worked for 5 years due to disability so am not sure what the pricing structure for Professional Organizer is in today’s market.  Today’s market is highly liquid with charges varying widely by area and by the organizers expertise.  My charges were based on a sliding scale depending upon the size of home, what the client wanted organized, and the amount of organizing needed (how unorganized/cluttered).  My prices were between $65-$120 per hour.  I also had a cost sheet that broke down costs so a client could pick and if that fit their budget better.  Occasionally I would give a price per job if I felt that I could accurately estimate the time needed.  This was usually based upon what took place in my Initial Consultation which took 1-2 hours at no-cost to the potential client.   My prices did not include any furniture/containers/implements that might be needed.

Initial Consultation:

At my initial consultation I looked for:

1.     What the client wanted organized

2.     The amount of clutter/disorganization

3.     The personality & lifestyle of the client(s)

4.     The amount of participation by the client

5.     Whether there would be a need for additional personnel

6.     The amount of access per day to the home/office/building

During this initial consultation I would first sit with them and discuss their expectations and what had led them to contacting me.  Then I would have them show me what they wanted organized.  I would pick a small area or drawer that we could organize just to see how long it took them to make decisions, their style of decision making, and their ease with making decisions.  I also needed to know who else would be involved in decision making and whether they would be present or would have to be consulted between any suggestions and the actual work.  The one thing no organizer wants to have happen is to estimate a job based on the initial consultation and later find that there are four people in the family who all want input, there is a supervisor who has to okay expenditures or there is some other way that the job hours can be expended because of unexpected input.

At the end of the initial consultation if the proposed job length and fee was accepted I would get a signed contract and leave a “homework” packet and would also take pictures of each room.  If the decision was not made at that time, I would leave the contract and estimate with the understanding I would call after a certain amount of days (usually 10 working days) for an answer.  If the contract was then accepted I would either deliver the “homework” packet or mail it with 2-day delivery.

Homework Packet:

The Homework Packet contained the following:

1.     A brochure about choices, room usage, lifestyles, and decluttering.

2.     A list of room types with space for writing.  On this the client was asked to write about how a particular room is used and what it contains.

3.     A list of various items found in a home. With a place to check those the client owns and extra lines for those things not listed.

4.     Diary pages on which to write about their daily life.  On this the client would write down for several days everything they did that day.  I asked that it be very detailed.  The only thing I didn’t ask them to tell me was those private things like using the toilet or having sex.

5.     A request list of items I would like to have before starting the job.  This included things like a 8-1/2X11 copy of the house floor plan, a list of the occupants with ages and interests in the case of a private home or suite of offices, a list of furniture the client wanted to retain, any other information the seemed to be needed for that particular client or which the client thought I needed.

The client must either mail or deliver this packet back to me within one week.  I would then go read over the information before the first day on the job.

The Actual Work

What happened on the first day of the job depended upon the size of the job.  Since most clients were individual home owners, I will give that as my example.

First Day

Most home owners have no real idea of how they use and abuse their homes.  We tend to live at such a fast pace and with so many different items and schedules pulling at us that we just live.  We have neither the time nor, in most cases, the interest in figuring out how to better utilize our time or our possessions.  Life is just too full of the immediate.  If a client is able to accept the “invasion of privacy” it seems to be, I like to spend a day just observing the clients in the home.   There has never yet been a client who could give me a good explanation of how they use the particular rooms in their home.  I am usually shown a room and told “this is the ______ room where we ________.”   After a day of observing the client/family I discovered that the dining room was used occasionally for a dining room but all the time as a place to work on homework, pay the bills, make crafts, work jigsaw puzzles, and drop off the mail.  Or maybe the family room was where they ate (at the coffee table or tray tables), talked on the phone, braided the daughter’s hair every morning and scrapbooked as well as watched TV, listened to music, and entertained friends.   Having a day to observe the client(s) can make the job go much faster.

Subsequent days

I arrive at the home with tables, boxes, packing tape, packing paper, and various garbage bags.  I pick a room to use as our work room and set up tables marked Keep, Sell and Give.  Going through a room at a time, we take everything out of the room except the furniture.  For each item the client must decide whether to keep it, sell it or give it away.  It is then placed on the appropriate table.  Anything that is trash is placed in a large garbage bag.  Anything that needs to be shredded is placed in a kitchen size garbage bag.  Once a room has been cleared out, the client goes back over each table to make sure that the right decision has been made.  I always recommend that if an item hasn’t been used in the last couple of months it should be removed unless it is a seasonal type of item.  Many times a client will struggle with making a decision about some items.  People many times have emotional attachments to items for various reasons.  There can be some psychology experience needed to help clients discover the reasons behind their attachments and whether the attachment can be removed.  For some items having a good photograph is enough to satisfy the attachment.  For others the attachment requires the item to be kept.  Then there are times when once the client understands why they have the attachment they no longer need the item and will let it go.  I try to not push a client to let go of an item.  Instead, I try to walk the client through the process of discovering the reason behind keeping the item so that they are assured that their decision is for the right reasons.

Once a room has gone through the decluttering process we look at the furniture in the room.  The decision process for furniture is the same as used on the contents with the additional option of using the furniture in another room.  After sorting the furniture we place the remaining furniture appropriately around the room and then begin the process of returning the other contents.  This process takes into consideration how the item is used, where best to place it for ease of use, and if there is a need for further storage or display products.  In some cases the client may decide that a piece of furniture is not the appropriate product for the items and we will need to purchase or locate elsewhere in the home something that will be more useful.  There are usually items found that should actually be stored or used elsewhere in the home.  These remain on the Keep table until we start to process the appropriate room.  As each room is finished, I take the time to wrap, label and box the items to be sold or given away.  These boxes are then stored underneath the tables or in another place the client chooses.  If the items to be given away are going to a relative or friend we prepare it for shipping and I take them to the shipping store.  If the items are to be given to a charity, I try to deliver them that day.  The more we remove that day the less we have to deal with as we are processing the remainder of the home.

Once the home has been completely processed we go back through to make sure that the client is completely satisfied with what has been done.  There are times when after completion of the processing the client will discover they would like to make some tweaks.  I also recommend that the client settle into the home for a week or two and then call me with any changes that need to be made.  It is not unusual for a client to discover that a few items may need to be moved or removed once life in the new design resumes.  In many cases the client will call only to report they have used what they have learned to make a few small changes themselves.  My goal is that the client will see the process and find it something they can repeat over and over on their own as lifestyles and occupants change.

What to Look For in an Organizer

An organizer needs to be someone you feel very comfortable with.  This person is going to see everything there is to see about your home.  She needs to see the way you really live in order to give you the best for your money.  That means you need to “let it all hang out.”  If you don’t feel you can do that with a particular organizer don’t hire him.

I always recommend they be a Certified Professional Organizer and member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.  I also recommend that you check them out with the Better Business Bureau.  Ask for references (at least 4) and make sure to call the references and ask for their input.  Asking the reference to see their home is okay but they may not be agreeable.  A recommendation from a personal friend or a business associate you trust is always a plus.

The organizer should give you a contract that outlines exactly what you will be receiving for the money you are paying.  You should be asked for a deposit of ¼-1/3 of the total cost with the remainder being paid on completion of the work.  You should be able to pay by check or credit card.  I would not recommend paying in cash.  All personnel hired by the organizer to help with the contract (building storage, moving or removing furniture, etc) should be also be license and bonded.

I recommend meeting with several organizers before making a decision.

Thanks so much Deb for your help with this. I am sure your information will come in very useful to those considering the option of professional help. I even think that  the processes you explain will also be helpful the those of us attempting to do this on our own.


Just one more of my daughters unwanted items

Bridget's Skirt

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Deb J., this is a very detailed and informative overview. Personally, I have never really understood the amount of work that goes into the life of a professional organizer. I knew that there would be some obstacles which you discussed, but there are also other nuances that I thought were very interesting — in particular the homework package section. I like the idea of making people write day-to-day diaries because it must really make people aware of their day to day actions and how that contributes to the way they live. If you get a chance, I am wondering what parts of the job were the most challenging for you and how difficult was it to get started as a professional organizer? It’s not something I see myself doing as a profession but I’m just curious. Again, thanks for the detailed write-up.

  2. Thanks Deb J and Colleen for writing and posting this very informative and helpful post. It’s making me want to write down exactly what we do in each room here at home and analyze it! That homework packet would be useful for everyone. Maybe you could just market that 🙂

  3. This is such an interesting article and helpful even to those of us not anticipating hiring a professional, as Colleen said at the end of the post. I am one of those people who has a lot of decluttering to do but don’t have a big segment of time to tackle it, so I have tended to pick away at something here and something there. This information gives me a framework to work within, even using my gradual approach. I need to figure out the uses of our rooms and keep that in mind when I am re-organizing and decluttering. Thank you, Deb J and Colleen.

    • Hi Jo,
      I see you have got my point about this wonderful insight from Deb J. Without even hiring a professional organizer we have all learned some important lessons on how to plan ahead when it comes to decluttering and reorganizing our homes.

      Hi Willow,
      like Jo, you are so right about how useful this post has been. I am very grateful to Deb J for making the effort to share her knowledge with us.

      Hi Reggie,
      I am glad you enjoyed Deb’s write up. Even though it was long there was no way I was going to try to condense in down as every line was jam packed with useful advice and tricks fo the trade. I hope she will read all the comments and reply to you all herself.

  4. Jo, You might benefit from checking out Flylady focuses on decluttering 15 minutes at a time, even using a timer to help you focus on how much you can do in 15 minutes. The website has a lot of good ideas.

  5. Hi Everyone! Colleen asked me to answer your comments so I will be keeping an eye on this post so I can do that.

    Reggie: the hardest part was getting clients to see the need for the homework. Some would refuse to do it and that would usually make my job more difficult and their price go up. Getting into the business wasn’t as hard for me as some because I had people who asked me to hlep them and that just led to me getting paid to do it. For others it can be hard. It depends upon the area and the amount of professionals already out there. You can specialize and that helps too.

  6. Hi All! Thanks for enjoying the post.

    Willow: the book I mentioned is as good as having the homework and goes more in depth. Plus it has some good info about the emotional side to “stuff.” Flylady has a lot of good information on her site. Some have told me it is somewhat overwhelming. I like how she helps people do it little bites at a time. I think that for those who either don’t have the money or who feel overwhelmed by doing it all at once both the book and Flylady are good resources for doing it at your own pace.

  7. Jo: Personally, I think the gradual approach is a good one. My suggestion is to start with a small area to get the feel of it and to learn how to follow all the steps. It will go slow and you will need to spend a good bit of time thinking it through. Once you have done it that fist time then things will speed up for you because you will feel more sure of yourself and you will begin to find YOUR path. Each of us is unique in how we live and use our rooms and belongings. Doing it slowly also helps your family to catch on and become part of the work and part of the solution.

  8. Deb J, thanks for the reply. I can see how many people just wouldn’t feel like doing the homework. I’m guessing more did it once you explained to them it’s for their overall benefit but some people just won’t do it if they don’t see the need.

  9. Reggie, Even then some woudn’t cooperate. They wanted me to do it because they didn’t want to take the time. “That’s why I’m hiring you.” Many times I would turn down this type of job. It’s hard to satisfy someone who won’t be part of the solution.

  10. Deb J this is an incredible post. I’ve often wondered how a professional organizer goes about their job. Thanks so much for sharing.

  11. Fascinating article. Thanks for an amazing insight into what must be, on occasions, a thankless task. I know from several “disorganized” relatives that helping them sort their lives out would be nothing short of a nightmare scenario – I steer well clear of that! 🙂 Tough job, and a lot harder than I think many people realize.

  12. Deb, in your response to Willow you stated, “The book I mentioned is as good as having the homework…” I read your post and reread it looking for the book title, but could not find it. A wonderfully practical and detailed post, BTW. Thanks!

  13. Sally Fronsman-Cecil

    Thank you. This was very helpful to me as a foundation for looking at issues involved in developing a contract for a family (or other) helping intervention for a person in recovery from hoarding. I am writing a contract for my personal use, people in our hoarding support group and ultimately as a prototye for use with families with our local hoarding task force and for use by NAMI members.
    The only materials I’ve found in my research are those aimed at professional oganizers. If you know of resources for organizers working with people in recovery from hoarding please contact me at

    • Hi Sally Fronsman-Cecil,
      Thank you for getting in touch. I will forward your comment on to Deb J who wrote this article and maybe she will be able to help you some more if she is willing and able.

  14. Di, I’m so sorry. I thought for sure I had put the name of the book in the article. The book is “The Organizing Sourcebook” by Kathy Waddill. This is a great book. I recommend it for any household.


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