As a professional organizer, you would assume that I am passionate about organizing. I am not—I am passionate about people. Given the choice between being at home and dealing with my own piles or going to Pleasantville and sorting out Mrs. Martin’s closet, I will chose Mrs. Martin and her closet every single time. I enjoy my own company but I know that story and at this point, I would much rather hear other people’s stories. Being with other people and helping them sort out their stuff gives me the opportunity to hear the stories behind their stuff.
I have the privilege of hearing people’s stories while helping them organize their homes and the stuff that contributes to or reflects those stories. Often they call me in to serve as a professional organizer because they have become stuck in managing everything they own. The stuff is often the outcome of the lives they have lived and the stories they have created within those lives. The stuff is a physical manifestation of their internal process, the choices they have made and the experiences they have had.
My work with clients then becomes about the unfolding of their stories, a discovery process for both the client and myself, their audience and often their advocate. In this role, I serve a useful purpose for them and I am honored to serve in the telling of their stories and when they get stuck, the reshaping of those stories, the management of their stuff, so that we have a better outcome, a more productive, useful and graceful home. Given that I am curious by nature, a good listener and love to help people find solutions to their challenges, this all contributes to a fun and satisfying work life.
A client’s story might start out about a closet and then it becomes about something more. Every story unfolds in its own way, in its own time. Sometimes the stories come tumbling out in a cascade of events and other times, the stories are revealed morsel by morsel over a period of months.
Mrs. Martin holds back nothing as we sort and fold the towels from her wedding 60 years ago, revealing some of the events of her young life as a wife, mother and then a divorcee 20 years later. Later in the day, I’m sorting out the papers and bills of a retired professional and she shares a moment from her earlier life in Manhattan that reveals the contrast to her quiet older years here in this retirement community. I will not hear a detail like this for another month as we focus on the task at hand and strategize to maximize the efficiency and productivity of a life now restricted by the limitations of an aging mind and body.
There is also humor in my work with people and their organizing needs. One instance of this was the day I was trying to schedule a series of appointments for Margaret, who I have written about before. She mentioned that she would like to schedule a doctor’s appointment but couldn’t remember his name.
She said, “You know, the one that did the Cadillacs in my eye!?”
I then said, “Mrs. Roberts, do you realize what you just said?” and then I repeated it. Margaret burst out laughing and I did, too. I then mention that I had seen this word substitution happen before and when it happens again, we were going to handle it with humor and grace.
Many people are worried about asking for help when they try to get organized because they are embarrassed about their messes. The truth is that some just don’t know how to be organized. Be assured that organizers have seen it all and we deeply appreciate the chance to be of service to you and your families. As one friend said: “If our clients weren’t messy, we wouldn’t have a job.”
Professional organizers are committed to a code of ethics to safeguard your trust and privacy and we are very mindful of that position. It is a privilege to be of service and we thank our lucky stars every day to work with every person who comes our way.
If you have any questions or would like feedback on your organizing challenges, please email or call me. It would be great to do a Q&A portion for this column. Your privacy will be maintained--just say it's Shannon in Shenorock or Nora in North Salem and we’ll take it from there!