Professional Organizers Are Not a Luxury: From Bedroom to Business Office (Part 1)

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • "Would you like a piece of jewelry? A new outfit? A Nintendo DS?", my husband asked, as my birthday was fast approaching. I thought of the options and quite honestly, almost jumped at the Nintendo idea but put my impulsivity in check. So I admit, I am a video game junky. But I had something more important in mind. Something that a diamond, dress or Mario game simply couldn't match.


    I told him I wanted to hire a Professional Organizer.


    He shook his head, puzzled, and said if that's what I wanted, that was fine with him. But I think the head shaking also meant, "it's a lost cause, sweetheart."

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    Still, I plunged forward. Those of you who struggle like I do with disorganization know that we sometimes just need expert help to get things figured out, like how to organize a closet, or how to set up systems for keeping "stuff" manageable. To me, this is no different from hiring an auto mechanic to change the oil if you've don't know what is what under a car hood. Setting up organizational systems is simply not a normal part of my brain functioning.


    Let me share with you how my professional organizers saved my life. Oh, you noticed that "organizers" is plural? That's because the first experience worked so well, I asked for more organizing help a few years later, as another birthday present, to tackle a bedroom project. (See Part Two of this post)


    Let's start with my virgin voyage that began about 10 years ago, when I met and worked with my first professional organizer. Immediately, I found just how different our brains worked. Not that hers was better than mine; they were simply...different. Where I saw scary, bottomless pile pits, she saw a goldmine. I mean, she was actually eager and hungry to get her hands dirty in reams of papers, where as I was breaking into a sweat just thinking about it. I knew early on that this was going to be quite a learning experience. And it was.


    The project was to transform an extra bedroom into my home office. Well, truthfully, it already was serving as my work space, but it had no logical systems, unless you consider horizontal filing, towers of books, and floor mazes to be a workable system. And for many, it is. But for me, it was anxiety provoking and hindered my productivity. It was time to get to the bottom of this. Literally.


    Her first lesson imparted to me was that in order to become organized, one had to create a home for everything. And she wasn't kidding. This was a novel idea to me, as I thought everything in my office DID have a home; on the floor and in piles on the desks (note the plural here, again; yes, I have two desks and eight file cabinets).

    "Wrong", she said. Then she explained that one of the reasons visual people, or those with ADHD often don't put things away, is because they are clueless as to WHERE things belong. If there's not a home for everything, things find their own home; often in multiple massive mounds.


    But first things first, and this is very important if you decide to hire a professional organizer. I was told in no uncertain terms was there room for feeling shame or embarrassment. She understood my dilemma and not once did she admonish or belittle me for my lack of organizational skills. In fact, we talked about my strengths and multitude of interests, which worked to break the ice and make me feel at ease AND explain why I had/have so much....stuff. I tell my clients that when they are ready to hire someone, it's essential to find a professional organizer who is not judgmental and who understands ADHD or related difficulties.


    Our first mission, once we rolled up our sleeves, was to assess all the things that lived in my office. We came up with these categories:


    • Papers to be filed away
    • Papers that needed to be in my line of vision (out of sight= out of mind)
    • Books
    • Computer, fax, phones, and related electronics
    • Bills
    • Office supplies


    The first project was to convert the closet into a storage area. Slowly but surely, magic happened. We put in boards for shelves, then put things away in categories. For example, the box I store my business brochures was placed on a shelf with one brochure hanging over the side of the box, which then served as a sort of label. I could instantly tell what was in the box by the sample brochure. What a novel concept! She used this trick with all the other items that were stored in boxes: photographs (one was glued to the front), conference handouts, business envelopes, etc. Each box had a visual clue; a sample of what was stored inside.

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    The related objects were put in groups. So for instance, all of my business supplies were placed next to each other on one side of a middle shelf, at eye level, since these were the items I used most frequently.


    We found storage boxes and placed things in there that weren't used frequently (old software programs, stationary, etc.) and each box was labeled both on the side and on top and placed either on the top shelf in the far corners, or on the floor, also in the corners where they didn't need to be readily accessible.


    I was instructed to purchase a few magazine holders to store my newsletters after throwing out those that I hadn't looked at in the past 6 months.


    Before I knew it, I was having fun in spite of myself. The purging was extremely therapeutic. We continued, working for hours over the course of about 3-4 days, until voila- I had a real home office.


    We still had tons and tons of paper piles to deal with, but now I had a system in place. There were now boxes in the closet for all my supplies, so it became easy to figure out where to toss the pens, paper pads and such. Then we worked on a filing system. Luckily, I had that already in place to some degree; she merely tweaked it. But again, it was fascinating to see how it could be done in a way that made sense to my ADHD brain.


    We started by color coding. Blue held anything having to do with my ADHD consulting practice. Green was for financial: bills, tax related papers, etc. Red was for personal papers. Orange was used for family related things, like school papers, doctor's reports, and the like. Within those color folders were subcategories and manila folders were used to store those papers. So for example, a batch of orange folders might contain labels that read, "Kate school papers", Mackenzie medical reports", and so on.


    Then the drudgery began: we went piece by piece, handling each paper and putting it in its home. Whenever I stared at something blankly, we knew it needed a new home. So either a new file was labeled, or it found a place in the closet.


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    There were a few things that totally stumped me. One was what to do with all the scraps of paper that I had people's names and phone numbers on; names that I didn't need to put in a phone book, but that I wanted to keep just the same. She started a file and titled it, "Names and Numbers." I thought that was brilliant!


    Another area that threw me for a loop was what to do with all the papers flying about with my various projects: articles I was working on; notes from my volunteer work; information from all of my online work; issues I was having with my daughter's school, etc. She suggested that I buy a bunch of different colored notebooks and place each one in a matching hanging folder in my file cabinet, and label them both. That way, if for example, I was in a phone meeting with the school, I could pull out the green notebook from the green hanging folder, and write down my notes, then put the notebook back in its home.


    Another brilliant solution and one that is so logical, I don't know why I didn't do this before, was to put up several bulletin boards. This is where all the SOS important papers go that I can't trust being put away in files. Again, the "out of sight, out of mind" is something I don't take for granted. It is, in my case, very true. So, things like invitations, school phone numbers and schedules, go up on the board. If I were a bit bolder, I would cover entire walls in bulletin boards, but then there's the issue of visual overload. I don't think I want to go there!


    Though this is just a snapshot of how we resolved the problem, I hope this will give you some ideas on how to get your home office under control. Ready to get started with a professional organizer? You can find them listed online at:


Published On: February 07, 2008