Need to get organized?

Need to get organized?

Get organized.

So easy to say, so hard to execute. For professional organizers,
the people who teach others how to de-clutter their lives, January
is often the busiest month of the year.
“Get organized.” So easy to say, so hard to execute.

For professional organizers, the people who teach others how to de-clutter their lives, January is often the busiest month of the year. Their calendars are booked by clients inspired by a New Year’s fervor to organize, purge and simplify.

One of those clients is Irma McClure, a busy entrepreneur and volunteer whose Roseville home is often full of kids, grandkids and guests. She hosts cooking classes, coordinates events for a Newcastle winery, does women’s ministry at her church and has a part-time day spa. Too busy to deal with all her accumulated paperwork, she hired Dawn Cannon of Finely Organized a year or so ago.

“I’m really bad about paper,” said McClure, who also manages a number of rental properties with her husband. “I didn’t want to be all stressed out and always thinking about what needs to be done in my office.”

During a three-day session, Cannon helped set up a color-coded filing system, organized family photos and generally sorted out the clutter in McClure’s home office.

Now it’s an annual maintenance job. Recently, Cannon showed up at McClure’s holiday-decorated home for the annual purge of office files. Kneeling in a sea of paper floating on the cream-colored carpet, Cannon quickly made decisions, with McClure’s consent. Last year’s utility bills? In the garbage bag. Her mother’s monthly banking statements? In the shredder. A handwritten note from her father? In a keepsake box. Home repair and rental expenses? In a tax-receipt folder. Phone cords and computer cables? In a labeled bin.

For Cannon, diving into others’ household detritus is a no-nonsense endeavor, tempered by an understanding of the pain. Part of her job, she says, is walking clients through the often emotional process of decision-making.

“I don’t let people say ‘Let me think about this later.’ That’s why they hire me … because they’ve been saying that for years.”

Cannon is part of a professional brigade of home and office organizers. The New Jersey-based National Association of Professional Organizers, or NAPO, has about 4,300 members, including about 35 from Auburn to Napa. Their business names say it all: SOS (Strategic Organizing Solutions), Unclutter It!, Straighten up Your Act!, Clutter B Gone, Get OrderLee.

January is NAPO’s official “Get Organized” month.

Nearly all of NAPO’s members – 95 percent – are women, typically working as home-based small businesses. Some focus on organizing offices or clients with special needs. Others specialize in transitioning seniors who are downsizing a home. They’ll organize anything from a three-car garage to a 2,000-bottle wine cellar. Cannon recently redid the kitchen of a woman going blind, who needed everything organized by touch.

Carrie Carlson, an independent contractor in Gilroy who has clients from Carmel Valley to San Francisco, has had a passion for organization since she was young and started helping others get organized five years ago.

“I don’t take myself too seriously and I’m not overbearing when it comes to organizing,” she said on her Web site, “My goal is not to make other people organize the way I do. My goal is to help other people become the best they can and create a space that they will love and enjoy.”

About 75 percent of her business comes from working with people at their homes, she said. Many of whom are single moms. Carlson sees a lot of people who work out of a home office and have to balance home life with work.

“It’s a big part of our society now,” she said. “People tend to think that because they only work part time, they don’t need to create a separate space. But it is well worth while to do so.”

This time of year is especially busy for Carlson because a lot of people want to get organized as part of their resolutions. And many start with the mess on their desks.

“People seem to think we are going paperless, but we are not,” she said. “That is one of the biggest issues people have. They say they have all this paper and don’t know what to do with it.”

Tamah Vega, who has clients throughout the Bay Area including Morgan Hill, primarily works with businesses to help them get organized.

“We find people have trouble with their filing systems – both paper and electronic,” Vega said. “Either they are too simple and people have everything just dumped in there or they are too complicated and they can’t find where they put anything. People think their systems have to be like others they’ve seen, but they just have ot be logical for them.”

In the Sacramento area, the roster of local organizers encompasses varied backgrounds, from teachers to computer experts. Gwynnae Byrd, owner of Home Transitions in Sacramento and president of the Sacramento NAPO chapter, for instance, is a former California legislative attorney. She says her legal background has proved ideal for dealing with sensitive issues involving clients’ financial documents and their professional need for privacy.

“You’re in someone’s home and it’s a very vulnerable part of their life. Many are embarrassed that they can’t handle (the chaos),” said Byrd. Some clients swear her to secrecy that she’s even been hired.

Professional organizers in the Sacramento area charge anywhere from $50 to $125 per hour, depending on their experience and the type of job. Cannon, for instance, who’s worked more than 1,500 hours and passed exams to earn Certified Professional Organizer certification, charges $250 for a one-day office paper purge or $500 for an eight-hour garage cleanout.

The organizational urge has been fueled by TV shows like TLC’s “Clean Sweep” and appearances on “Oprah” of organizing superstar Peter Walsh.

Getting organized – at home and at work – would vastly improve our quality of life, according to a December 2008 NAPO-sponsored survey. Of the respondents, 65 percent described their home as at least “moderately disorganized” and 27 percent said disorder keeps them from being effective at work.

Like other professional organizers, Cannon tailors a system to the client’s personal style. Take business cards. For tech-savvy clients, she buys a business-card reader that instantly scans and uploads a card’s info to a computer address book.

For McClure, who’s more of a paper person, she uses a binder with clear, business-card-size pockets that are organized by category: Automobiles, Pets, Insurance, etc.

Likewise, since McClure doesn’t download music, her CDs and liner notes are organized in black leather binders, each labeled by musical genre: country, classic rock, etc. When she’s entertaining and wants to put on a soundtrack, she pulls out the appropriately labeled binder.

What does all this organizational relief mean? “Freedom!” exclaims McClure, who says it’s enabled her to save time for things she’d rather be doing. For instance, having her scads of messy, loose piles of family photographs filed neatly into boxes by date and event means she’s able to create scrapbooking montages with her older daughters.

That “freedom” feeling is one most of us would gladly welcome. And a large part is due to the paper pileup. “It’s the No. 1 issue. It’s coming in daily and despite our online lives, we all have too much paper,” said Byrd.

But as she notes, 99 percent of all documents can be retrieved online if needed. “Is it worth it to keep something as a security blanket for the low probability it’ll ever be needed?”

Another organizer, Lee Mahla of Get OrderLee in Gold River, notes on her Web site that getting organized can save you money by eliminating duplicate purchases, wasted food items, late bill payments, missed appointments.

Ultimately it’s a helping profession, says Byrd. “We all enjoy the satisfaction of helping people feel good in their surroundings.”

And how does an organizational pro handle her own surroundings? “You can open any drawer in my house and it’s organized,” said Cannon. “Except my husband’s nightstand. He can do whatever he wants.”

Local members of the National Association of Professional Organizers

In Gilroy

Carrie Carlson, 427-1274, [email protected],

Business services: Moving/relocation, office-commercial, paper and electronic

Residential services: Children, closet organizing, garages/attics/basements, home office, kitchens, moving/relocation, paper and electronic

In Morgan Hill

Sherree Hellinger, Amaree Living LLC, (888) 857-2999, [email protected],

Business services: Event/meeting planning, international travel, moving/relocation, office-commercial, office-home, paper and electronic, time management and unpacking and moveing in

Residential services: Closet organizing, estate management, garages/attics/basements, home office, kitchens, moving/relocation, paper and electronic, personal coach, time management and unpacking and moving in

To find more listings, visit

Staff writer Nathan Mixter contributed to this article.

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