There’s more to it than labeling and color-coding.

By Kelsey Mulvey
Updated August 13, 2019
Credit: Hero Images/Phanuwat Nandee/EyeEm/Getty Images

What would we do without the esteemed professional organizer? For starters, homes all over the country would be significantly less organized, regardless of whether their residents have worked directly with a professional organizer or just obey clever professional organizing tips they’ve picked up over the years. The professional organizer has a special skill set—but learning how to become a professional organizer is easier said than done.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot more to becoming a professional organizer than labeling and folding clothes. Creating a practical, neat, and organized home is a professional organizer’s number one priority but, as with any job, their day-to-day responsibilities require a slew of softer skills—and these non-organizing skills can mean the difference between a so-so professional organizer and a great one.

Curious to see if you have what it takes to organize for a living, beyond your assortment of organization ideas? We talked to several experts about the lesser-known skills professional organizers need.

1. Discretion

In the process of filing away clothes, toys, and magazines, a professional organizer may also stumble upon important (and confidential) paperwork such as bills, contracts, and doctor’s notes. This exposure to sensitive information is exactly why organizer Rachel Rosenthal stresses professionalism and discretion.

“Clutter can range from financial document and divorce details to sentimental memories, items from a particularly difficult time in the past, or even items you need hand-holding to let go of. It is my job to be discrete with what I see and professional with everything that I do and say,” Rosenthal says.

While professional organizers can easily turn a blind eye to private materials, Rosenthal takes an extra step to put her clients at ease with a confidentiality agreement.

2. A therapeutic attitude

Organizational guru Marie Kondo encourages her followers and clients to discard anything that doesn’t bring them joy, but the process in practice isn’t so simple. Sure, it may not be difficult for a professional (and an outsider) to throw out a bunch of old T-shirts or arts and crafts projects, but it can be difficult on the clients.

That’s where a professional organizer needs to practice compassion.

“People often resist taking on organizing projects in their home because of how overwhelming or inherently emotional it can be,” says Clea Shearer, co-founder of The Home Edit. “We love that we’re able to help people conquer their clutter and breathe a sigh of relief.”

Professional organizers need to make their clients’ homes tidy, but they also need to help their clients during this emotional time, especially if they want the new organizing habits to stick.

“By no means are we calling ourselves therapists—not even close!” says Joanna Teplin, another co-founder at The Home Edit. “But it’s a reason we find our job so rewarding. “

3. An adaptable attitude

Convinced the organization process is a piece of cake? Think again—tidying up a home can come with plenty of unexpected twists and turns.

“There’s always one surprising box of items that’s more emotional for clients to edit than others,” explains Lisa Ruff, the Neat Method’s director of business development. “You won’t have any clue what it will be until you’re knee-deep in the process.”

That’s exactly why it’s so important for a professional organizer to be able to read a room (literally!) and adapt accordingly, Ruff says. Roadblocks such as finding that surprise box of possessions or needing more containers than anticipated can be frustrating and add time to a project, but she says it’s still important to slow down once a client gets emotional during the process.

“As soon as you see the client get emotional, you know it’s time to slow down, take even more care with each item, and let the client set the pace,” she says.

4. Multi-tasking prowess

Just because professional organizers are fulfilling a very specific task—tidying up your space—doesn’t mean they don’t need to multitask. At the end of the day, most organizers are running their own businesses, which mean their days consist of a lot more than folding and filing.

“There will always be many client projects going on at the same time,” Rosenthal says. “There will always be an email needing a response, an order ready to be placed or picked up, a hiccup in the organizing plan, competing priorities, and more.”

Juggling all that—while actually doing the organizing job—will set any professional organizer on the path to success.