8 Things I Learned During My First Week Working as a Professional Organizer

published Jul 19, 2019
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I thought I was an all-star organizer.  I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The books on my shelf are color-coordinated from light to dark. My snacks and baking goods are in canisters with pretty labels.  I walk around The Container Store for fun. I win at organizing, right?! Well…

I recently started working with a luxury organizing company, and my first week as a professional organizer showed me that there is always room for improvement.  Here’s what I learned.

Credit: Minette Hand

1. You need to empty all the drawers and shelves.

Say you’re organizing your bathroom cabinet.  It’s probably full of cleaners, lotions, and dental products, so you can just move those around and group similar items together, right? Nope. I learned step one of reorganizing is to take everything completely off the shelves or out of the drawers.

I know — it’s hard! No one wants to face how many things are actually hiding in the back of their cabinets or closets, but once you have everything in eyesight away from where they’re stored, you’ll have a true grasp on your stuff and be primed to edit down what no longer serves you.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. And take things out of packaging.

This is not something I had previously practiced at home, but wow.  It’s a visual game-changer. By taking paper towels and toilet paper out of the packaging and lining them up, the products are now in a ready-to-use state, and it just looks so much better.  It’s also a space-saver for boxed-up beauty products or pantry items.

Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

3. It’s important to decide on your organization style.

Say you have a bookshelf you want to organize. After taking your books off the shelf, are you going to organize them by color, by topic, by author, or by ones you haven’t read and one you want to read? It’s up to you.

If given a choice, I will always opt to group things by color. But that’s me.  Each client has different preferences; there is no one-size-fits-all. Your space needs to work for you. Just because your favorite organization Instagram has items organized a certain way, if it’s not practical for you, don’t implement that style.

4. You should do those first three steps as quickly as possible.

Taking things off a shelf could take the whole day if I let it.  By getting everything off the shelves, out of the packaging, and grouped as quickly as possible, then I have more time and energy left to actually finish the project (which is an essential step!).

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

5. That “miscellaneous pile” is probably trash.

If you find there are a few items that don’t fit in any category, and they seem to be accumulating in their own “miscellaneous” pile, take a second look. That toner sample you got in a goodie bag or the branded keychain bottle opener you somehow own? Toss them, or even better, donate when you can (even just to a friend or neighbor).

6. You should measure before buying (or even browsing!) storage items.

It’s so tempting to buy that cute container that would probably work so well in your kitchen, but within my first few days of work, I realized this is a huge common mistake. Many clients had adorable storage containers, but they weren’t helping to maximize their space, and in many cases, it limited the area.  By getting exact measurements of your shelves before you buy, you can choose items with a purpose.

Credit: Anna Spaller

7. Baskets and labels are your friends

Do you know how much stuff you can hide in a basket? So much stuff! When you have an assortment of flip flops or dog supplies that you might not want on display all the time, a basket with a nice, handwritten label is the way to go. Labeling the basket keeps it from becoming a catch-all, and it also looks nice.  Never label a basket “miscellaneous,” because that defeats the purpose.

8. Organizing is a workout!

When I’m organizing and working against the clock, it is truly a full body workout. Think about it: moving, lifting, replacing, rearranging.  If you’re setting aside a day to truly reorganize a closet, you can rest afterward knowing that you also got your workout in for the day.

After my first week working as a professional organizer, I realized that organizing is just problem-solving.  It’s a game of thoughtful Tetris. You are just taking an honest look at all the items you have, figuring out how to make them efficiently work for you, and then arranging them in your space so that they do just that.

This post originally ran on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 7 Things I Learned During My First Week as a Professional Organizer