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Got Clutter? There Are Experts To Help You Dig Your Way Out

Got Clutter? There Are Experts To Help You Dig Your Way Out

By Craig Wilson - USA TodayApril 1st 2012

Picture the scene. More than 800 people, mostly women wearing sensible pantsuits, gather in a hotel ballroom, notepads in hand, pens at the ready. They write down every tip, every piece of advice the "experts" hand out.

After listening to one panel, they move on to another ballroom, repeating the process as the day wears on. They have a goal. They want to organize you. Yes. Scarier than a color-coordinated sock drawer.

The 4,000-member National Association of Professional Organizers met in Baltimore recently, just in time for the annual spring cleaning at your house. You have clutter. Admit it. That's the first step.

There it is on your desk. There it is in your closet. There it is in your "cloud," that mysterious area that floats above your computer. Are your folders perfectly organized, be they real or hovering in yberspace? Didn't think so.

"Organizing" is big business and growing, the industry having doubled in size in just the last 10 years. Although there are no firm figures, the industry — including professional organizers and big-box retailers such as The Container Store— is heading toward being an estimated $1 billion a year business.

Standolyn Robertson is at the ready. "Lots of people expect me to be a cute little spunky blonde who gets up early," says Robertson who is spunky, not blond, and did not divulge her morning rise time. She is, however, a CPO, a certified professional organizer. "I'm a professional. Just like a lawyer." Not much for small talk with prospective clients, Robertson has built a successful business in Waltham, Mass., called Things in Place, with her no-nonsense ways. "You may be the reason they still have a job, or the reason the wife hasn't left!" she tells the crowd of aspiring organizers.

Barry Izsak, a former president of NAPO and the association's unofficial cheerleader, takes spring cleaning to another level. "Doctors save lives and we change lives," says Izsak, who is a professional organizing expert in Austin, Texas. "We're not a luxury service. We're a necessity. We truly have an impact on humanity. How many can say that at the end of the day?" 


Celebrities need help, too. Such efficiency comes at a price, of course. Fees for a professional organizer can range from $50 to $200 an hour, depending on the CPO's experience, the chore at hand and the location, cities being more expensive places to live if you're messy. You don't want to be a hoarder in Manhattan.

Just don't skimp on what you pay. "If it's less than $50 an hour, be scared," adds Izsak.

Tom Nevermann, president of The Moving Doctor, a Beverly Hills company that specializes in organizing celebrities' lives as they move from mansion to mansion, also has reached a certain success in the business. "When you can say no, then you know you've made it," says Nevermann, who has been making the lives of the rich and famous run smoothly for almost a quarter century. He dubs himself an "interior organizer." Who has he turned down? Julia Roberts? George Clooney? Barbra Streisand? "Of course I can't tell you that," he says, refusing to dish the dirt, or stardust in this case. Nevermann recalls one incident when his movers "didn't even want to put things on the truck. It was that bad."

Both the shaky economy and the fragile psyche of the country is working in professional organizers' favor. "People feel like they've lost control of their lives," says Izsak. "That's where we come in. The one thing they can control is themselves, their time, their lives. So they reach out to us."


Not that there aren't minefields in this organizing world. Clients often come with their own baggage, and we're not talking luggage here. "There's lot of emotional stuff that goes on in the background" says Janice Russell, a CPO from Morrisville, N.C., who runs Minding Your Matters. "At times, you become a personal coach."

There also are trends to be found among the clutter. Cleaning up the computer has become as important as cleaning out the cupboard. The other big trend involves senior citizens. More than 10,000 people in the USA turn 65 every day. "That's 10,000 new customers every day," crows Robertson.

Izsak owns and operates Arranging It All ("Your home, your office, your life!") in Austin and looks upon seniors who are moving out of their homes, or need help wading through a lifetime of accumulation, as dream clients. His "senior business" has soared in just the last five years. The National Association of Senior Move Managers meets in January in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

Ann Gambrell, an organizational consultant in Torrance, Calif., saw this coming years ago. She is one of the five founders of NAPO in 1985, so long ago that when she said she was helping people organize, most everyone thought she was organizing labor strikes. She now runs Creative Time Plus. For the last 12 years, she also has been facilitating Clutter Support Groups, similar to AA meetings. They meet twice a month. She says her clients like the support and the accountability, taking it "one drawer at a time" so as not to be overwhelmed. "I don't go and look in their windows," she says. "But I keep telling them that they're not a caretaker. Everything your mother touched doesn't need to be kept."
And don't get her going on those storage facilities you drive by on the freeway. She says she wants to commit violence when she sees them, citing that 85% of things stashed there are never looked at again.

Kind of like all the stuff stored somewhere in the bowels of our computers.
Digital clutter can pile up Lauren Halagarda is a CPO based in coastal North Carolina. She calls herself a "technology translator." Her company, the Organization Connection, specializes in helping people get their digital life in order. She sent advice through ever-efficient e-mail. "If you have folders within folders and find yourself constantly worrying where to save something, or unable to find what you need in less than a minute, it's time to flatten your folder structure with broader categories. Aim for no more than three to five items or subfolders for digital filing. With e-mail, get rid of most, if not all, of your folders and learn how to use a great search tool." Halagarda recommends X1 Professional Client, Outlook, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, among others. So there.  Free advice.

Caroline Green of IVAN Expert, a tech-support business, also is there to help those who are drowning in "digitalness." "What we do is no different than what you do," she tells a room of traditional organizers who might be more at home in someone's garage than wading through their e-mail. "We want people's lives to flow smoothly."

Some panelists at the conference allowed they were "control freaks" and Nevermann said he was "born to organize." He rearranged the suitcases sideways in the trunk of his father's car before a family vacation. He was 6.

Not that the organizing world these days is filled with neat freaks. Today's CPOs are mostly college-educated women, many with MBAs, who want to run their own successful business that has potential for growth.

Not that everything goes as planned. Even an organizer can be, well, not so organized. Even the president of NAPO, Angela Wallace. Wallace walked onto the stage to introduce first season Apprentice winner Bill Rancic, an entrepreneur and motivational guru who was the conference's opening keynote speaker...without her notes.




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