Is your den a disaster? Is your closet so crammed you can't find your favorite pants/shoes that match? If you are like many Americans, you have so much stuff you can't control it. So you just throw up your hands and let it accumulate.
It might be time to call in a professional organizer. These specialists can help clear out and clean up junked-up garages, stuffed closets, dirty dens, even your computer's hard drive.
To explore how organizers work and who would (or wouldn't) benefit from their services, several Checkbook staffers tried out professional neat freaks on each of their very different projects, ranging from a wreck of a family room to a space-challenged clothes closet to a mountain of mail. They were shocked by differences in fees charged by organizers they contacted. One wanted a $3,000 retainer to straighten out a small clothes closet.
Not surprisingly, the two most disorganized Checkbook staffers saw the most benefit from calling in a pro; each said they would hire help again. But our tidier bunch generally agreed that organizers had some good ideas and tips on bringing order to the house, but they doubted they would shell out again for these services.
One of our staffers hired an organizer to help her straighten out her messy attic, and found the process helpful in both tidying up the space, tossing out items, and brokering peace with her husband, who also kept hordes of things in the room. After a three-hour session, they had a mostly neat room and space for a home office. One of the biggest things they learned: Holding onto too many sentimental items can crowd your mind and your house; e.g., keep just a few of grandma's teacups rather than the whole set.
A Checkbook researcher with a toy- and book-strewn family room found that her professional organizer inspired her to sort and toss things, and this leading by example helped her kids to follow suit. One of her biggest takeaways: Deal with larger stuff first, say extra furniture or sporting equipment, since this leaves more space for dealing with what's left behind.
Our tidier bunch generally agreed their organizers provided some ideas and benefits, but after learning tips on how to tackle their messes, they doubted they would shell out again for these services. Another staffer hired a devotee of the Japanese KonMari Method (trash anything that doesn't "spark joy') to sort through her family's reams of paperwork. The staffer felt the help and advice she received was good, but she wouldn't hire an organizer again.
Another Checkbook staffer wanted relief from her overstuffed bedroom closet. But, after reaching out to several local organizers, she was surprised by the prices and ideas she was getting. One pro wanted a $3,000 retainer fee just to come see the project. In the end, the staffer went to the Container Store, where she received fast help designing a shelves-and-rods system. Her cost was $400, including installation.
Tips for hiring an organizer:
Start by assessing whether you really need to enlist an organizer. As is the case with most life challenges, if you suspect you need help, then you probably do. If you are relatively neat, you probably can save money and hassle by tackling the work yourself.
But if you have a real mess on your hands, you might get a lot out of spending a few hours with a pro. Downsizing seniors and persons who suffer from hoarding disorders definitely can benefit from hiring an expert.
When contacting prospective organizers, ask:
• What kinds of projects do you specialize in? While many organizers are generalists, others focus on helping downsizers, scanning photos and other memorabilia, or assisting hoarders.
• Have you completed training? Some organizers have gone through coursework in productivity coaching, chronic disorganization, or interior design. Many belong to the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). While NAPO's certification program seems well-conceived and well-managed, know that many good organizers don't bother seeking credentials.
• What's your approach to tackling projects? What are your typical work sessions like? If you are a real slob, hire a hands-on organizer, but if you are confident you can DIY the work you can save money by finding one who provides a to-do list.
• Do you offer free initial consultations?
• What do you charge? We found that some services even ask for big retainers—don't pay them unless you have already tried out the company and know you will like it.
• Can you provide references? Ask for names and contact info for customers who had projects similar to yours, who live near you, or other limiting factors that might prevent the company from handing you its usual list of favorite customers.
The StarTribune is partnering with Twin Cities Consumers' Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit consumer group with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. Checkbook is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can get full access to Checkbook's ratings and advice for free until May 5 at www.checkbook.org/StarTribune/Organizers.