10 Silly Things Organizers Argue About

Signpost My Way your wayWhen professional organizers argue, it’s often just a matter of semantics. And when I say argue….well, that’s just semantics too. Disagree and misunderstand might be more accurate terms. We are, mostly, a congenial and supportive bunch! Sometimes we don’t even truly disagree, but we’re playing devil’s advocate; or exploring a new twist on an old theme for the sake of a great blog post title; or forging a new market niche by using a unique phrase.

The reason for this post is that I imagine the public, and new organizers, must sometimes feel confused. “Hey, wait a minute, this experienced organizer is saying just the opposite of what I always thought, and the opposite of what this other respected organizer said!?”

When professional organizers argue, it’s often just a matter of semantics. Click To Tweet

Here are some examples:

Can time be managed?

It is becoming popular to say, “You can’t manage time.” And it’s true. Time marches on, and everyone has the same amount of time per day, per month, and per year as everyone else does. Nothing will change that. Some of my colleagues are starting to call it choice management and not time management. I like that, actually — choice management. It makes sense in that the best way to get more done, within a given amount of time, or to free up more time for doing what you want to do, is to prioritize your tasks and activities and make better choices. I still call it time management, though, because people know what I’m talking about. It’s just easier than saying “Would you like to schedule a Managing-Your-Time-Better-by-Being-More-Aware-and-Making-Better-Choices session?” Maybe eventually choice management will become mainstream.

Is there such a thing as work-life balance?

Let’s use a seesaw as a visual example (or, as my brothers and I used to call it, a teeter-totter). The amount of time spent at precisely level-and-unwavering-equilibrium, no matter how hard one tries, is almost zero. So, some of my colleagues say it’s impossible and not worth striving for. The flaw in their logic is that they assume whoever uses this model is striving for horizontally static perfection, and feeling bad when they don’t achieve it.  When I say balance here’s what I mean: If your work-life seesaw keeps hitting the ground on one side or the other, you might consider why that is and make some adjustments. When kids are enjoying themselves, the seesaw is balanced, with both sides taking turns going up and down a roughly equal amount. There’s nothing static about it. But it’s not fun anymore when one side or the other hits the ground, or one party abandons the other, and they come crashing down. Some of my colleagues promote integrating your work into your lifestyle. That’s great! But it doesn’t make the seesaw analogy a bad one. I like to use a bicycle analogy – to keep your balance, you must keep moving.

Is it OK to have a junk drawer?

I have seen junk drawers, full of junk, where people stash worthless things willy-nilly. Or, if the items are worthwhile, the owners don’t even know they’re in there and can’t find them when they need them. I have also seen totally organized drawers with designated spots for small, useful, household items that are still called junk drawers because people are just used to that term. I do think language matters, and I prefer the term utility drawer for the organized ones. I delight when useful items have their own designated spots. But….it’s also handy to have a drawer where you can toss stuff you don’t know what to do with yet. I approve of such a junk drawer AS LONG AS it gets purged before it overflows. Some of the items have homes — put them away. Some of it is trash — throw it away. Some of them are worth keeping but don’t have homes yet – create homes for them. I think we all need a utility drawer AND a junk drawer.

Is it OK to take, and share, client before and after photos?

I think it depends completely on the organizer, the situation, and the client. Not all jobs involve dramatic physical changes worth photographing. And not all clients care to have their photos shared. Some organizers work primarily with clients who are very private individuals, or who are ashamed of their clutter. Those organizers can’t imagine situations where it would be OK to take, much less share, client photos. As described in my Client Agreement, I take them for three reasons: 1) Photos remind me of areas I need to address in your Customized Action Plan; 2) Before and after photos demonstrate progress and serve as motivation for both of us; 3) I may want to use the photos (anonymously) in my marketing materials, but I will only use your name, or any other identifying photos or comments, with your permission and approval. Some clients are thrilled with the results and proud to have them shared in a Client Success Story! It’s important for us to be sensitive to our clients, but we also need to keep in mind that we all have different organizing styles and client situations.

Should they even be called before and after photos?

It is suddenly popular to say “before and better” rather than “before and after”. They point being made by that change is that perfection is not the goal, and that magazine-worthy after photos are unrealistic. I can appreciate that, but when I say “before and after” what I mean is “before we started working together, and after we’ve worked together”. Sometimes I also take mid-project photos to help motivate both me and my client. Who said anything about perfection?!?

Who is a minimalist, and who is not?

Do some organizers just rearrange things and call it a day? I suppose some do. And why not, if there’s plenty of space for everything the client wants to keep, and it simply needs to be arranged more effectively? But that’s not the case with most of my clients. They do NOT have enough space for all their stuff. They DO need to get rid of some of it. And I suppose not all organizers have the experience or knack for coaching a client through what I consider an integral phase of an organizing project: purging unnecessary and unwanted items. Some organizers who advocate living with less call themselves mimimalists. But I suspect most organizers are just like me in that purging is so much a part of the organizing process that they see no need to separate it, or to call themselves minimalists. Some potential clients worry that I will make them get rid of all their stuff (Organizing Myth #4). Actually, what I do is to help them determine what they love, use, and need to keep. Then we store or display it in an organized manner. The rest — the things they do not love, do not use, and do not need to keep – is clutter. Decluttering frees up space for the life they really want to live.

Is it OK to organize on your own with the client not present?

Some organizers won’t work unless the client is also there working side by side with them. This is in alignment with the NAPO principle of transferring skills to clients. I am one of those. I tell the client, “I will work with you, not for you.” But there are circumstances where it makes sense to organize without the client present, such as: when the job is so straightforward that a kid could do it for less money, but the client would rather you do it; your client is not interested in working, or learning new skills, they just want it done; you have a long-standing relationship with the client and have covered all the bases of what they like and what works for them.

Are to-do lists and not-to-do lists worthwhile?

I completely agree with the organizers who say that the best way to get something done is to schedule it on your calendar. But I don’t think this eliminates the need for a to-do list. At the same time, if your to-do list is too long you will just feel discouraged when you look at it every day. That’s why I think we all need a Master To-Do List and a Daily Task List.

As for not-to-do lists, it would be silly, not to mention impossible, to list all the things you will not do in a day: I won’t play the clarinet (never mind that I’ve never played the clarinet); I won’t wash my car (because it’s raining); I won’t call 5 of my friends (I will only call 1 friend); etc. But do I think a list like this can be useful in a couple of circumstances such as a list of bad habits you want to break so you can focus on how to break them; and a back-burner list of hobbies and projects that you want to put on hold while other things take priority, so you don’t feel guilty not doing them meanwhile, and so you won’t forget you wanted to do them later.

Should we charge for consultations?

This one depends on so many factors. Some colleagues use the terms consultation and assessment interchangeably and confusingly; some of these sessions are conducted via phone, others in person; some include detailed written plans, others are just brief meet and greets; some organizers are more forthcoming with advice than others during this session; and some organizers have way more experience than others. We are very often comparing apples to oranges without even realizing it. I call my free 20 minute phone call an assessment – I am assessing whether we are a good fit. I charge a premium rate for my on-site consultation because I pour every bit of my knowledge and experience into it. Based on my Customized Action Plan, you can decide which items you can do yourself and which ones you would like my help with.

Do we love or hate Marie Kondo?

This is a hot topic among organizers, LOL! For my take on the best-selling Japanese author and her methods, read my post The Five Stages of Marie Kondo & The Life-Changing Magic of Doing What Works for YOU. Some organizers focus on the similarities, others on the differences, when speaking of her. I believe Marie Kondo to be 90% just like any other organizer (with fantastic PR and timing), 5% lost in translation, and 5% unique. My problem is not with Marie Kondo. It’s with the media hype surrounding her. That is not to say that all the rest of us organizers are alike, though. We all run our businesses the way we see fit. We all bring our world experience, skills, and various levels of training to the job. We all have unique personalities and use different methods for different clients and different situations. Some of us are more effective and more successful than others. And, if we’re members of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) we follow a Code of Ethics and focus on transferring organizing skills to our clients.

Bottom line: Do what works for you. Her way. My way. Your way.

What have I missed? Can you think of any more examples of seemingly-conflicting advice coming from the world of professional organizing? Please share in the comments below!

Copyright 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Tatiana Knight Casas on June 12, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Hazel, This was a fun article to read. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hazel Thornton on June 13, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Tatiana! 🙂

  2. Seana G Turner on June 13, 2016 at 7:25 am

    Funny to read through this, Hazel. On balance, I find that other professional organizers and I agree on most things. Actually, I love the PO community — they “get” me:)

    • Hazel Thornton on June 13, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I love the PO community too! <3

  3. Jodi on June 13, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Fun piece, Hazel!

    • Hazel Thornton on June 13, 2016 at 8:07 am

      Thanks, Jodi!

  4. Sabrina Quairoli on June 13, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Great post, Hazel! I agree, Hazel. I think the majority of the time if there is a disagreement, it is semantics. Some terms are so mainstream that we use them just because we want others to understand what we are talking about. Like your example of time management and choice management. I like choice management but I will still use time management because people have heard that more often.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2016 at 7:21 am

      I wouldn’t mind if choice management became mainstream. Ooh, how about “Time and Choice Management”? I think I’ll try that for awhile!

  5. Sarah Soboleski on June 13, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    LOVE this! I’m definitely sharing. And I knew with a title like that, MK was going to be mentioned somewhere! LOL

    • Hazel Thornton on June 14, 2016 at 3:58 pm


  6. Jill Robson on June 13, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    I too dislike the term “junk drawer” if it’s junk why are you keeping it? I call my the “everything” drawer, everything is there is needed but not all the time, like emergency items in case of a black out, or monthly flea treatments for the animals etc,

  7. Hilda Rodgers on June 13, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Great post Hazel! I prefer the term “utility drawer” as well, and will use it with clients after we’ve started working in their kitchen… but until then I call it a junk drawer so they know what I’m talking about. Totally agree with you on MK 🙂

  8. Maureen DeGarmo on June 13, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Loved reading your thoughts on this, especially the “Back Burner List.” That’s a great way of prioritizing, especially during times when there is a long-term, high priority project that takes precedence. Since you asked what other items could be included, I thought of whether or not organizers choose to drop of donations on behalf of their clients.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 14, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks, Maureen! I should probably write a whole post about the Back Burner List. It would be pretty short, but I’ve never heard the term anywhere else. Yes, we do differ on that donation point, don’t we? Some take donations for free, some for a fee, some not at all. I want my clients to learn to do it themselves, of course, but I take them if I am there (and they want me to) as a little perk.

  9. Debbie Pendell on June 14, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Hazel, the title was too cute to pass up. I believe the confusion can be real for those who are trying to learn. Another topic, I think, would be multitasking. Or have we all already arrived at there is no such thing? Thanks for your post!

    • Hazel Thornton on June 14, 2016 at 3:57 pm

      Ooh, good one, multitasking. I’ve thought of a few others, too. Stay tuned for a sequel!

  10. Nettie Owens on June 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    This was great, Hazel! Thank you for sharing it!

  11. Jill Annis on June 14, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    thank you for this interesting post Hazel. I couldn’t agree with you more about the before and after photos vs. before and better. I doubt any of us claim we achieved perfection. It’s rare that I take photos because my clients are usually very embarrassed about their situation and I don’t want to add to their discomfort. Not saying we shouldn’t take photos just saying I’m not comfortable doing so.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2016 at 7:05 am

      And that’s OK! I’ve already said WHY I take them, but not HOW. There’s a lot that goes into it such as: Have I adequately set the client’s expectations? Even if they agreed, does this client seem truly OK with it? (When they are admiring the results is a good time to take a couple of shots!) Is this even a photo-worthy project? Am I comfortable with my camera and photography skills? How quickly can I take the pictures with minimal impact on their paid time, or their personal time (and mine), for that matter? (I will often sneak in a few when they are on the phone or in the bathroom.) Am I coming back (am I sure?) and would that be a better time? If an awesome “after” presents itself, did I remember to take a “before”? Etc.

  12. Linda Samuels on June 14, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Love this post, Hazel! Differences are what makes life interesting. And as different as organizers are, so are the clients we serve. So it’s apt that we have different styles, semantics, and approaches to organizing.

    • Hazel Thornton on June 15, 2016 at 7:24 am

      I’m glad you liked it, Linda! Thanks for commenting.

  13. Deb Lee on June 28, 2016 at 10:20 am

    This really was a fun post to read. =) There isn’t a one size fits all strategy, right? Btw, about those junk drawers — I like calling them utility drawers. =)

  14. Janet Barclay on July 13, 2016 at 8:46 am

    This is one of your Best Posts Ever! I love the way you outline the differences without saying anyone is right or wrong – and that sometimes it’s just a different way of saying the same thing.

    • Hazel Thornton on July 13, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Thank you, Janet. Your comment means a lot to me, considering how many of my posts you’ve read!

  15. Hazel Thornton on July 13, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I got behind on replying to comments, but I appreciate them all!

  16. Olive Wagar on October 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent observations, Hazel! I like to call it a “supply “drawer” as in supplies you actually us,e rather than a “junk drawer” full of junk you don’t use!! I don’t take “before” photos, but I encourage my clients to take a photo for their own reference on their phone. I do ask if I can take an “Awesome After” photo for use on my website. FYI, I am hosting an Organized by Olive book club discussion in my home about the Marie Kondo book–hoping for engaging conversation and laughter!! She does have a rather cute folder tutorial on her website. 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton on November 5, 2016 at 5:09 am

      Hey Olive, how was your book club discussion?

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