People ask me all the time how I became a professional organizer. Here is my story:
ONCE UPON A TIME in Los Angeles… after earning degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Drafting, and Fine Arts… I worked as an Integrated Technology Planner for the local telephone company. (If you really want to know, it was the portion of AT&T which became Pacific Bell, which eventually became SBC, which morphed back into AT&T again over the course of my 21-1/2 year career.)
There were many times when I enjoyed my projects and coworkers very much. And other times where I felt useless and frustrated. At those times I would ask myself, “Hmmm, what do I really want to be when I grow up?”
I did the “What am I good at?” exercise, ala the concept popularized by Oprah Winfrey: Do what you love and the money will follow. (Click here to read my ode to Oprah.) I thought to myself: Well…people always say I’m so organized. But they didn’t say it like they wanted my help. And they also said things like, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?” (Naturally, I now prefer to reframe that as a clutter-free desk, and a clutter-free mind, ready and able to focus on the task at hand!)
I also thought to myself: So what if I’m organized? Is that a marketable skill? Wasn’t I just born that way?
Previous attempts at this exercise had been easily abandoned in favor of large, regular paychecks, yearly bonuses, several weeks paid vacation, and great medical benefits. Then, in early 2004, with the use of a new tool – Google, the magical font of all knowledge — I tried again, and there it was: Professional Organizer. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized there was a whole National Association of them out there in the world!
I learned that the local NAPO Los Angeles chapter had scheduled a conference that anyone could attend for a fee, and that the keynote speaker was going to be Julie Morgenstern. Well, I knew Julie from the Oprah Winfrey show! I had purchased, and eagerly read, her book Organizing from the Inside Out. (Click here to read my take on Julie’s S.P.A.C.E. formula.) Somehow, though, this hadn’t been enough to trigger the idea of becoming a professional organizer myself. As far as I was aware Julie was the only professional organizer in the world. I could no sooner become Julie than I could become Oprah…could I?
So I attended the conference, thinking that either I would fit right in, or that everyone would be so anal that I would run screaming from the room. The rest is history.
Oh, except for that pesky career in which I had already invested more than 20 years. I decided that what I would do is to become a professional organizer in my retirement, which was still several years away even if I retired early. It would simply be foolish to just quit now and fail to put the money I stood to make in those remaining years toward my retirement fund…wouldn’t it?
So I started doing organizing consultations for my friends, for free, just for the fun of it and for the experience. Then — later that same year — I got “surplussed”. This was the term they were using that year to mean “laid off”. What? Me?! Who in their right mind would want to get rid of ME?!?! I was simultaneously surprised, insulted, indignant, and…excited, relieved, and elated! This meant I could go do what I really wanted to do! And so I did. I immediately joined NAPO, got involved in the local chapter, started taking classes, and started charging for my services.
After six months of learning all I could from NAPO Los Angeles (which was only a tiny portion of what they had to offer), I moved to Albuquerque where the cost of living is lower, and where I have family ties (but I had never lived here before, except for some summer and winter vacations as a kid). I re-started my Organized For Life business and co-founded a group of local NAPO members called Professional Organizers of New Mexico. (Click here to read our story.)
It’s funny how my skills transitioned from the Telephone Company to working in people’s homes and offices without my realizing it. In my corporate life I performed economic studies, with input from large multidiscipline teams, which either proved or, more often, disproved the need for multimillion dollar building additions. Usually the solution, instead of an expensive addition, was to spend considerably less money to remove large, antiquated analog equipment (or just plain even-older dead equipment still sitting around taking up space) and to install new, smaller-footprint digital equipment. I created a plan for my “clients” to use their space more efficiently, and kept in touch with my teams, between in-person meetings, via email.
I remember telling my former coworkers about what I was doing now for clients in their homes and offices – removing clutter, teaching them to organize their spaces and maintain order — and that I was writing a monthly newsletter. They said, “Oh. So, basically the same thing you were doing here?” Indeed!
So… she was born to organize. And she lived happily ever after. THE END
* The title of this post is a nod to my friend and colleague Sara Pedersen’s book of the same name. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in becoming a professional organizer.
Copyright 2015 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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