CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Cash in on clutter

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

Do you take a look at other people's clutter and itch to pull out your labeller and help them conquer their chaos with storage bins and coloured filing folders? If you like to make sense of mess, you could have the makings of a professional organizer.
Diane Howson, owner of Whitby-based, gets busy.

"Many professional organizers are people who are naturally organized, who probably lined their toys up as kids. Or, they're packrats who rehabilitated themselves and want to teach others how to be organized," says Alex Fayle, president of Professional Organizers in Canada (POC).

But it takes more than strong organizational skills to be successful. "This is a huge people business," says Fayle, owner of Fayle Safe Solutions. "People's things are tied heavily to emotion. If someone's getting me to organize their belongings, they need to trust me. You need to be non-judgmental, sensitive and empathetic. You also need good communication skills, which includes listening to a person's body language."

The industry is small but growing. POC has 350 members -- up from just 16 five years ago. People have been working as professional organizers in Canada for about 12 years and most work are self-employed. In the United States, the profession has been growing since it first emerged 25 years ago.

TV shows like Neat, Clean Sweep and Mission Organization have both helped and hindered the profession, Fayle believes. "These shows have opened up an awareness and willingness to hire a professional organizer, but most people think they can do it themselves or that it can be done in half an hour. Most organizing projects take a fair bit of time."

It's a profession he predicts will grow. "In the 80s, it was about dieting and getting fit. In the 90s, it was about home decor. Now, it's time to think about living a simpler life. I've heard it referred to as 'dieting for the home'."
President, POC

POC is the only organization of its kind in Canada. There are several in the U.S. and an international organization. "People join for credibility and support," Fayle says. POC offers education, monthly meetings and conferences. There's currently no certification process in Canada, but POC members must adhere to a code of ethics.

The amount you charge depends on such factors as the part of the country you're serving, your level of experience, type of clients and competition. Residential organizers typically earn $50 or more an hour, while office organizers can charge up to $175 an hour.

Many POC members started working as professional organizers on a part-time business and expand as they hone their skills and develop a list of referrals. It's a career attractive to homemakers and those who've worked in helping careers and administration.

Diane Howson, owner of Whitby-based is one of the busiest professional organizers in Canada. She had worked in recreation and leisure studies and was running a home-based daycare when she stumbled across an Internet ad for people interested in becoming professional organizers.
Professional organizers typically specialize in office or residential organization and can offer the following services:
  • Office organizers may conduct needs analysis and action plans, purge, de-clutter and organize, purchase office supplies and equipment, plan space and manage information.
  • Residential organizers may design and organize closets, garages, attics and basements. They may purge and de-clutter, run errands and organize collections, memorabilia and photographs. They may also prepare a house for the real estate market.
  • Professional organizers can also offer time management and goal setting and plan and co-ordinate events and meetings. Some host seminars and workshops and offer education and training courses.
    -- Information from Professional Organizers in Canada.
    Visit to learn more.

  • "I had no idea what a professional organizer was, but I was always a clean freak and very organized," Howson says. She's now in her fourth year. "Every client is different. You have to read them and understand their issues. It's not just cleaning up ... Some people need methods to stay organized. A lot are small homeowners who are trying to maximize space."

    She credits her success to an informative website and understanding the needs of her clients. She's expanded her business to include a home cleaning service, has a staff of 11 and is helping launch a Durham-based POC chapter.

    Helping clients reach their organization goals continues to motivate her. Favourite stories include a woman who found nine $100 bills in a pocket. A mother at a women's shelter credits the clothing donated by another client to helping her land a job and restart her life. "I always tell my clients the things they don't use can help others. It's very therapeutic."

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