I’m fascinated by organization and the amazing benefits we can reap by living more organized, simple lives. I had heard about professional organizers before, but upon reading an article a few weeks ago about tactics they use to transform lives, I started to wonder more and more about what it takes to be a professional organizer, and how they would recommend getting started to others.
And then I found local professional organizer Jodi Eisner.
In business since 2001, Jodi has been organizing peoples houses… and lives… through Method to the Madness. She offers support, systems, and strategies to clients in order to help them de-clutter, make space, and create “zones” in their home, such as “activity free” or “stress-free” zones.
I recently had the chance to chat with Jodi, learn about her background, and what it takes for her to help her clients live organized and happy lives.
What made you realize that professional organizing was your calling?
Well, I’m a social worker by education. I have a master’s degree in social work and about 15 years ago or so, after I started having my children, I wanted to go a different route professionally, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. A friend of mine was, unfortunately, going through a divorce at the time, and I was going over to her house to help her with her bedroom, to organize and make it more feminine. We ended up clearing so much clutter that she had been accumulating for years, redefining her space and making it her own, and much less stressful.
She had her bills piled up next to her nightstand, and we talked about how stressful it can be going to bed looking at your bills and waking up next to them. We created a system for bill paying, and when we were done she said that it was so cathartic not having to deal with the stress level of remembering this stuff.
It kind of started from there. My own house is very organized, and I realized when I started having my kids that if i wasn’t organized, I would be so overwhelmed.
What is your background – educational and career?
I went to the University of Pittsburgh for my master’s in social work. Having that degree has been really helpful. So much of what I encounter are that people aren’t able to get themselves organized because of obstacles. Whether it’s adult ADD, hoarding, etc. Just having that mental health background and understanding how to work with people when they have these obstacles is very helpful, and also lends tremendous credibility. My goal is to not band-aid its the problem, but to take it head-on. Anyone can come in and clean up a mess. That’s not what professional organization is about. It’s about creating systems. I always tell my clients that my goal is to help them maintain this long after I leave.
How do you stay up-to-date in your industry?
There are conferences galore! First of all, I am a certified professional organizer. To maintain this certification, I must have a certain number of continuing education courses, and am up for recertification every three years. I’m going on my 6th year of being a CPO (certified public organizer), so I am now doing my second recertification. In order to have the most up-to-date information, you have to have continuing education. There are national, local, and tele-conferences, and webinars to help.
What advice would you give to an unorganized person who doesn’t know how to get started?
My advice for someone who is VERY disorganized is, “Baby steps.” Don’t try to tackle a huge project, because what happens is that people get overwhelmed and then they stop in the middle. And then they’ve created a bigger mess and they don’t know how to put it back together again. The first thing I tell people before they do anything is to make two decisions: What they are keeping and what they are getting rid of. You don’t have to put systems in place, that will come down the road. You just need to start purging and eliminating things that you no longer need or want.
What are your favorite new organization products?
When I’m working with my clients, I really try to repurpose what people already own. Most people who hire professional organizers have made many attempts on their own, so they own many products already. There is really no point going out and buying new things just because they are the latest and the greatest.
The best thing you can go out buy if you’re buying one thing is a label maker, and no one with all of the bells and whistles. The most inexpensive one.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Every day is different. No two clients are alike. I love the challenges of the different projects. I had a client who was blind and that was so challenging to figure out how to simplify her life in a way that made sense in her world. It’s so different than a client who just lost a spouse or parent and is trying to clear out those items. It’s not just getting in there and taking the stuff away and cleaning up the place, it’s really about understanding what someone’s goals are and how to improve their overall life.
In your experience, where in their home are people the least organized?
I would say that paper is across the board for people who are disorganized, no matter what area of the home it is in. Paper causes the most amount of stress. When you think about it, within those piles of paper are always tasks. Things you are trying to remember and places you have to be. It’s not just paper itself, it’s what each paper represents.
What benefits have you seen people get from a more organized home?
Less stress, more freedom. That’s the simple answer. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “You’ve been such an angel.” My husband will hear this and say, “No one calls me an angel, and they call you that a lot!”
There is no magic in it. It’s about taking the time, having the guidance and having someone walk you through it. I tell clients that if they put the work in on the front end, they will reap the benefits on the back end tenfold. For example, if you are at work and are unorganized and know you have things to get done, you will be distracted thinking about that. But if you’re organized, you’ll know what you need to do and what you need to do it.
Ninety percent of what we do on a daily basis is maintenance. If 90% of what you do is the same thing you’re doing all of the time and you are disorganized, 90% of your day, you are feeling stressed out. Such as the simple task of getting dressed – if you can’t find the shoes you’re looking for, that’s stressful. If you’re running out the door to your kids’ school and you can’t find the paperwork you need, that’s stressful. And I really do practice what I preach. I am a very low-stress person.
Can you tell me more about NAPO?
NAPO is the National Association of Professional Organizers. There are chapters all over the world, we have a local chapter here in Pittsburgh and I have been the president of that chapter for the past two years. I am going into my third term now. We are 28 members strong, which is an amazing number for a small city like Pittsburgh. We also have associate members at the national level and the local level. They are people who are somehow connected to the organization industry but are not organizers, like mobile storage companies and moving companies.
What’s nice about that is that we have a personal connection to these people. They treat our clients beautifully. It’s a win-win. The national association provides yearly conference that take place in different parts of the country. The conferences are amazing. They bring in top-notch speakers.
There are events we do as a chapter. We recently did a contest for nonprofit organizations. As a chapter, we will go in and help them get organized. We also do events at different libraries called “Ask the Organizer” events.
What is your process like with clients?
The first phone call comes in and we try to develop a level of trust. By the time they call, most people are feeling vulnerable and embarrassed that they need help. After putting their minds at ease, we schedule a conversation where we get to know each other and come up with a strategic plan. We aren’t touching anything yet, just talking about it. Then I will give them an overview of what they can expect in the weeks to come. I walk through the house and give my view before they sign on.
I offer different packages that are basically hours. Generally speaking, depending on how large the project is, I can give a decent idea of how long to project will take. Once we get started, I will go in just myself or I will bring contracted team members in. The client is working with us, and they are essentially the decision maker. It is our job to help them make good decisions based on what they told me their goals are.
How do you help clients stay organized after you’ve left?
The key is the system. It’s my job to understand who you are and what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past. If you are a visual person, I am going to make it visual, colorful, add labels. I’m going to make it so that it’s mistake-proof. When I walk in on a session, I talked about what we worked on the previous week, what is working, and what isn’t. If something isn’t working, I need to figure out why.
What are the signs that someone needs a professional organizer and that it is no longer a DIY project?
I would say that it is when a person is so overwhelmed that they become paralyzed. People procrastinate for a reason, and my job is to find out what the roadblock is. Most people put off a project not because they don’t care about it, but because there is something getting in the way of them trying to complete it, whether it is lack of skill or something else. A lot of my clients are perfectionists and it’s either all or nothing. And when it’s nothing, it becomes overwhelming. They get caught up in the minutiae of every detail, that they aren’t stepping back and looking at the big picture.
What is your favorite quote about simplicity or organization?
“Organization is what you do, before you do it so that when you do it, you don’t get all messed up.” – Winnie the Pooh
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a craft project, setting up a nursery, getting kids ready for school. If you’re not organized on the front end, you’re going to have a mess on the back end.
Would you recommend any books or resources on getting organized?
I would say to people to think about these books, apply it to your life, and take it in small baby steps.
Do you have any specific interests or focuses? (Interior design, feng shui…)
What I love doing is furniture rearranging and space layout. Most people have too much furniture, and if you just edit and take things away and rearrange the flow of the room, it makes a big difference.
How do you create a stress-free zone?
The biggest thing for people to appreciate is that once you organize a certain area and you’ve identified it as “yours,” what you want to do is to set up certain rules. These aren’t rules I decide for you, they are rules that you decide for yourself. For example, your bedroom. I recommend that people not have computers or paperwork in their bedroom. That would be an example of a stress-free zone. But if you don’t have paperwork in your bedroom, you need to create a zone for your paperwork. So it’s really just a matter of setting certain rules and everyone knowing what they are, so that everyone can maintain them.