After a few years in a home, you might be surprised by just how cluttered, disorganized, and downright chaotic your space has become. Try as you might, what was once neat and orderly is now a danger zone. Wool sweaters are mingling with swimsuits in and around your bedroom dresser (the horror!); expired food is overflowing from kitchen shelves; and headless Barbies, gobs of Play-Doh, and abandoned monster trucks are making the playroom look like a scene from the day after the apocalypse.
Does this sound familiar? If so, it might be time to call in a professional organizer, who can help you bring order out of the mayhem. But before you fling open your closet doors for your new best friend, you need to understand how you can make the job easier -- for both of you.
1. Know your end goal
Don't make your professional organizer start from scratch. Figure out what you want to accomplish before she shows up. Can't quite nail that down? Think high level: What areas of your home are highly trafficked or a perpetual mess? Or, worst of all, a highly trafficked perpetual mess?
"There is a vagueness when I walk in the door and the client doesn't have an understanding of what we do," says Michelle Hale, a New York City professional organizer and co-owner of Henry & Higby. "The ones that can clearly tell us how they live their lifestyle and what are the busiest places in the house make a huge impact on us being able to get in and do our job efficiently."
2. Your home won't look like a Pinterest post
We have some tough news for you: An organizer isn't there to make your home photo-perfect.
"When people first hear 'organizer,' they think about those photos where everything is perfectly labeled with a spot for Kleenex," says Annie Draddy, who, with Hale, owns Henry & Higby. "That works for some people, but our job is to talk to them and figure out how they live their lives."
Your organizer will be looking for ways to free up space and smooth out inefficiency. They'll work to create a loose organizational system you can stick to, not some unrealistically perfect regime you'll give up on two weeks later.
3. Be prepared to throw things away
While it's never fun saying goodbye to the ratty old T-shirt you wore when you met your husband or your kid's first backpack, clearing out space is a fool's errand if you're not willing to part with some memories.
"You have to be ready mentally to tackle it," Draddy says.
No organizer will force you to ditch a beloved heirloom or something with true sentimental value. But be prepared to purge some of your possessions.
4. No judging (they swear)
One of the biggest reasons homeowners are hesitant to hire a professional organizer is sheer embarrassment, according to Hale and Draddy. But rest assured: This is their job, and no one will judge you.
"It's one of the hardest mental blocks," Draddy says. "They think, 'Oh my god, this is embarrassing. They're literally going through my underwear drawers.'"
Your organizer has seen it all. There's no way you're as bad as the worst, and for them, it's actually a fun challenge to figure out how to make everything work again.
"The best clients realize we don't make a living unless they're disorganized," Hale says.
5. Your vertical space is an untapped resource
Don't be surprised if your organizer comes in and begs you to install shelves. Keeping everything on the floor or at eye level is easy when you first move into a space, but if you're planning on living there a while, don't hesitate to build upward -- especially in your closet.
"You need to put in additional shelves and actually use your hanging space," Draddy says.
6. They aren't handymen…
While your organizer might call for new shelving, an updated built-in, or other handy additions to your household, most won't actually install them.
"I am not personally capable of putting up all the stuff they need," Draddy says.
However, most organizers will be happy to help you figure out who can help, and what costs you can expect. If you're on a budget, make sure to let them know before they start planning an elaborate storage system that requires renovation.
7. … and they don't clean, either
No need to scrub before the organizer arrives, but make sure things are generally in order -- and don't expect them to get down on their hands and knees to clean your hardwood floors.
"We're not a cleaning service," Draddy says.
This goes double for the kitchen, where you might be rearranging shelving or refrigerator space. So you might want to clean there in particular.
8. They aren't your therapists
Relationship issues often rear their ugly head when couples hire a professional to significantly alter their living space in any way. Especially organizing.
The husband think the sports equipment should go in the basement; the wife can't imagine it anywhere but the garage. And how is it possibly fair that one spouse's stuff gets relegated to the storage unit while the other gets to hang on to those never-played guitars?
"We can't negotiate between partners if they have discrepancies on their needs," Hale says.
Clutter is emotional. No one blames you for being stressed when you're sorting through everything you own. Just don't take it out on your organizer.
"If you truly are on two different sides of the planet, we can't come in and be your therapist," Draddy says. "We can help finagle, but we can't fix it."