15 Jun

In my last post, I described how my husband and I used outside help in our downsizing efforts. In this one, I’d like to distill some of our takeaways, particularly about using professional organizers/downsizers. 

Accept that it’s okay to ask for help. But realize that it might be easier to engage people outside your family and friend circles unless their offers are sincere and they understand that this is your project, with your parameters. 

Determine where you could most use help. Having trouble getting started or keeping motivated? Making decisions about what to keep or get rid of? Trying to determine what might sell? Letting go?  Organizing what you plan to keep for greater efficiency? Preserving memories? Finding information about places where or people to whom you can sell or donate things? Know that many professionals will not actually get involved in selling things themselves for you, but can connect you to people who can, whether it be consigners, dealers, or auction houses that deal with estates. 

Figure out the best timing for bringing in outside help. We hired someone just short of our year to clear goal. This gave us ample time for follow through on both sides. If you wait until you are up against deadline pressures, you may have to making some choices out of desperation. If you do it too early in the process, you may not have given yourself sufficient opportunity to decide what’s important to you. Professional organizers are not cheap. Even though you might be able to pay for them through the proceeds of any sales, you will still want to use their time wisely. 

Find the right match for your needs. A support group or a downsizing buddy might help you stay on track. But a professional organizer can provide tailored help at different stages. If you are looking for the latter, consult the NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing professionals) directory to find professionals in your area. Check out the websites of potential choices to see if they resonate with you. Interview your choices over the phone.  From your prospective organizers, find out about pricing structure (by the hour or the job? Discounts if you pay for a given number of hours ahead of time), scheduling, areas of expertise, tasks they won’t do, and overall process of how they work. You’ll probably get a good sense of who you want from these phone calls. When you’ve narrowed your choices down, also ask for names and phone numbers of past clients with issues similar to yours to provide recommendations. From these people, ask about how well the professional met their needs, responsiveness to communications, and extent and usefulness of contacts they could provide. 

Be ready for a walk-through of the spaces that need downsizing attention. Prior to your professional organizer’s first visit, be clear on what you need to show. Don’t worry that the space is messy or apologize for having too many things. A good organizer has seen it all! We even took ours to our storage unit. 

Review with your organizer what has been learned during the visit and what needs to happen next. Next steps will vary depending on the scope of the job, your urgency about any particular piece of it (e.g., that huge piece of furniture you inherited but have never liked needs to go soon!), your preferences, their suggestions, etc. 

Agree on an overall plan and timeline. You may need time to digest it all, based on answers to your questions/concerns and the organizer’s questions to you. There may be some surprises, such as finding out that some things may be more saleable than you thought or vice versa. Of course, plans should be flexible. 

Be as organized as you can be to get the most out of the relationship. The more you can do to help your professional help you, the more you will get from your interactions. But we all have different skills and proclivities when it comes to being organized. My husband and I are list-makers, enjoy sorting, and are detailed-oriented—perhaps sometimes too much, as it slows us down! That may not be you, and your lack of organizational skills may be the reason you needed help in the first place. 

Do your homework. You should expect your professional to do their homework—you are paying them, after all. But you need to do yours, too, to get the most out of the relationship. If you are given a contact, follow through. 

Communicate regularly with your professional. Let them know what you’ve done, how you used any contacts they’ve provided, and where you need their help.  We’ve found email to be the best providing more detail than texts and a written record as compared with phone calls, but texts or phone calls can be useful for making arrangements or giving a nudge about something that was promised and not yet provided. Remember that you aren’t their only client. But it’s not unreasonable to expect timely responses. 

Give appreciation. If you’ve found a particular aspect of the help useful, let your professional know. We all like positive feedback, and it will help to keep your professional engaged with you. 

So, will hiring a professional help you make more money from your possessions than if you did it yourself? Well, there’s no such thing as Easy Money (like the game we played in the 1950s). But it might give you better leads than you would find on your own. Will it make the process less fraught? Let’s hope it will keep you from going down those chutes (or snakes as in the old English version of the game) and able to climb more ladders to downsizing success.

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