If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by clutter, then you know how it feels to waste time looking for things that you misplace, and you know how life can feel out of control.
Tonia Tomlin is the founder and leader of Sorted Out organizing service. She’s been featured on HDTV and Martha Stewart’s Fine Living network. She’s also authored a book on the topic of organization, and what follows are some practical tips and guidance for how to manage “stuff” in the midst of a crazy life.
- How did you get interested in organizing?
- What organizational challenges do you see people struggling with?
- What’s a strategy to stay on task?
- Are there certain types of people that need more help with organizing?
- What are some tips for people who face a big life transition for dealing with their stuff?
- When someone facing divorce calls you, what do they need to share with you to get the process started?
- What advice do you have for people who are downsizing?
- Do you have organizations that you work with who will receive furniture donations?
- Do you help people with digital organization?
- How present for the process does the client have to be?
- When should somebody consider calling an organizer?
- What do you need from them in that first call?
- What should you look for in an organizer?
- What improvements do your clients experience after they’ve worked with your team?
Thank you for having me. Everybody needs an organizer because everybody is in chaos all the time.
I was that person. Organization does not come naturally to me, so I reached out to your group and one of your fabulous organizers, Kendra, came and worked with me. It just so passionate about what a difference it made. It seems like our lives were just overwhelmed with stuff.
Thank you for trusting Sorted Out with your home and your business. I know people get really overwhelmed, and we really have a passion for organizing. We love what we do, so thank you.
How Did You Get Interested in Organizing for a Living?
I’ve always been organized, but I was in the mortgage business, and I always had people asking me: “Hey, Tonia, can you come help me get organized at my desk?”
I’m like, “Well, yeah. Okay. That’s kind of weird, but sure. I’ll help you.”
So, one thing led to another, and then they said, “Hey, can you help me organize my time? And I said, “Sure. Okay.”
Then one day I decided to google “organizing for a living” and up pops the NPO organization—an organization for organizers like me. I called them, and I said, “I’m interested in organizing, but is this really a thing? Do people really do this for a living?”
Eventually, I became vice president of the chapter and got involved with my peers. At the time, which was in 2004, there were only seven or eight organizers in Dallas. So that’s how it all started—just that one Google search and a phone call.
How many organizers do you have working with you right now?
There are 11 of us now, and we’re growing.
What Organizational Challenges Do People Struggle With?
Common organizational challenges are really just not knowing where to start in a home or the business. Sometimes, people buy a bunch of organizing supplies to get organized. That’s doing it a little bit backwards. They want to be organized so badly that they go buy all these things, but it’s not really about that.
Yeah, I’ve fallen prey to that. I have lots of organization supplies and zero organization until I hired your group. One of the things I found really challenging was to stay focused on the task. I’d say I’m going to clean out my closet on a Saturday, and I start pulling out memorabilia and old stuff, and I’m suddenly down all these rabbit trails.
What’s a Strategy to Stay on Task?
I love having a clutter buddy. We have fun with it. You focus on just your closet and not the memorabilia part—the memorabilia part comes later. Focus on going left to right. Focus on just your shoes for one section, and then focus on dresses and then jewelry or whatever it is that you want to accomplish in your closet or kitchen. Maybe just start with a drawer. It’s hard to stay focused, so enlist a clutter buddy—a friend, or a neighbor, girlfriend—anybody who can help you stay focused, especially if you get overwhelmed easily.
It’s nice to have somebody there to converse with and to ask: “Do I want this? Should I keep this?”
For sure. And you’re going to let go of things a little easier if you go through those qualifying questions: Am I going to use this again? Do I really like this, or am I just holding onto it because of guilt because that somebody gave it to me? It’s okay to let it go.
Are There Certain Types of People That Need More Help With Organizing?
People find us in different ways such as referrals or online often because they’re embarrassed by their situation. They may be hoarders or family of hoarders. Hoarding is now identified in the DSM-V as a disease and it is very difficult for them to reach out so when they do, we have people who are certified to help. It’s a very long process but we have no judgment; we’re here to help. This is our passion.
Other people who contact us are already be fairly organized, but they need somebody to help them to get it done quickly. This is especially the case if people are moving. We provide move management services which help get the mover, help with the packing, help line cabinets, etc.
For the person who struggles with the executive functioning processes of the brain, we have unconventional ways of getting organized. We can help them stay organized by having the right systems and tools and coaching along the way. And we make it fun.
We also help people in transition—having a baby, death, divorce—these are all really stressful things in life. So, we become the accountability partner.
What Are Some Tips for People Who Face a Big Life Transition for Dealing With Their Stuff?
Trust your resources and referral partners. We have a good network of people. We have moving companies, and we have attorneys like yourself. Trust somebody through the transition process so you can get things done quickly, efficiently, and stress free. And I always tell people, don’t start looking at it as this big whole process, just start small and we’ll work through it together.
When Divorcing People Call You, What Do They Need to Share With You to Get the Process Started?
Divorce is tricky. We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. One of the first qualifying questions is: Can we help you inventory anything that needs to be documented for you or for your attorney? Usually, these questions are asked during a one-hour consultation, and we don’t take too much time. We just really want to get a sense of what is needed. Helping to separate family photos is a common request. So, too, is helping to create a spreadsheet of furniture and personal belongings that will be divided between the parties, so it’s not difficult later.
That’s a great service because it is overwhelming. People get really stuck, and the goal in any of these life transitions is to make progress so you can get onto the next chapter.
Exactly. If you have somebody who is kind of messy, we want to have the right documentation so we can get through it quickly and painlessly because we know it is very emotional as well. We’ve been a part of the process, helping to divvy up items and inventory things, so you can have a clear vision of where you started and where you’re going to end up.
What Tips or Advice Do You Have for People Who Are Facing the Transition of Downsizing?
That can be very overwhelming. Just this morning I left a client, and we were talking through the emotional part. Again, we’re inventorying things that they’re not ready to let go of, and we’re storing some bigger furniture pieces that we’re not quite ready to let go of.
I always tell people, consider consigning items or sending them to other family members if they’re ready to downsize. And then, obviously, organize your photos. You want to preserve the memories. When you’re downsizing, don’t get into a lot of the looking right now. Just organize it and you preserve it in the right way, especially so they’re not damaged by heat or by moving them or even when giving them to someone who needs them.
Do You Have Organizations That You Work With Who Receive Furniture Donations?
It’s hit or miss. We have a resource list of probably 20 different organizations, but they’re very selective in what they take, and they take about a month to schedule for free pickups. So, we have some other paid options to get things out of there a little bit quicker, but I would caution people to really start in advance. Know about a year ahead. If you’re looking to downsize and you have a larger home, 25 years’ worth of memories in a home means a lot of things to go through. It’s going to take some time.
Do You Help People With Digital Organization?
I’m thinking of the photos that you mentioned. Nowadays, the problem is not so much the actual photos sitting in shoe boxes like it used to be, right? It’s 10,000 photos on your iPhone.
We do. Digital organization is almost more time consuming than physical photos because you have to create the right folder and the right categories for those pictures. That can take so much time and just energy, so you have to block off three to four hours at a time to get organized on your computer.
How Present for the Process Does the Client Have to Be?
When you hire an organization company, you can’t just delegate somebody to sort through everything for you because you need to have a say on what’s important to you to keep, and what can be let go.
It’s all about expectations. I always tell clients, if you can give us as much time as possible to give us guidance, we can do the labor, but you have to be present for at least a couple of sessions. Then we can pick it up where we left off and move forward. It’s a little tricky because obviously people are hiring us because they want to save time and money, but it helps if you can give us some parameters in terms of what to get rid of. You have to be present for a lot of it, but if we can get started, we can keep it going.
So, really like a coach. You’re there helping make sure things keep moving along.
When Should Somebody Consider Calling an Organizer?
Someone should call an organizer when they’re at their wits end and totally overwhelmed and they don’t know where to start.
Or…if they’re in those major life transitions like in the middle of the divorce process or they’re just super busy and want to stay organized. What means more to you: spending time with your family or organizing your closet? Let’s get it done and just knock it out.
You say there’s no judgment, and I really did experience that. Kendra came in and there was no judgment from the beginning. It’s kind of setting aside the idea that people are going to judge you. You want to help. This is your business. I think it’s difficult to make that first call.
What Do They Need to Be Prepared to Share With You When They Do Make That Call?
Clients need to be prepared to tell us what’s not working. Tell us how they can see this in the most perfect way. And if you have that shameful feeling, just throw that out the door because it doesn’t really matter to us. We are passionate about helping people. After 17.5 years, we’re still in business. We’re still helping people, and people are referred to us all the time by friends, because they know that we just want to help.
We’ve seen it all, and the messier it is…I’m like, yeah, let’s get in there. We’re up for a challenge, but I would say be prepared to tell us what is wrong. That way we can help fix it and make it pretty and organized and functional.
When You’re Going to Hire an Organizer, What Should You Look For?
I always tell clients to interview three people. Go with your gut and know whether they have certifications. That means that they care about what they do. They’re not just throwing up a sign and saying, “I’m an organizer today.” You want to have somebody who’s been in business for a long time; somebody who’s insured and bonded.
We are certified to help with ADHD, ADD, CD, hoarding, time management, aging…we have all these certificates and education behind us. You want somebody who knows what they’re doing and who can be patient and kind and who has no judgment. Pick somebody who you feel comfortable with and who matches your personality.
What Improvements Do Your Clients Experience After They’ve Worked With a Member of Your Team?
The benefits I can see is that they’re happy and excited that they’re saving all this time. They’re not having to look for things; they’re not buying duplicate items. They have this sense of relief. You know, it’s like this black cloud of stuff just hanging over them, and it’s really stressful, you know? I think that having less stress and saving time is everything. We all want that time back that we didn’t have yesterday.
I know, personally, what I experienced was the sense of appreciation because when everything’s important, then nothing’s important. When you’re able to weed through and really focus on the things that do bring you joy, you get to experience that joy.
You’re looking at things a little bit differently, and you think: Oh, wow, I really didn’t need that. And then you don’t miss it. You don’t even about it.
Tonia, thank you so much for taking time to come and share your passion for helping people get organized. Having personal experience, I can recommend that anyone in Dallas and Fort Worth can reach out to the certified, professional team at Sorted Out for help with organizing or preparing for transitional events like divorce.