Interview with an Organizer – Claire Tompkins
May 21, 2017
Claire Tompkins is a professional organizer and Clutter Coach who is passionate about organizing because it makes her clients’ lives easier and gives them more time to spend doing the things they enjoy. That’s what organizing is all about – not just being neat or having the right containers!
In over 15 years as a professional organizer – and through trial and error – she’s learned what works and what doesn’t. She creates effective, simple, practical systems for real people that produce successful, life-changing outcomes. Simplicity and being able to convert practices into daily habits is the key to her organizing strategy.
Her specialty is chunking down this big topic so it’s not overwhelming. That’s the concept behind her book, Five Minutes to a Relaxing Bedroom and her podcast, Organize Your Life with Clutter Coach Claire, which is based on her book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. Both books are available on Amazon.
LH: Can you tell me a little bit about your history? What was your path into professional organizing and how long have you been doing it?
CL: I was tired of doing office and gardening work. I wanted to find a career I didn’t need to go back to school for. I read about organizers in a book about home-based businesses and was intrigued. Turns out a friend knew someone who was doing it so I met her and then joined NAPO. Did a bunch of pro bono work, read books, and talked to other organizers to get my chops, but I had a natural affinity for it.
LH: Do you offer one-on-one services, virtual services, or both?
CL: I do both. My strength is coaching so it’s not critical that I be in the same room with my client. I’ve successfully worked with people via Skype and even just email for productivity and time management coaching.
LH: I see you offer both “productivity coaching” and “get it done coaching.” How do they differ?
CL: The former is for people at work, and the latter for people at home. Many techniques are the same, but each group has special challenges. People at work need to deal with meetings and people at home are often juggling family needs, just as an example.
LH: I see you are an artist. Are there ways that being an artist informs your organizing practices?
CL: What an interesting question! I can think of a few ways. One is my natural curiosity. In my artwork, I get inspiration from numerous sources and pick and choose what goes into any one piece. With organizing, I have many years of experience with clients and styles and techniques that I can select from to customize a plan for each client.
There’s also trial and error. In my art studio, I usually start with some kind of idea, but as I’m making something the idea grows and changes and sometimes gets abandoned altogether. With organizing, there’s no way to know something will work until you try it and live with it for awhile.
LH: Do you do business and personal/individual organizing?
CL: Yes. I like the variety!
LH: What challenges do you face when working with individuals?
CL: It’s a challenge when a client says he or she is ready to get organized but I see by their behavior that they really aren’t. Sometimes they just aren’t willing to devote the time. I strive to be clear that I can teach my clients how to organize but I can’t move in with them and do it everyday! Maintaining organization is a lifestyle. It shouldn’t take too much time everyday, but it needs to be a regular practice.
LH: Do you ever have people relapse into former bad habits or “fall off the wagon?” If so, how do you deal with them?
CL: Oh sure – that happens to everyone. Me included. That’s one reason I like to keep systems simple. Something is bound to happen to knock you off the wagon and the easier it is to get back on, the more likely you will. Some clients rely on me for regular tune ups. They know things will degrade and fall between the cracks over time. It’s not a problem, as long as you address it eventually.
LH: Can you tell me a bit about your most challenging client and how you were able to help him/her?
CL: Hmm, I don’t really think in those terms. I think clients who make progress do so because they decided they were ready before they hired me and I merely guide them. I did have an ADD coaching client recently who described himself as hopeless (his wife convinced him to hire me). It seemed to me that his feelings of being incapable were his main problem, not his lack of skill. So I emphasized concepts like “chipping away is progress.” He didn’t need to fix everything at once. That helped him feel less overwhelmed. There’s certainly some therapy to what I do.
LH: Is there hope for hoarders? Have you worked with any?
CL: I have worked with hoarders, but not to successful completion. In some cases, I was able to provide some temporary relief, but making significant change is very difficult. People with full blown hoarding disorder need to work with a therapist in addition to an organizer in order to address the psychiatric issues.
LH: What are some other ways in which people benefit from your services?
CL: Freedom from the burden of stuff! Recognizing that they are in charge of their stuff and not at the mercy of it. Clarity about what they want and what they don’t want.
LH: How do you feel about children and organizing?
CL: It’s never too early to start! Parents owe it to their kids to teach them organizing and decluttering skills. These are important skills for becoming competent, mature adults.
LH: A lot of people find the time constraints of modern life at odds with their ability to organize. Do you have suggestions for people who are short on time?
CL: Well, there’s this:
The world is too big for us, too much going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself It’s an incessant strain, to keep pace… and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen so rapidly, you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more! ~Atlantic Journal, June 16, 1833~
In other words, it’s not a new problem. If you don’t have much time, you shouldn’t have a complex organizing scheme. If you don’t have a big house, you shouldn’t have more stuff than will fit in it. Sounds brutal, but there’s no magic here. Oh, also, let go of perfectionism.
LH: Are you an organized person by nature, or did you come into organizing through a life challenge?
CL: I used to take more after my dad, who was a bit of a pack rat. He was a writer and had piles everywhere. But, he knew where things were in the piles. Sometime during my 20’s I just felt that having so much stuff out and in view all the time was making it hard for me to stay focused, so I started paring down and putting things away. That was the beginning of my realization that physical and mental clutter are related and they both cause stress.
LH: What would you suggest to the organizationally-challenged person as a first step towards getting their house/life/everything in order?
CL: I believe in emphasizing the positive. In the free e-course I offer on my website, I have people start with creating a vision of how they would prefer to live, rather than focus on what’s wrong.
LH: How do you market your services and what or who do you see as competition?
CL: I write a blog, do a podcast and send a newsletter to my list, and I’m a bit active on social media. My main competition is all the other things people would rather spend time and money on than organizing.
LH: Do you do inbound and outbound marketing?
CL: If you mean website links and ads, very little. I do have a shop on my site that’s curated with items I personally recommend.
LH: How long, once you established your business did it take before it became profitable?
CL: Well, probably about 10 years, but that’s mostly because I had another job and other things going on in my life. I didn’t pursue it full time.
LH: Are you active in professional organizing groups and do you organize any local demonstrations or workshops (for individuals or businesses)?
CL: I’m a member of NAPO, but I’m not very active in it. I’ve taught classes in person but I don’t really enjoy it. I have a class on the Skillshare website and intend to do more digital classes. For businesses, I’ve had the best results as a consultant rather than a workshop leader because I can customize my recommendations and have a more meaningful conversation with them.
LH: Do you have any tips or advice for people interested in doing professional organizing?
CL: I’ve met people who say they are very good at organizing, but that’s only a part of what a good organizer does. I’m at the service of my client. I don’t impose my ideas on them. I spend time finding out what they need and want and judge what they are able and willing to do and then make recommendations. Anyone who wants to go into a home and just “whip it into shape” will probably be frustrated. So, be a person who can meet your clients where they are and offer your expertise to help them achieve THEIR goals, not yours.
LH: Thank you much for sharing your work with us.
CL: You’re welcome!
Find out more about Claire Tompkins on her website: www.cluttercoach.net!