Interview with an Organizer – Organizing Maven
September 27, 2016
Organize-It Presents: Interview with an Organizer – the Organizing Maven
Kelly Jane McCann is the Organizing Maven, a professional organizer and clutter coach with a unique approach to helping others. The Organizing Maven has a strong, distinct online presence and offers a wealth of free and paid resources to help people find structure and happiness in their lives.
We’re pleased to have her as our very first guest in Organize-It’s new Interview with an Organizer blog series and are certain that homemakers, professional organizers, business owners and anyone struggling to find order in their lives will find inspiration here.
LH: Kelly, can you tell me a little bit about your history? What path led you to become a professional organizer and how long have you been doing it?
OM: Prior to launching The Organizing Maven in 2004, I worked as a training consultant with an international company that provided corporate education and professional development programs. I worked to match the needs of employers and employees with proper training and development solutions.
While I loved what I did, I knew I wanted to make a bigger impact and engage with the people I served in an even more meaningful way. I envisioned combining my business experience with my passion for the science of habit and happiness. Most importantly, I wanted to share all I had learned through my many life experiences (it’s been a wild ride!). So I took the leap and went out on my own. Now I share my skills with my own clients, still matching needs with solutions, with a special emphasis on helping people break free from feelings of being overwhelmed and guilty – so they can create lives they truly love.
LH: Do you offer one-on-one in-person services, virtual services, or both?
OM: All my services are virtual in that I no longer visit anyone’s physical space. I provide one-on-one coaching and online workshops. The workshops are extremely budget-friendly. They’re an ideal option for anyone who is ready to create change and willing to do the work. I guide people step by step in finding solutions that will work for them. And of course, I’m always available to answer questions so participants receive all the support they need.
LH: You seem to have a holistic approach to organizing that goes beyond techniques for decluttering – a way to achieve happiness through managing your life. This is something unique that struck me when I first stumbled upon you online. Can you tell me more about that?
People often think that clutter is really just about our physical stuff. But outer clutter doesn’t stay outside, it infiltrates our inner environment and affects our mental state. Our clarity gets clouded and our focus lags. I know that might sound a little dramatic, but when you are living in a disorganized environment, everything takes more time and more effort. The reality is that clutter costs us dearly.
The financial cost alone can be extremely high. Then there are the health costs – disorganization creates stress, and we all know how stress affects our bodies and minds.
Here is a very simple example: Let’s take a cluttered and disorganized space like a kitchen. It’s hard to cook in a disorganized kitchen so you’ll be more likely to rely on takeout. There’s a financial cost to that. Then there is the health cost. Takeout is generally far less healthy. And since how we eat impacts our energy, we’ll find ourselves feeling sluggish which means we’ll probably be less inclined to exercise. And if we value healthy habits, that sluggishness will lead to us feeling bad about ourselves. If we’re feeling bad about ourselves we may be less enthusiastic about socializing so our relationships take a hit. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear – disorganization can really wreak havoc on our lives!
But there is good news, we can make the decision to overcome disorganization and embrace organized living instead. Getting organized does all kinds of things for us – the biggie is that it gives us a sense of control. Lots of people think it’s about making things visually appealing and creating homes for belongings. That’s really a very small part of it but there’s so much more. Being organized is about creating overall harmony. It’s about being in control of your time and resources. It’s about feeling at peace in your surroundings. It’s about being able to truly relax and enjoy life.
To organize is defined as the following: make arrangements or preparations for (an event or activity); coordinate things into a structured whole.
If we apply that definition to life, then getting organized is really about structuring our life so we can enjoy all the facets with relative ease and limited stress.
Now l think for us to enjoy the benefits of an organized life, it’s crucial we simplify as much as possible. By simplifying, I’m not talking about paring away everything and living a minimalist life. I really mean getting clear on your priorities, making them your focus, and letting go of the “shoulds.”
The bottom line, how you allocate your time and how you manage your space is a reflection of how well you take care of yourself.
LH: Do you do business and personal/individual organizing?
OM: For a long time I worked in both arenas. Now I focus on working with individuals. That doesn’t mean we don’t address work-related issues, but since I really believe in a holistic approach, I’m not the right person to call if you compartmentalize your life into personal and professional.
LH: What challenges do you face when working with individuals?
There’s a universal misconception that decluttering is a one-time event. It’s actually an ongoing process, one that requires commitment and habit change. You can clear all the clutter you have, but unless you are committed to replacing clutter-allowing habits with clutter-reducing habits, you will wind up right back where you started.
Another misconception is that once you start living a clutter-free life, it will just stay that way. If you are committed and your life remains static, it very well may. But most people do not live static lives. Our lives are much more fluid. Our situations change, whether we seek out that change or not (hello getting older!). Any time we experience a situational change, big or little, it’s important to set aside time to evaluate what’s working well and what may need tweaking.
For example, you could have wonderfully supportive habits in place, but a job change could create a situation where your routines are often interrupted, which means you will need to figure out how to adapt to that situation.
Bottom line, regular evaluation is a critical component when it comes to maintaining a clutter-free life.
LH: Do you ever have people relapse into former bad habits or “fall off the wagon?” If so, how do you deal with them?
OM: I actually anticipate that happening. Decluttering and organizing are really about creating change. And that process can be very challenging, so I always suggest that people get crystal clear on why they are doing it. And the reason why needs to be authentic and truly compelling. That “why” becomes the motivating force which will help them stay “on the wagon.”
I have people craft a vision statement that captures the “why” in written form. The vision statement serves as a motivational tool. I suggest people read through it daily to remind themselves why they are doing what they are doing. That act usually keeps backsliding to a minimum.
I also remind people to celebrate the smallest of victories. When we focus on our achievements and recognize our progress, we feel good about ourselves. And that keeps us moving forward.
LH: Can you tell me a bit about your most challenging client and how you were able to help him/her?
OM: I don’t really think of clients as challenges. If they were, then that would suggest a bad fit between us. And I go to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen.
But I can tell you about a very common challenge that clients face. And that is both overestimating and underestimating what they can do. They overestimate what can be done in a day or a week. And they wind up feeling like they failed because they didn’t get everything done. And they underestimate what they can achieve over a year, which means they miss opportunities for success.
I remind people that there will always be more to do, so forget about “getting it all done.” Given our complex lives, it is actually the natural state of things. It’s important to get comfortable with this idea and embrace it as normal.
At the same time I remind people that taking a single daily action toward a long term goal will lead to success. In the moment it might not seem like much, but over the course of a year the progress will be significant.
LH: Is there hope for hoarders? Have you worked with any?
OM: I’m not a hoarding expert, but I do have experience working with them. Yes, there is hope. But it takes a strong desire to change and a willingness to do the work, most of which has nothing to do with the actual stuff. My policy is that I will work with hoarders only when they are working with mental health professionals.
LH: What are some other ways in which people benefit from your services?
OM: The biggest benefit is clarity surrounding what you want your life to look and feel like. Without clarity it’s really hard to know where to focus your efforts. Sometimes that’s all people need, someone to help them identify their priorities and get really clear on what is truly important.
LH: How do you feel about children and organizing?
OM: I am a huge fan of teaching children how to manage their lives. The earlier you start, the better. It’s life skills training that will serve them well forever. Unfortunately, some parents tend to underestimate what their kids are capable of when it comes to self care and planning. When you can connect habits to outcomes, kids can see the benefits and will willingly participate.
And because organization is really about habits, it’s much easier to start earlier and instill supportive habits from the get-go. If you wait, you’ll have to work on replacing “bad” habits with “good” ones. And that is much more challenging for everyone involved.
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?
OM: Yes, forget the idea that you need a big block of time to really accomplish anything. That is simply not true. I suggest you break down your goal or project into bite-sized actions. You can accomplish an incredible amount in a focused 10 minutes. The key is to actually schedule those tasks to make sure you get them done. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth scheduling.
LH: Are you an organized person by nature, or did you come into organizing through a life challenge?
OM: I’ve had some very significant life challenges. And each one taught me so much. Collectively what I learned was that unless you’re living “on purpose,” that is, living a life that is in alignment with what you value and what you desire, you’ll always be living a cluttered life. You’ll be surrounded by things – physical items, commitment and even relationships that aren’t meaningful to you.
LH: What would you suggest to the organizationally-challenged person as a first step towards getting their house/life/everything in order?
OM: Get clear on what you want your life to look like. You cannot effectively declutter and organize your life if you don’t know what an organized, uncluttered life should look like.
Without that clarity, you don’t have a guide for what to let go and what to keep. And you won’t know what kind of supportive habits you need to create.
LH: How do you market your services and what or who do you see as competition?
OM: I primarily use social media where I share what I know. My goal is to help people create lives they truly love, so I’m very much about providing practical content that people can act on and use immediately. I’m not ever leading up to a big sell. I want people to get to know me before they dive into coaching, or even investing in a workshop. Despite being virtual, it’s still a very personal connection. When people work with me I’ll be asking them to do a good deal of self reflection and challenging them to look hard at their beliefs. There needs to be a significant level of trust there. And I think the best way to build that is through sharing quality information that lets people get to know me and my philosophy over time.
As for competition, I don’t think about it. At least not as someone to beat. The more people who are talking about decluttering and organizing, the better. I love how many more people are paying attention to the industry. It benefits both the professional and the public.
I look at what others in the field are doing for two reasons. One, to learn from them. And two, to know who I can refer to. I know that what I offer is not going to appeal to everyone, so if someone comes and wants something that’s not my bailiwick, I can then confidently make alternative suggestions.
Do you have any marketing or other advice for other professional organizers?
OM: There are so many options when it comes to marketing. It can be more than a little overwhelming to decide on a plan. My advice to organizers and all small business owners is fairly simple: Get clear on your goal.
It’s critical to know what you are trying to accomplish. And you must be specific. For example, if you say “I want more clients” that’s like telling the waiter you want food. It’s not helpful at all. You probably won’t get what you want and your lack of specificity is a burden to the waiter.
Once you’re clear on your goal, then you can craft your message and choose the best delivery method.
The second thing I’d say is make sure your message represents the authentic you. By that I mean resist the urge to copy what others are doing. Learn from them, even take inspiration from them, but make sure your message is something that showcases your personality and your unique perspective. Don’t worry about appealing to everyone, that will only dilute your message.
If it helps, don’t think of marketing as selling yourself, think of it as sharing yourself.
LH: Are you active in professional organizer groups and do you organize any local demonstrations or workshops (for individuals or businesses)?
OM: I’ve taken advantage of many learning opportunities through NAPO and ICD. The ICD offers excellent trainings. I am no longer an active member of either organization, but I would recommend that anyone thinking about becoming a professional organizer join them.
Since I’m no longer a hands-on organizer, I no longer do any type of demonstration or even in-person workshops. It doesn’t fit my business model.
I much prefer reaching people through social media. I especially love YouTube and being able to share via video.
LH: Do you have any more tips or advice for people interested in doing professional organizing?
OM: Don’t go into it because you love organizing. Go into it because you love helping people live better. It’s not about you or your vision, it’s about your client and their vision. You’ve really got to be willing to meet people where they are with patience and understanding.
LH: Thank you much for sharing your work with us. Whether you need a professional organizer, or just need some tips on decluttering your life, visit the Organizing Maven at www.organizingmaven.com.