The Myth of the Drill Sergeant Organizer

Fred has a lot of clutter. It’s getting in his way. A friend notices this, and recommends that he hire a professional organizer. Fred says, with a nervous laugh and semi-mock dismay, “Oh, no! She’ll make me get rid of all my stuff!” Probably due to the tough-love TV organizers and the prevalence of hoarding shows, organizers are seen by many as harsh taskmasters who cart off truckloads of stuff and like to make our clients cry.

That may make for good TV, but it’s not reality. If most professional organizers bullied clients into giving or throwing away their most cherished possessions, they wouldn’t be very successful, because they’d be spending all their money and time in court defending themselves from lawsuits.

No, we organizers can’t make you get rid of your stuff. You own the stuff; the choices are ultimately up to you. But we do have to ask the hard questions: Do you use this? Do you love it? Is its presence in your home helping you or harming you? There are differences to the approach. Some organizers are so gentle, they never even suggest you get rid of anything, and subtly, perhaps Socratically, they guide you to make the decision yourself. Others use a tough love approach. This works for some clients. The popularity of fitness “boot camps” suggests that some people are motivated by getting pushed hard and yelled at. But fortunately, there are enough organizers around for every personality.

For a lot of people, owning lots of stuff – even useless stuff – provides a sense of security. The thought of getting rid of something may provoke a panic: who knows what could happen if you need it later? Even though ultimately the client makes the choices, being nudged in the direction of giving up security can create a feeling of losing control. This is understandable, and this is why an organizer can’t be just a bully. It’s also our role to provide reassurance, perspective, and guidance.

Although I do love a good purge, it’s only one means to help you live a better life in your space, which is the goal of every residential organizer. You should keep the things you own that are meaningful, useful, and make you happy. Our job is to help you figure out what those things are, and help you let go of the rest. No push-ups required.