For starters, nine times out of ten it's going to be a her. This is a predominantly female industry. But, providing you live in a major metropolitan area, you'll have quite a choice - everything from grandmotherly types to hip young urbanites.
Some professional organizers have a strong business or administrative background, while others (like myself) are born entrepreneurs with an unconventional bent. Many organizers are very artistic or creative, believe it or not. This came as a shock to me when I first joined the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada (POC). I think the assumption is that organizers are very logical, left-brained thinkers - and they can be - but many of the organizers I know excel at the right-brained stuff, too.
And it kind of makes sense. Organizers have to be able to see the big picture as well as the little details. We're usually excellent troubleshooters who also love the drudgery of sorting.
Will your professional organizer do things just like the organizers on TV? Yes and no. Everyone has their own style - although a good organizer will be sensitive to your needs and adapt their methods to your particular situation.
Hiring a professional organizer can be a huge expense, and if money is an issue, you can cut corners on supplies and billable hours. Which means you might not get the pretty storage solutions you see on TV, or the leagues of helpers waiting in the wings to clear a room in a weekend.
Most organizers I know carry a small kit of "essentials" to their jobs. This can include anything from markers and labels to measuring tapes and hammers. Some go all-out and provide boxes and garbage bags for sorting and purging; others will expect you to pick up this expense. Ask ahead of time so you know what to expect.
Depending on your situation, your organizer will probably suggest a plan of action that may take several organizing sessions. An individual session is usually very low-tech, especially if it's a purge: The organizer will show up in "work" (i.e. get dirty) clothes, probably wear rubber gloves (against dust - you wouldn't believe how dirty our hands get otherwise!), and possibly don a dust mask.
Purges and sorts usually make your home or office look much worse before it looks better, especially if you have a lot of clutter. Your organizer may ask to clear a "sorting area" where you can go through your possessions together. Some organizers will cart away your "give-aways" for you, while others will expect you to dispose of things yourself.
When it comes time to reorganize what you've got left, most organizers will suggest various storage options, but let you make the final decision. Some will purchase storage containers for you, and others will expect you to acquire things on your own. As you might expect, the more you ask an organizer to do, the more you will likely pay for his or her services.
Give your organizer frequent feedback on how well he or she is satisfying your needs. Organizing can be a very difficult, emotional process. There will likely be tense moments. But in general things should feel like a good fit. If they don't, talk it over - and don't be afraid to hire another organizer if the first doesn't work out. Not everyone will be perfect for you.
copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow