A Tale of Two Conferences

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It’s great to attend conferences, but there are so many possibilities that we can’t always go to all the ones we’d like to. That’s the situation Hazel Thornton found herself in this year, but she made the most of it, as she describes in this guest post.


I was unable to attend the NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conference this year – boo hoo! I hated missing out on seeing old friends, meeting new ones, learning, collaborating, being inspired, having fun, and exploring a new-to-me city (Ft. Worth).

It’s not like I was breaking a 100% conference streak – I’ve only attended 9 out of 15 conferences since I joined in December 2004 — but the longer I’m a NAPO member the harder it is, and the less likely I am, to miss. Because I know what I’m missing. As time passed, I graduated from knowing no one, to knowing almost everyone. Or, if I don’t know someone, there’s a good chance they know me from my blog, newsletter, social media, or my ubiquitous presence on our internal forum, The POINT. One year I was invited to be on the Golden Circle Ask-the-Organizer panel, another year I presented a concurrent session called Networking for Introverts. That was also the year I received the President’s Award!

None of this happened solely by showing up at conference, though. It was a result of getting involved and staying involved. Conference is a great way to get plugged in, but after a while it also seems like a reward for staying plugged in.

Meanwhile, a few years ago, I joined APPO (Association of Professional Photo Organizers), and last year I attended both conferences — NAPO (Chicago), and APPO (Raleigh). It was through APPO that I was reminded of my love of doing genealogy research (which had been on the back burner during most of my organizing career, and which previously I had only done for my own family). Most APPO members are not genealogists. They organize photos for their clients, some of whom are genealogists. But I started researching for clients and found that I love it! (I thought it would be boring if it wasn’t about my own family, but I was wrong.) Some of my APPO and NAPO colleagues even hire me to do research for their clients.

Anyway, this year Cathi Nelson, the founder of APPO, who loves New Mexico, decided that Albuquerque — OK, Bernalillo, 20 miles away — would be the perfect place to celebrate APPO’s 10th anniversary.  So, of course I went! How could I not? NAPO will (probably) never hold a conference in NM because we don’t have enough members to form a chapter. (We do have a local group here, though, which I helped co-found, called PONM.)

APPOCON2019 was lovely (and I’ve written another post about what genealogy has to do with photo organizing) but — for reasons I don’t need to go into here, because we all have our reasons — I was unable to attend NAPO2019.

All is not lost by not going to conference once in a while, but there is SO MUCH to be gained by GOING to conference. But all is not lost! Here’s what I have done instead, and what you can do too, to feel more involved until the next conference.

Before Conference

  • OK, I didn’t do much except feel sorry for myself and keep a low profile, not wanting to have to explain all the reasons why I wasn’t there. (Can you relate?)
  • I did schedule a few virtual coffee dates with colleagues for after conference, to have something to look forward to.
  • I also read Gretchen Rubin’s new book – Outer Order, Inner Calm – because, well, I would have anyway, being a Happiness Project fan, and I knew she was going to be a keynote speaker.

During Conference

  • Friends texted me and sent me photos, to make me feel included and missed. (Thanks, Miriam Ortiz y Pino and others!)
  • I attended a small meet-up of Genealogy Organizers via FaceTime. (Thanks, Jennifer Lava!)
  • I got to watch the awards presentations live, on FaceTime. (Thanks, Lauren Mang!)
  • During a lunchtime FaceTime chat with the POINT committee, Lauren started passing her phone around to other people I knew. That was fun!
  • I followed (and interacted with) friends’ social media posts. More so than usual. (Thanks, in particular, to Julie Bestry!)

After Conference

  • I can’t wait to listen to the session recordings, which most NAPO chapters, including the Virtual Chapter, purchase and make available to their members. Who can pass up free education? The learning never ends! (APPO, too, has many free learning resources.)
  • Maybe I’ll schedule a few more virtual coffee dates. If you know me well, and want in, contact me privately. If you don’t really know me, but want to chat, please schedule a Free 20-Minute Call via my website scheduler.


  • Volunteering on Committees – Don’t forget, there are any number of “micro-volunteer” opportunities that take less time and effort than you are probably imagining.
  • Participating in SIGs (Special Interest Groups)
  • Moderating POINT (our internal NAPO forum)
  • Engaging with the (unofficial) NAPO member Facebook group – there’s one for APPO members too!
  • Sharing in the Blogging Organizers Facebook group (Janet Barclay’s) – there’s one for Blogging Photo Organizers, too (Andi Tormohlen Willis’) but I don’t blog about photo organizing so much.
  • Contributing to the monthly Professional Organizers Blog Carnival (Janet Barclay’s)
  • Developing personal relationships via social media and other ways as well, such as meeting up with organizers who are visiting Albuquerque, and letting colleagues know if I’m going to be in their city.
  • Collaborating with other like-minded organizers on things like how best to incorporate Genealogy research services into our businesses.
  • Supporting my colleagues by offering info products on my website such as Clutter Flow Charts and Organizing & Productivity Bingo cards, for promoting their businesses, creating presentations, and helping their clients.

So, I hope that you can see that not all is lost by not going to conference once in a while, but there is SO MUCH to be gained by GOING to conference.

See you in Orlando (NAPO2020) or Atlanta (APPOCON2020) next year?

Photos © Hazel Thornton and Linda Samuels

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Hazel Thornton, creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection, is a virtual organizer and family historian based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She combines her genealogy research and organizing skills to help clients tell the stories of their families and their most treasured belongings. Her forthcoming book is called What’s a Photo Without the Story? A Guide to Leaving Your Family Legacy. Visit her online at www.org4life.com.

Join the Conversation


  1. Avatar Seana Turner on April 24, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    Nice to see Hazel’s post here… we missed you this year at conference, Hazel! I agree that you can’t make them all. I also agree that it feels harder to miss the longer you are involved, because you genuinely miss seeing people. I was so glad to be able to go this year, but don’t know if I’ll be there next year or not. It is comforting to know that there are ways to be involved, even if you can’t attend a physical event.

    • Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on April 26, 2019 at 11:31 pm

      I’m glad you found my ideas to be comforting, Seana! I wrote the post partly to comfort myself, and hopefully to also encourage others.

  2. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on April 24, 2019 at 10:57 pm

    You were missed, Hazel. I get it though. I missed the two previous years of NAPO conferences. While I’d love to go every year, life happens and it’s not always possible. I’m inspired by the many ways you stayed connected from afar (before, during, and after.) Thank you for all that you do as a NAPO volunteer.

    • Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on April 26, 2019 at 11:36 pm

      Thank you, Linda! I hope one of these years we will both attend the same conference again!

  3. Julie Bestry Julie Bestry on April 26, 2019 at 1:18 am

    As always, Hazel, you get to the heart of the matter, that there is so much to do when you are at a conference, and still so much you can do if you are not. We missed you, but the internet kept you close in our hearts.

    • Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on April 26, 2019 at 11:39 pm

      Missed you too, Julie! Can you tell? Thank goodness for the internet and all the ways we can stay connected!

  4. Avatar Christi Hamby-Sowder on May 3, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Hazel, this is great insight! It was not feasible for me to go to conference this year and I regret it! I agree wholeheartedly with your post and love your plan for staying plugged in! I never thought of a virtual coffee date but have had a few great calls with fellow NAPO members in other parts of the country. Electronic latte anyone? 🙂

    • Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on May 4, 2019 at 6:43 am

      Which leads to why we would want to know organizers from other parts of the country: Mutual client referrals; speaking and guest blogging or podcasting opportunities; collaborating on products and services; because we just like them and are inspired by them; for starters!

  5. Avatar Janet Schiesl on May 6, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Sounds like Hazel made the best of her time while not at the NAPO Conference. She found so many ways to be involved during and after.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 7, 2019 at 12:22 pm

      It’s inspiring, isn’t it? So many options that didn’t exist back in the day…

  6. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on May 6, 2019 at 9:59 am

    While I haven’t gone to a conference in years, I do like to keep in contact with my NAPO colleagues online. For several years, I would purchase selected sessions to keep updated with the home organizing tips and tricks. Since I have transitioned to working with small businesses, there are few small business topics at the conference so purchasing only the ones that relate to my business works best.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on May 7, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      I found the same thing back in my PO days – most of the conference topics were for home organizers, and I only worked with businesses. You can’t beat the face-to-face networking though!

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