Interview with Hazel Thornton: Genealogist, Professional Organizer, Personal Photo Organizer and Author

Hazel Thornton

If you’ve been reading Your Organizing Business for a while, you’re probably familiar with Hazel Thornton, the owner of Organized for Life…and beyond. Not only is she a Professional Organizers Blog Carnival Megastar Blogger, she’s sponsored three Blog Carnivals and has been featured here as a guest blogger more times than I can count.

Whether you know Hazel or not, you’re sure to learn something from our recent interview!

Hazel, where are you located?

I’m based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I provide mostly virtual services these days. So, clients can live anywhere, as long as they are somewhat comfortable with technology.

What’s your specialty?

My current favorite service is Genealogy Organizing. That includes everything from helping you to organize your own research materials and memorabilia, to teaching you how to research effectively, to helping you break down “brick walls” (or, as we call them in New Mexico, “adobe walls”, lol), to doing all the research for you. We use your photos, and those that we find on the internet, and combine them with a well-documented pedigree chart and historical context to tell the story of your family.

What other services or products do you offer?

Other services: Home & Office Organizing; Time Management Coaching

Products: Clutter Flow Charts (now 17 to choose from); Go With the Flow! (e-workbook)

Do you offer any products or services for other organizers?

Why yes, I do! I created The Original Clutter Flow Chart as a tool to help my clients declutter when I wasn’t right there by their sides. Then I realized they would help my colleagues’ clients as well! I custom-brand them (with YOUR contact info, logo, and colors, for use with YOUR clients and marketing prospects) as well as Organizing and Productivity Bingo cards. They can all be used as giveaways, or as the basis for a presentation, and much more. The more copies you make, the farther your original investment stretches.

I also do genealogy research for other organizers and their clients.

How do you approach a new organizing project?

In the case of genealogy, I have to figure out where the client’s starting point is — how much do they already know about their family history? What are they hoping to learn? Do they want to “go wide” (all branches), “go deep” (one branch), or “focus” on an individual ancestor, nuclear family, location, or time frame?

It’s really not all that different from figuring out what a home or office organizing client wants and needs.

What professional associations or other organizations do you belong to?

NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals), APPO (Association of Professional Photo Organizers), PONM (Professional Organizers of New Mexico), APG (Association of Professional Genealogists), and a variety of regional genealogy societies: So. California, Albuquerque, Illiana, North Carolina. Oh, and Friends of the Library and book club, of course!

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How did you come up with your business name?

I’ve been Organized for Life since 2004. My egret-taking-flight logo represents rising above clutter and finding the freedom of being organized in one’s daily life. (See my website for longer story.)

When I started talking about end-of-life matters — such as virtual wills, downsizing now so your loved ones don’t have to later, organizing your memorabilia, and telling your story — I was tempted to call it Organized for Life and Death. But I settled on Organized for Life…and beyond. Now the egret works equally well (or so I think) to represent freedom from worry and earthly bonds.

How has your business changed since you first started out?

In the beginning, I was all residential hands-on, and whatever other jobs came my way. I soon learned that I was not cut out (or qualified) to work with chronically disorganized clients, so I focused instead on those who were situationally disorganized. After moving from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, I added real estate staging and interior redesign (using what you already have).

Eventually I took a course on virtual organizing and joined APPO, which rekindled my love of genealogy. (Most photo organizers are not researchers, but many of them organize photos for genealogists.) Now my business is primarily virtual (residential and home office), and genealogy organizing.

At what moment did you consider yourself successful?

Ha! It depends on how you define success. I feel successful whenever a client tells me how much better their life is now that they are more organized. And whenever I receive a note from a newsletter, blog, social media, or POINT reader telling me how much they appreciate me and what I have to say.

A career highlight for me was being presented with the — surprise! — 2017 NAPO President’s Award. Not just the award itself, but the degree to which my colleagues were delighted for me.

What is the biggest challenge you currently face in your business?

The challenge with genealogy is similar to that of regular organizing — managing client expectations. And, of course there’s always the challenge of getting enough business to stay in business.

What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?

I would hire a business coach. Maybe. I tend to do everything myself the hard way. I am both proud and not-so-proud of that.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I enjoy all of the stereotypical introverted activities: Reading a book with my cat in my lap. Watching TV. Being social…(online). Researching my own family history. Attending outdoor summer concerts with a friend (or two). I volunteer weekly at my local library, pricing donated children’s collectibles for our monthly used book sales.Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror by Hazel Thornton

What else should we know about you?

Here’s something I didn’t talk about for 20 years, and now I can’t shut up about: I was a juror on the first Menendez brothers murder trial and wrote a book called Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror. You can read more of my story on MenendezJuror.com.

Thanks for sharing, Hazel!

Who’s next?

If you’d like to be interviewed for Your Organizing Business, simply fill out the questionnaire.

A former professional organizer, I’m now a Web Designer and Care Plan Specialist. I love helping others succeed by sharing the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through marketing my own business for over 15 years! When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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Comments

  1. Fun to learn a little more about Hazel! I’m so thankful to have connected with her and you through the virtual world. I was just with a client this morning who is interested in genealogy and was showing me collected items he hopes to dig deeper into during his “next phase,” a.k.a. retirement. Very neat guy, and I know he’ll enjoy pursuing this. If he gets stuck or needs help, I’ll direct him Hazel’s way!

  2. This might be my favorite of all your features, Janet. I adore Hazel and thought I already knew a great deal about her, but learned so much from this post. Hazel is so much more than flow charts and jury duty and organizing (oh, my!) and it’s lovely to read all about her here.

  3. I agree with Julie that this is one of my favorite features. I love learning more about my colleagues, what they do, how they do it, and why. We cross paths on social media and sometimes in person at various conferences, but we don’t always get to know all of these great details.

    I admire Hazel’s sense of humor and her ability to hone in on her best skills and use those to help others.

    Great interview!

  4. Thanks, Janet, Seana, Julie, and Linda — I can’t imagine what you’ve learned that you didn’t already know, but I really appreciate the compliments! I, too, enjoy and look forward to interviews of my lovely colleagues!

  5. Great interview! Genealogy is one of my hobbies also. I don’t know if I would want to do it as a living though. It’s great that you offer this as a service. I will keep you on my list of resources.

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