Interview with Professional Organizer and Author Kathy Vines

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Kathy Vines

In May 2016, Kathy Vines attended a NAPO Conference session about becoming a published author. Little more than a year later, her first book, Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less, was released. Quite an accomplishment, wouldn’t you say?

I’m thrilled that Kathy has agreed to share her secrets today, as I kick off my new series of Organizer Interviews.

Kathy, how long have you been a Professional Organizer?

I launched Clever Girl Organizing in the spring of 2013, so I am in my 5th year of organizing for a living! Before my organizing career, I was in corporate human resources for twenty years. I always thought of this as a “someday, maybe” career, and when life threw a curve at me, I knew it was also the best “someday” to come along!

In your overview of Seven Truths to Becoming a Published Author, you mentioned that you had already been working on your book. When did you decide you wanted to write it?

I hadn’t been working on it long before I attended that session at NAPO 2016. In fact, I think it’s fair to say I hadn’t been *writing* the book yet at all. I was still in my gathering stage, as I was going through my old blog posts to see if a book could come to life from them! It had only been a few months that I’d decided that I even *could* write a book! Until then, I was too intimidated by “all the good books have already been written” and “how could I ever put something of value out there that hasn’t been done before?”

I’d compare it to hosting a dinner party; by the time I attended the session, I’d thought I’d like to throw a party at some point, and started looking at recipes to see what I might like to cook if people were to come. It wasn’t until after that session that it started to take shape as a genuine meal on its way to being cooked and served!

How did you decide what to write about?

As I mentioned, I knew I’d blogged enough that I had some sort of a book floating somewhere around in there. I spent some time collecting all my old blog posts into one document, and looking at them as a whole. For a long time, I thought it would be the basis for one book. I had a plan of wanting an outline of the book by the end of the summer (3 months after attending NAPO 2016) as my first milestone. As I sat with the things I’d written about, all in one document, it started to become clear to me: There was more than one book here. I needed to go much more narrow. I migrated to the posts that I knew I’d gotten the best feedback on, over and over again. These were the posts that helped people understand WHY they were struggling to let things go. I deleted the ones that had nothing to do with that, and it started to make sense. The other ones had become clutter!

Once I realized that commonality in some of my favorite posts, I was able to see the pattern and how they’d all come together. I fleshed my outline, found the concepts I was missing, and created the structure to start the book.

From there, I had to deconstruct all those posts, reducing them to their core concepts and messages, and then build them back up in a cohesive way, so that they all felt like complementary chapters built around a main point.  That became the first part of the book. The second part, the action-oriented part, came later, but seemed to make sense to me; I didn’t want to leave my readers hanging with only self-awareness, but no guidance as to where to go next! I talk about the book as having two intentional halves — the why and the how. I really felt that I had to bring a “how” section to give the reader actionable closure.

What was your writing process?

Clever Girl's Guide to Living with LessFirst of all, writing never became my full time focus or my top priority. However, it was always my “if I don’t have a client appointment” activity. Client days without scheduled appointments, client cancellations, weekends, those were all writing days. I went in spurts where I’d write for 4 days, probably 4-6 hours a day, and then not again for 2 weeks.

I was deadline driven, though, even though they were arbitrary. “First half done by x. Second half done by y. Send to developmental editor by z.” These help me stay focused because, after all, there is no publisher or editor knocking on my door and telling me it’s due. If the book doesn’t get published, that’s all on me!

Most of my writing was done at home, writing on my laptop. But the best boon to my writing that I received was being in Las Vegas for a week, tagging along with my husband for a work conference. We stayed at the Venetian, which had a Canyon Ranch spa attached to it. I got the spa pass for the week, and squirreled myself away in a corner on a lounge bed, blocking out the rest of the world! That week was like my book was on steroids!

I found I’d need to write one chapter at a time, and kept a master list of each chapter, what I’d written, what I still needed to add to it, and a scale of 1-5 about how I felt about it so far.  (Ugh, I’m so analytical, aren’t I?)

So, if I was in a creating mood, I could do content generation. If I wasn’t, I could do rereading and rewriting to move my 1-5 scores higher.

I should comment that one thing that really worked for me was that I managed my process and my side notes in Evernote. I’d collect thoughts in a note there, gathered ideas and resources about editing, book formatting, the self-publishing process, marketing, etc. all within there. And I’ve tagged everything to be either “general writing” or “Living with Less” specific, so that I can go back to the resources I’d use for future writing.

How does writing a book differ from writing blog posts? How is it the same?

Each time I wrote a blog post, I could think of it as a unique piece, having nothing to do with anything else. In a book, even though I was writing about things I’d blogged about, it wasn’t enough to just paste them all together. It needed to be cohesive. The tone, the structure, all working towards a stated thesis, the chapters needed to work together. Blog posts need to stand on their own. Both need to have a target reader in mind, and the breadcrumbs from the beginning of a post need to tie to the end, just as with the book.

How did you approach Dr. Ari Tuckman about writing the foreword?

Ah… this is a fun story!

I was on the phone with another organizer colleague who had already published a book, and she let me pick her brain on what she liked about her process of publishing and marketing, what she wished she’d done differently, etc. She was walking through all the different steps she’d gone through, and asking how I was approaching them.

She asked, “has anyone written a foreword for you yet?” and I laughed! Me? Have a foreword? That’s ridiculous! I’m just, well, me! I’m not important enough for that! But we kept talking about it, and she inspired (and dared!) me to dream about who would be a great person. It didn’t take more than a second to come up with Dr. Tuckman’s name.

And, I just so happened to have been emailing with Dr. Tuckman the day before, sharing my thoughts about his presentation at NAPO 2017 (my favorite session of the conference!) and so it seemed like I had a small window of opportunity if I wanted to take the leap and ask him. I couldn’t imagine why in the world he’d agree to such a thing, but I hung up the phone, and immediately emailed him and laid out the situation. I told him about the book, told him why I think he’d be an amazing person to write the foreword, and asked him if he’d consider it. He was lovely and gracious and agreed! I felt like I’d won the lottery!

Did you consider submitting your manuscript to a publisher, or did you always want to self-publish?

I’ll admit that I liked the independence of being able to be the creator and evaluator of my own work. Submitting to a publisher felt like I’d have to give something up (why did I think that? I’m pretty sure Hollywood has shaped my impression of what publishers are all about!) and I just didn’t want to face that. I also felt like a publisher’s impression would be, “Why is your book so special? There are a ton of organizing books out there already,” and I just had the need to create it and put it out there, without that justification. So, the imaginary defeat and conflict in my brain kept me on the self-publishing path for my first book!

Now, if a publisher wants to talk to me about future books, I feel like I’ve been through this process from one perspective and it would help me understand what I’d need and want to do differently next time, with the structure and support of a publisher.

Did you ever feel like giving up? 

I didn’t, or at least, I don’t remember doing so. For me, once I’d come back from NAPO 2016 and decided I was doing this, well, I was doing this! I think the challenge for me was in the “get started” phase, not the “get finished” phase! I was too motivated to create this book and knew it could make a difference in at least one person’s life!

What surprises did you encounter along the way?

I’ll admit that the timing wasn’t what I originally imagined. I thought I’d spend a lot of the time over the winter writing, and then have the book ready to publish by mother’s day. (Did I actually think this was going to be a gift people wanted for mother’s day? Not sure why that date was in my head, but it was!) So, as I approached November and was thinking about my winter, I realized I had a choice the universe was presenting to me. I was rapidly approaching the number of hours required to sit for the Certified Professional Organizer® exam, and could, in theory, sit for it in February. I knew, however, I couldn’t really accomplish both the studying for the exam and writing the book at the same time. I needed to choose which would come first.

When discussing the dilemma with my mastermind group, one was quick to point out: “Wouldn’t it look much better to have ‘Certified Professional Organizer’ ON your book cover?” It was an aha moment, and then the decision was made! Exam first, book second! Which is exactly what happened! I took my CPO exam mid-February, and was on that plane to Las Vegas 3 days later!

What’s next? Do you plan to write another book?

Definitely a next book is in the works already! I am not sure if it will be a 2018 book. It will depend on how much content development time I get to do this winter. I plan on doing a fair amount of idea generation this fall, but not sure yet how the book will take shape. The next book is going to be in the productivity / time management space, so near and dear to me and so many of us! I’ve got a lot of notes already, as I feel my brain started working on it as soon as it put Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less to print! Still thinking through titles…  Clever Girl’s Guide to Living with Less Time? Hah!

Thank you so much for sharing all this great information, Kathy!

Would you like to be interviewed or write a guest post for Your Organizing Business? Please drop me a line and let me know what you have in mind.

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A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

Join the Conversation


  1. Avatar Seana Turner on August 22, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Congratulations to Kathy! Enjoyed reading this interview so much, Janet. I greatly admired people who set an objective and keep working until it is achieved. I hope this book reaches and helps many people:)

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on August 22, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Kathy was great to interview! She provided so much more information than I expected, and I’m sure it will be very helpful to anyone else who’s thinking about writing a book.

    • Avatar Kathy Vines on September 7, 2017 at 7:38 am

      Thank you, Seana! I love the feedback I’ve been getting already… if only those people feel like I’ve made a difference, I’m ahead of the game!

  2. Avatar Olive Wagar on August 23, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Yahoo for you, Kathy! Just ordered my copy a few days ago & looking forward to reading it!! Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview, Janet!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on August 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      My pleasure – more interviews to come, hopefully in the not-too-distant future!

    • Avatar Kathy Vines on September 7, 2017 at 7:37 am

      Thank you so much, Olive! Hope you get something of value out of it!

  3. Avatar Nancy Haworth on August 23, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    Congratulations on both your book and becoming a CPO, Kathy. Your story is very inspiring, thank you for sharing.

  4. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on August 24, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Congratulations, Kathy! Great interview, Janet. I have always wanted to write a long book but narrowing down the topic of the book has been my main issue. I started writing many books but just fell out of the habit of finishing them. It’s so not like me to do that but the topic just wouldn’t keep me passionate about it. I hope one day I will be able to write a book.

    This post was very helpful for me because it shows me how other people created their own process to write their book. Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on August 24, 2017 at 12:50 pm

      I know what you mean! I write all the time, but can’t wrap my head around actually writing a book. The closest I ever came was a self-study guide for Outlook 2003. I’d created a manual for a course I was teaching at the time, and my husband formatted it to be a standalone e-book, but as you can see, that was many, many years ago!

    • Avatar Kathy Vines on September 7, 2017 at 7:36 am

      So glad seeing my process was helpful! I hope you keep it in a file of things to read, labeled, “Things to inspire me to get back to and to finish writing that book, once and for all!”

  5. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on August 31, 2017 at 10:27 am

    What a fun interview! I have Kathy’s book, but haven’t read it yet, and now I’ll add her review of Shawndra’s session to my reading list. I love the dinner party analogy!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on August 31, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      Yes, she really is a Clever Girl, isn’t she? 🙂

    • Avatar Kathy Vines on September 7, 2017 at 7:35 am

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! You and I have each other on our mutual reading list… may we both complete them (and love them!) soon! Glad you like the dinner party analogy!

  6. Avatar Linda Atwell on September 6, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Your book is beautiful! Years ago, I read a book titled, Your Money or Your Life. When I saw your title, I was reminded of this. We truly all need to learn to live with less. Stuff doesn’t necessarily make us happy. And BTW, I’m glad you never felt like giving up. When I was writing my book, neither did I. Wishing you continued success!

    • Avatar Kathy Vines on September 7, 2017 at 7:33 am

      Thank you so much, Linda! Staying focused and not giving up seemed like the biggest boulder to push, isn’t’ it? Every day, there is an option to just give up! Glad neither of us did!

  7. Avatar Janet Schiesl on September 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

    I still have to buy and read your book Kathy. Congratulations.

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