Niche opportunity: Chronic disorganization
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Does the phrase “chronic disorganization?” make you think of a challenge or an opportunity?
If you don’t feel qualified to help clients who are chronically disorganized, that’s a challenge you can overcome.
I know ICD Certified Chronic Disorganization Specialist Lucy Kelly through Blogging Organizers and the Productivity & Organizing Blog Carnival, so I was thrilled when she offered to share this valuable information with you!
If you’re not working with chronically disorganized clients yet, you’re missing out. Not enough organizers serve this market, so it’s an ideal niche to grow your organizing practice.
What is chronic disorganization?
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization defines chronic disorganization as clutter that
- persists over a long period of time
- frequently undermines quality of life
- recurs despite repeated self-help attempts
It’s not hoarding behavior
When you first start out as a professional organizer, your ideal client is someone with a checkbook. So you agree to work with someone whose house overwhelms you. We’ve all done this.
You join a Facebook support group for professional organizers. They tell you to use tough love. That doesn’t sit right but neither does what you’re doing.
You start to dread seeing this client’s name on your calendar.
You feel like a failure.
They pass their housing inspection and fire you. You feel awful yet relieved.
It’s not affluent acquisition
Vowing never to be in that situation again, you choose to work with busy, well-off clients. They want you to take their homes from 95 to 99.99 percent organized and they’re willing to pay top dollar.
Tiffany wants you to organize her clothes. She has three full closets, plus another for her shoes. She hasn’t got time to go through anything with you, but she gives you free rein.
Your job is to curate Tiffany’s clothes museum. Many of the tags never come off the clothes. Great paycheck, but is being Tiffany’s personal assistant worth the tedium of doing the same thing over and over again?
It’s definitely not minimalism
So you explore minimalism. That’s fun for a while but then you realize the clutter’s still front and center. This crowd is still thinking about their stuff all day long.
Mandy is thrilled to work with you to pare down her clothes. She says she has 40 pieces of clothing but wants only 30.
A month later, she calls you back to help her cut down to 20.
You start to feel like you’re enabling anorexic behavior. Eventually, you work yourself out of a job when she’s down to three of everything.
Recognizing chronic disorganization
Chronic disorganization can initially seem like hoarding spectrum behavior. But the difference is, clients with chronic disorganization are motivated to call you themselves.
They don’t want to get rid of everything but they’re tired of not being able to find things. There’s no space to do their projects. They want to have people over but they’re embarrassed.
There’s shame and anger and depression, often seasoned with ADHD. They struggle with sentimental attachment to their things. It’s important for them to tell you the stories about their possessions before they can assess what can go.
Books and blog posts inspire them to get organized but cookie cutter solutions don’t work for these clients. They’ll challenge you to be the most creative, supportive, motivating organizer you can be.
Laundry a never-ending disaster? They’ll test out your idea to put up a clothes rod across the length of the laundry room so they can get dressed and undressed in one room. Their friends laugh, but they’ve solved the laundry problem in a unique way they can maintain.
You’ll need patience
You’ll want to be patient, a good listener, and able to keep their end goals in sight for them. They want to tell the stories, and that’s important, but they’re also hiring you to make a change. You’ll hold the space for them to do both.
Many were raised in a hoarding environment so they don’t have that lived experience of growing up with organization. Or they had tidy parents who did everything for them and wouldn’t let them figure it out. Or their ADHD means hands-on learning works best. For the kinetic learner, working side-by-side with you is the best way to develop organizing skills.
You’ll need to be able to work over time. Regular sessions are more effective than a clean sweep, so if you’re used to working marathon hours to get a project done in a weekend, this will be different. You’re not swooping in to get things done for them, you’re transferring skills.
People with chronic disorganization understand the clutter didn’t arrive in a day, and it’s not going to disappear overnight. Progress will be slow but steady. It’s a win for them and a win for you. Time to integrate the learning for your clients, regular, predictable income for you.
How to get clients
- Most organizers don’t enjoy the challenges of working with chronically disorganization. They’ll happily send you these clients.
- Therapists will often refer their clients to you. The therapists will do the therapy stuff, you’ll do the organizing magic.
When you tweak your marketing and website towards the chronically disorganized, you’ll get calls directly from potential clients too. By the time they call you, they’ve tried and failed to solve this problem many times, so they’re ready.
- Check out Judith Kolberg’s book, What every professional organizer needs to know about chronic disorganization. You’ll also enjoy ADD friendly ways to organize your life, by Judith Kolberg and clinician Kathleen Nadeau.
- NAPO has some classes but your main source of education is the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. Your annual dues include access to all past teleclasses as well as the new weekly teleclasses. Listen to the free teleclasses available to professional organizers to get a sense of how deep this resource is.
- Check out the ICD directory and see who’s near you. Ask about their experience working with the chronically disorganized population. Or call me at (720) 526-2114 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by cupertino / DepositPhotos
Lucy Kelly loves working with overwhelmed, chronically disorganized clients. She's writing a book on organizing skills for people who grew up in a full house. Working title, The Missing Manual.