First, let me start by saying that, if it weren’t for my friend, Tracy, I probably would not even be a professional organizer, or at least, it would have taken longer to find the profession that is my true calling. Tracy, demonstrating the intuitiveness that I have come to know is her classic style, guided me to the field of professional organizing in 1999. I was living in Michigan at the time and working as a lawyer — the career I trained, studied, and prepared for most of my life, and which has never brought me real satisfaction — and expressed to Tracy that I wanted to do something more creative, hands-on, and that would directly help people. My husband, Sean, whom I also must give credit to for helping guide me to professional organizing, used to tease that what I was really excellent at was planning lives. Indeed, his slogan for my not-yet-created organizing and coaching business was “Montanaro, Inc. – We Plan Lives.”
Tracy was surfing the Web and discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers website, as well as that of the local New York Chapter. She forwarded the link to me by e-mail and basically said, “See, what you do is a ‘real’ profession!” This was news to me. I thought, “People pay to have their lives organized? There are ‘professional organizers’ who do this type of work for a living? Amazing. And awesome!” I then spent a lot of time researching the profession, as well as brainstorming how and when I could “legitimize” my organizing skills by launching a business.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I relocated back to New York where my husband and I are originally from, that I seriously explored the organizing world as a profession. I attended a one-day conference sponsored by NAPO-NY, “Putting the ‘Professional’ Into Professional Organizing.” It was there that I learned what is involved in running an organizing business and what sets a professional organizer apart from someone who merely likes to organize. I realized that I have been organizing people’s lives on an “amateur” level my whole life, and that my organizing and coaching skills transcended my work as a lawyer, educator, mediator, administrator, writer, public speaker, and performer. Becoming more excited at the prospect of launching a business as a professional organizer, I decided to “practice” on Tracy, one of my closest friends.
Tracy and I met through our high school chorus, and were co-stars of our high school musical. Our friendship blossomed over the years through college, graduate school, relocation, and marriage. We always supported each other and considered the other a nice combination of a guardian angel and a tough cookie; hence, our nicknames for each other — Thelma (Tracy) and Louise (Lisa). I had been providing organizing and coaching services for Tracy for years: assisting her with writing letters to creditors, planning her vacations, reviewing her resume and cover letters, preparing her for job interviews, etc. It seemed only natural to start my career as a professional organizer with my number one consistent informal client, my disorganized, but brilliant and wonderful, friend.
Interestingly, some people thought this was not such a great idea. “Don’t mix business with pleasure,” is the old adage. “You don’t want to spoil the friendship if something goes wrong,” people warned. As a lawyer, I often referred friends and family to other lawyers when asked to assist, often because the area of law was one that I did not practice in but, sometimes, because I did not want to mix business with pleasure. Yet, I felt entirely comfortable doing organizing work for Tracy. “Well, she IS one of your best friends, and you had been doing organizing work with her all along,” you may be thinking. This is true, although the work I had been doing for Tracy all along was never part of an official professional endeavor. No, the reason I chose to do organizing work for Tracy was because it just felt natural. Not just natural; more like it was what I was supposed to be doing.
So we started. My first task was to plan her wedding and honeymoon in 2001. Success. We then moved onto organizing some of the rooms of the newlyweds’ apartment. Done. In 2002-2003, I assisted Tracy and her husband Mike with the first-time home buying process. Voila — they now live only a few miles from my husband and I in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of NY. Over the years, I have repeatedly provided organizing assistance to Tracy. We have delved into time management, space planning, bill paying systems, paper management , and organized the master bedroom, master bathroom and home office.
Tracy is an extremely intelligent, self-aware woman who has made great strides when it comes to organizing, and benefits greatly from working with an organizer. You may be wondering why she needed an organizer in the first place if she is so smart. It is a common misconception that an intelligent individual who has it “together” does not need an organizer, and would not benefit from professional organizing assistance. My clients are intelligent individuals that excel at many skills and have many talents. However, they need assistance with organizing. Organizing is a skill, but it is not taught in schools (a fact that NAPO is trying to change – check out NAPO in the Schools on the NAPO site). My clients may not have had the benefit of a parent, teacher, mentor, work colleague, or friend that could serve as a role model with regard to organizing skills. Some of my clients are organized at home, but not at work, or visa versa. Some are organized physically, but their time management skills are lacking. In other words, there is no standard disorganized person profile. My clients all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is why good organizing means tailoring the system to match the needs of the client.
Due to her background and intelligence, I knew one way to reach Tracy was by helping her to examine the psychological side of being disorganized. She is an avid reader (as well as one hell of an editor, proofreader and writer — check out her blog!) and has digested a plethora of organizing books. She approaches each book as a true researcher, going deep into the topic, highlighting the pages, and marking them up with notes in the margins. She then discusses them with me, giving me the important client-focused perspective. She is convinced that her lifetime of struggling with organizing her time, space, paper and possession stems from having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Her light bulb moment has brought her a sense of clarity and understanding, as well as a renewed sense of hope that she can overcome these obstacles with the proper coping mechanisms and systems in place. Furthermore, she is planning to write a book to share her story so that others can benefit from her knowledge and experiences with ADD and disorganization. Meanwhile, she chronicles her journey in a wonderful blog called Everloving Mess.
Indeed, that is what I have gained from this relationship. While many outsiders may only see the benefit Tracy has received from being the guinea pig that I practiced on early on in my organizing career, I have truly benefited too. I have been able to follow her struggles, research, revelation, and education process, while honing my skills and developing my unique approach to organizing systems. This organizer-client relationship with a close friend proves that you can mix business with pleasure and not only have the friendship survive despite the business relationship, but improve the friendship and business because of it.