How to Become a Professional Organizer

Lisa Green Smith poses for a portrait in front of an organized pantry.
Lisa Greene Smith worked as an interior designer before starting her own professional organizer company, Simplify Studio. Photo courtesy of Lisa Greene Smith

When you see a messy, cluttered room, do you feel a little spark of excitement at the chance to fix it up? Lucky you! Most people feel dread. Maybe you should become a professional organizer and get paid to help the rest of us out.

Lisa Greene Smith worked for years as an interior designer before motherhood led her to seek a more flexible career path. She thought back to a job in Los Angeles, where she was tasked with maintaining the company’s design library.

“It was a mess,” she laughed.

Her coworkers would strategically steer clients away from it when showing them around.

“After a few months of me working there, they would bring clients through,” Smith said.

It looked nice and functioned well, too.

Once Smith realized professional organization was “a thing,” Simplify Studio was born.

“I really loved the idea that I could transform people’s lives and their living spaces in a matter of a few days with things that they already have,” she said.

And you could make $30-130 an hour doing it. Want to learn more? Read on.

How to Become a Professional Organizer

Over five years after starting her business, Smith isn’t just a professional organizer. She’s a boss, hiring people to join her team.

“When people apply, they’re always talking about how good they are at organizing,” Smith said. “I’m not necessarily looking for that, because that can be taught.”

What is she looking for?

“Kindness and compassion.”

Clients can be exhausted parents fighting to keep up with their kids’ mess. Students struggling with ADHD. Patients recovering from brain surgery. You need to be able to meet them where they are.

You also need to keep calm in the face of chaos – even when there’s a lot of chaos.

“It always gets worse before it gets better,” Smith said.

Want to start a business but professional organizing is just not your thing? Here are 10 business ideas you can launch with less than $1,000.

How Do You Learn Organizational Skills?

Ready to become a professional organizer but don’t know where to start with certifications?

National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) offers the most widely recognized certification for professional organizers. To get board-certified, you need to rack up 1500 hours of work experience, study NAPO’s e-learning courses, and sit the exam. The total cost is over $2,000. Luckily, being a professional organizer isn’t like being a doctor or a hairdresser – you don’t need a license to operate.

Cleaning, designing, counseling, and project managing are all skills that translate well to professional organizing.

And you can learn a lot online.

“Instagram is a great resource,” Smith said.

Do you hear that, Home Edit addicts? All that scrolling could actually come in handy. Here are some resources to help you up your organizational skills.

Instagram: The Home Edit, Horderly, Simplify Studio

Pinterest: #organization, #decluttering, #lifehacks

Books: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Folding Book

A side by side photo of an unorganized pantry and an organized one to show the before and after results.
The before and after photo of an organized pantry by Simplify Studio, a professional organizing company created by Lisa Greene Smith. Smith said when looking to hire someone for her company, she’s looking for someone who is kind and compassionate. She said organization skills can be taught. Photo courtesy of Lisa Greene Smith

What Are the Start-Up Costs of Becoming a Professional Organizer?

In theory, you could become a professional organizer with zero investment. Sometimes, all a client needs is a helping hand – no bells and whistles required. But spending money on a few extras could give your new business a boost.

Containers: Aesthetically pleasing baskets, boxes, and jars are what organization dreams are made of. Bringing containers along could add the “wow” factor that earns you a five-star review. Prices vary, but consider budgeting $100 for sample containers you can show the client.

Website: You can get by with business cards and Instagram, but a website is worth it. A simple site with a custom domain costs $60 per year.

NAPO course: A $25 application fee, $319 provisional membership and $1,399 bundle of courses. Phew! Thankfully, this step is optional.

Advertising: Instagram, Facebook and Google ad campaigns are all worth looking into for a new professional organization business. If word-of-mouth is not working for you, consider dropping $25 on pay-per-click ads.

Transportation: One expense you can’t avoid is transportation. You have to get to the client’s space, decorative baskets in tow. Budget for gas and wear and tear on your vehicle.

Pro Tip

Not having a car is an obstacle. It could work in a big city, in which case you will need to budget for public transportation and the occasional taxi.

Here’s a hypothetical example. A teacher whose favorite part of the job is decorating her classroom decides to make a career to become a professional organizer. For her first month, she could budget $60 to launch her website, $25 to run Instagram ads, and $50 for gas. She might skip the pricey certification but spend $100 on containers. That is $235 in total.

How Much Should You Charge for Professional Organizing?

The average hourly rate for a professional organizer is $55 an hour, but some charge as low as $30 an hour and as high as $130 an hour, according to Forbes.

Pricing for professional organization varies by scope and location. If you are organizing a closet in rural Kentucky, you ought to charge less than if you were organizing an office building in Manhattan. Research what other professional organizers in your area are charging.

What Does a Professional Organizer Actually Do?

Some organizers do garages, others do playrooms; some specialize in studio apartments while others take on vast office buildings. There are three main tasks to tackle, wherever you are and whoever you are helping.

First, declutter. You’ve probably heard this one before: keep the things that spark joy and ditch the things that don’t.

Second, prettify. Or, as Smith puts it, “strategically and intentionally add containers so that the space looks and feels good.”

It’s not necessary to buy Instagram-ready baskets to display the client’s kitchen towels. But it’s not always a bad idea.

Finally, make it stick.

“After we’ve really transformed their space, they’re feeling this sense of ease,” Smith said.

That’s when you have the opportunity to talk to the client about how to maintain their beautiful, functional dwelling.

How Do You Promote Your Professional Organization Business?

“Doing the work is the easy part,” Smith said. “Finding the work is the hard part.”

Make sure clients can find you online. A website, Google Business profile, and Instagram account are a good start.

There is no more powerful advertisement for a professional organizer than a good before-and-after photo. Take them early and often.

Reviews are also crucial for a professional organizer. Most people are not thrilled at the prospect of letting a stranger into their space to sort through their mess. It takes trust. Make sure clients know where and how to leave a five-star review.

Because chances are, they will want to. Five years after starting Simplify Studio, Smith is still amazed at how grateful and relieved clients are.

“It’s really nice to have that feeling of knowing that you’re actually helping people.”

Contributor Ciara McLaren is a freelance writer with work in HuffPost, Insider, and The Penny Hoarder. You can find her on Substack (@camclaren).