Firm Puts Things In Their Place Need Someone To Sort Things Out? These Hired Hands Can Make Sense Of A Mess.

Posted: February 24, 1994

Linda Sayre's office used to be her dining room table.

She's expanded, branched out to accommodate her growing client list. Now she works from the dining room table and a roll-top desk.

"Before, I had an organized mess," explains the Doylestown loan officer. ''As long as nobody touched the piles of papers, I'd find things. I had a sort of mental picture of where everything was. Somewhere along the line, I lost the picture."

But she found Linda Anderson's 2-by-3-inch business card in a copy and resume store in Doylestown.

It beckoned: "Do you have chaos in your life?"


Anderson, a home-office organizer and partner in Simply Organized, of Doylestown, went to Sayre's home for a 15-minute consultation and stayed for seven hours cleaning out Sayre's desk. She's gone back for a second day-long organizing adventure, and Sayre is planning for the next visit: the dreaded boxes in the basement.

Sayre is not alone in her home-office disorganization. A recent contest held by Home Office Computing magazine to find the most disorganized home office attracted more than 3,000 entries.

"The funniest part is that a lot, I mean a lot, of entries came in after the deadline," said Bernadette Grey, editor in chief of the magazine.

But disorganized home-office grunts aren't just competing for the crown of slopdom. They're looking for help. That's where home-office organizers come in, charging $25 to $125 an hour for their services, according to surveys conducted by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), of Tucson, Ariz.

"I try to help people make their lives like the silverware drawer," Anderson said. "You know how everything goes in the right compartment, the knives with the knives, and the forks all lined up with the forks. And it looks so nice. Well, I help people organize their closets and their thinking like that."

The market is huge: There are 41.1 million home-office workers, making up 33 percent of the adult workforce, according to LINK Resources Corp., a research and consulting firm in New York.

More and more people are turning toward their homes for work, either to start new businesses or because corporations would prefer they work at home as a means of cutting overhead, said Lisa Kanarek, a Dallas consultant and author of Organizing Your Home Office for Success.

"I figure, if Bill (Clinton) can work at home, why not me?" said Kanarek.

Well, Bill's got the Oval Office. And a staff of assistants.

"Many clients I visit have these beautiful offices with new furniture and

updated computer software, but they work in their kitchen and keep half their files in the bedroom and the other half in the dining room," said Kanarek.

The home office presents a conundrum: How do you stop your cat from walking across the telephone at an inopportune moment? How do you tell your children you can't play right now? And do you clean the ring around the bathtub or face the files on the desk?

"People need to know when to allow the challenges of life to intervene or not, to know when to get out in the world," said Paulette Ensign, a former Collingswood resident who runs Organizing Solutions in Bedford, N.Y.

"When you're in a home office, being organized is essential because you don't have someone to help you find things," said Kanarek. "The problem is, most of us have never been taught to be organized."

But how do you teach someone to take the time to get it all together?

"We try to match the user with the system," explained Ensign, author of 110 Ideas for Organizing Your Business Life. "If we went in and tried to impose a template, it just wouldn't work."

"We tell people, we'll minister to you during your crisis," said Ensign, ''but we also want you to set up a maintenance program."

Maintenance program? Sounds like Weight Watchers. Add that to other new-age catch phrases like time, space and paper management and you've got yourself a '90s concept. But it's not. Home organizers have been around for nearly two decades. The catch is, they've just recently caught on.

NAPO was founded in Los Angeles by five people in 1985. It has grown by the hundreds during the last few years, now boasting 550 members who are responding to a growth spurt of home-office workers.

Last year, 2.1 million people started home-based self employment. That is double the amount from the year before, according to LINK Resources.

Kanarek and Ensign both have sold more than 60,000 copies of their books. Clearly, there is a demand for help. Most home organizers will admit, though, that they are still a relatively unheralded and unheard-of profession.

"People are nervous at first. They don't know what to expect," said Anderson. "But once we get going, it's as if they figure, 'Well, you've seen me in my underwear, and I have nowhere to hide.' "

Sam Blake isn't hiding. He calls in his office organizer, Cynthia Kyriazis, owner of Business Partners in Manayunk. "She's better than a secretary. She's more in tune, very focused," said Blake, a Roxborough based real estate agent and developer. "She comes in just to get me organized."

From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, hiring help twice a month, or even once a week, on a per-hour basis, can be cheaper than 40-hour-a-week help. Each professional organizer sets up an individual plan: Some use contracts, others do one-shot cleanups, and still others work out a weekly schedule.

"Professional organizers save people not only time, but money," said Ensign.

Ensign worked with a financial planner who used to visit his clients

because his office was piled high with files, books and notepads. After Ensign helped him file, he suddenly had space to invite clients to his office.

"He was astounded over the revenue increase by having people come to him, instead of spending half his day on the road," Ensign said.

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