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Career Day

Getting organized? Call a professional. 

A personal organizer on coaching clients about the place to put Barbies, the power of Ziploc bags, and what to do with your Nana's old china.

By Schuyler Velasco

Lisa Dooley owns and runs Your Organized Life, serving clients in Greater Boston.

Every time I pick up a Real Simple, there’s an article about finally” getting organized. Why are we so obsessed with this but so bad at it?
One, we live in a consumer-driven society, where more is better and newer is better. So our homes become filled with volume. Two, it’s a lot like getting in shape or more financially sound: People have different learning styles, so no one solution is for everyone. That’s where one-on-one coaching can help. It’s an ongoing relationship; I work with most clients between six months and a year.

What’s the, um, organizing principle of your work?

It’s not about perfection. Organizing isn’t fancy systems from the Container Store. I was working with a young mom who wanted to set up a playroom for her 2- and 5-year-olds, and she had a rolling cart with crayons inside little glass jars. She saw it on Pinterest. It was the un-safest thing I’ve ever seen. When clients give me that stuff, I hand it very gently back to them and say, “This is not real life. Your real life is messy and it’s filled with Barbies and Legos and Shopkins. Let’s figure out how to make that work.”

If I can find my stuff when I need it, I’m golden. The average American spends 40 minutes a day looking for something that they can’t find. How can you live in this space every day so that you can find your hairbrush, so backpacks are in the right place, so the diaper bag is packed?

If you’re organizing a whole house, where do you start?

I ask, “What keeps you from getting out of the house in the morning?” Usually that’s a smaller, high-traffic area like a mudroom or a closet. I focus on small wins. Sometimes if you start with a space that’s too ambitious, it can be demotivating.

How did you become a professional organizer?

I was an executive head hunter and I came from a project management background. When I first started my business, I was doing more for corporate clients. I could walk into a space and say, “This filing system isn’t working for you,” or “Your technology setup isn’t working for you.”

Now, who are your clients?

Most folks are in transition — in that young family stage with two working parents, or empty nesters. A lot of my older clients have adult ADD that maybe went undiagnosed when they were children, and for them organization can be a big challenge.

Where do you get the most resistance from people?

Memorabilia and things related to family legacy — maybe a set of china that belonged to Nana that you are never going to use. If you love it, keep it, but you should be displaying it. It shouldn’t be hiding in a box in your basement. Sometimes those decisions are so hard we just say, “Let’s at least find a good place to store it.”

What’s your most useful work tool?

I love a good quality Ziploc bag, with the actual zipper. Original packaging is often really inconvenient. We try to shovel everything back into this original box or bag, and it’s half-ripped and takes up too much space. Take the band aids, the crayons, the broken puzzle pieces out of those ridiculous boxes and put them into a Ziploc bag.

What’s the problem area in your house?

I have two grown sons, so I think for me, it’s their private rooms. That’s true of most parents. You want to be respectful of other people’s space, but I still have to be able to walk in your room and change the sheets.

Published on

Schuyler Velasco is Senior Editor of Experience.


Illustration by Verónica Grech

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