I often meet with clients, and they're feeling so overwhelmed that they're crying," Nadine McCoy says.
One might assume McCoy is a psychologist, but while understanding her clients' personality is crucial to her job, she is part of a burgeoning industry of professional organizers.
McCoy, who moved to New Orleans from Florida after marrying a Louisiana native, opened Organized Impressions (504-421-2569; www.-organizedimpressions.com) in January 2012. The business helps customers organize everything from office paperwork or a kitchen pantry to a child's art-project area — and maintain the order.
"By the time they call me, they're already in over their head, so there is often a need for hand-holding," says McCoy, who also is a space planner. "People would be surprised at how successful some people are at work, but they have just this huge wall between work and home, and home is just, 'Something I can deal with later.'
"I get to know the client first, just meet them, see if we're a good fit, because I will be working on such a personal basis — sometimes, I'm literally going through their underwear drawer."
While fairly new to New Orleans, professional organizers have built a niche industry over the past 25 years, with the most established markets in New York and California. Exact services and locales vary, but one constant of the business is the need for professional organizers to understand a client's psyche.
Professional organizer Jill Pollack, host of HGTV Canada's decluttering show, Consumed, provides an example of this methodology. With a degree in psychology from Columbia University, Pollack says poor relationships with people lead to an over-attachment toward things — which leads to clutter, frustration and, in the worst cases, inner chaos and turmoil.
McCoy recalls going to events in New Orleans and hearing reactions ranging from, "You're exactly the person I've been looking for!" to "I can't believe people pay for you to do that."
After running an ad on Groupon, demand for McCoy's services skyrocketed. "People needing organization started coming out of the woodwork," she says.
McCoy understands the root cause of clutter because she became a "mini-hoarder" when, as an 11-year-old, she was allowed to bring only one toy when her family fled East Germany. "I began to hold onto everything," says McCoy, now 35. She attributes overcoming her hoarding habits to her parents' staunch German discipline.
"There is this belief in America that more is always better," McCoy says. "So often when a person decides they want to get organized, they run out to the big-box stores and buy all types of storage containers. They think that's the solution. Then they keep getting frustrated, and then angry, when it doesn't work. What you should really do is begin with your belongings first, and then consider what would be the best way to arrange them."
Beyond examining the reasons behind (and thus the solutions for) an individual's disorganized, cluttered work or home space, McCoy says, "Organizing is more of a training program than anything else, creating these basic rules for your life, such as, 'If you get something out, you put it back.'"
A crucial habit to develop is to devote 10 minutes a day to decluttering, starting with one corner of your home or office and removing things you don't need, she says. "People say all the time, 'I just don't have time,' because they'll look at a room full of clutter and think, 'It'll take me all weekend, all week, to go through all that,'" McCoy says. "But if you think about how much time you lose looking for a missing item, add that up on a daily basis and it's a huge amount of wasted time.
"Besides understanding the whole psychology as to why it is they hold onto these things they don't need, the habit of daily decluttering needs to be created in order to be best organized. ... Organization is an actual habit created over and over and over."
McCoy started out as an interior designer. She noticed that many designs did not account for how people actually worked and lived within a space, especially in homes with active, school-aged children, a growing client base for McCoy.
"Having a cluttered house when you have children is one of those things that you won't get around, even if you are really organized," she says. "So I advise the parents to have a good idea of what it is they want in their house, and from that develop ground rules for what will and what won't be allowed in the house."
Such personal knowledge, discipline and habit is necessary for someone to become more organized — and pass along those tools to their children. "Kids are sponges," McCoy says. "If you show them disorganization, they will know disorganization, but if you show them the habit of decluttering, the habit of being organized, then those are the habits they'll carry to an organized, productive life."