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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 1 year ago

Professional organizers see increase in demand fueled by pandemic, popular culture

Area organizers expect the increased demand to continue into 2021 and beyond.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

After awhile, a temporary table set up in her apartment for working from home no longer worked as a long-term solution for an area lawyer. That’s when she decided to turn to a professional organizer for help.

The lawyer is one of many people Elizabeth Harrison, the founder and owner of Sarasota Home Organizer, has helped lately. The pandemic has created work-from-home challenges for thousands of employees in the region, and working with clients to set up and organize home offices has become a popular request for area professional organizing businesses.

Sarasota Home Organizer even offers an office-organizing package. “I realized there’s such a demand for that, so I wanted to cater a little bit more to that type of client,” Harrison says. The package includes a set number of hours with an organizer along with supplies, such as files and filing boxes.

Help with home office organization hasn’t been the only request professional organizers have been receiving lately. They’ve also been busy organizing after someone moves into a new house, organizing spaces for children to learn at home and for some clients, reorganizing entire houses.

After slow months at the beginning of the pandemic, area organizers are now finding themselves in demand. People have spent more time at home during the pandemic, and that’s likely one driver. Organizing has also entered the national consciousness more in recent years, with books and TV shows about decluttering and organizing racking up sales and viewers. Combined, those factors have led to more business in recent months, and area organizers see increased demand continuing into 2021 and beyond.

Courtesy. Elizabeth Harrison, founder and owner of Sarasota Home Organizer, helps clients organize a range of spaces within their homes.

“I thought when this whole thing started, people would be spending more time at home, and either they will organize themselves or spend so much time at home that they need help, and that’s what happened,” Harrison says. “It’s always easier to have someone come in and do it. Definitely being at home has made people realize they need some sort of guidance and systems set up.”

Harrison has heard other professional organizers nationally are experiencing an uptick in demand, too. “Everyone I’ve talked to in the business, I’ve gotten the impression that people are busy,” she says. “I actually hired a professional organizer for my mother who lives in Pennsylvania. It was hard to find someone who had the availability.”

Harrison's Sarasota Home Organizer team stopped going into people’s homes in March amid stay-at-home orders, but even during that time, she had people calling and asking for their help. She says, “We definitely shut down that month, then as we opened up again, the phone calls started coming.”

Professional help

Kirsten Fisher, the founder and CEO of Imagine Home Organization, based in Pinellas County and serving Tampa Bay and Sarasota, also experienced a surge in business in recent months after challenges earlier in the pandemic. “I would say we shut down for all of May and June, and it was pretty slow in July, but in August it basically started to build back up again,” Fisher says. “I would say as of September, October and November, it’s been really busy.”

Courtesy. Kirsten Fisher, founder and CEO of Imagine Home Organization, based in Pinellas County and serving Tampa Bay and Sarasota, experienced a surge in business in recent months.

A member of the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals, Fisher believes people now understand working from home and children doing schooling from home isn't just going to go away. “When people realized this is the new normal, they realized, ‘We need to figure stuff out,’” she says.

Early on, Fisher examined Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and chamber recommendations, trying to figure out how she could keep her team and clients safe. “We wanted to be leaders in that area,” she says. “We’re a guest in your home. We want to make sure that we’re being as safe as possible.” That meant being flexible with clients who called at the last minute to say they weren’t feeling well or regrouping when a team member told her one of their children might have been exposed to the coronavirus. “We did a lot of being overly cautious for us and for the clients,” she says.

Fisher, who started the business in 2015, says demand was up about 20% during the fall. That tracks with broader trends in the professional organizing industry. “In general, organizing has been increasing,” she says. “Every year I’ve been in business, we’ve gotten busier and busier and added more people to the team. The beginning of COVID-19 was like a pause button on it. Now we’re getting back to that normal increase and some pent-up demand as well.”

Courtesy. Kimberly Reynolds, owner of Sarasota-based Simply Spacial Professional Organizing, moved to the area in January 2020 after building her business for 10 years in Austin, Texas.

This year, Fisher added a new option for her clients — an annual membership program. The program, at $399 a month or $4,550 a year for new clients, gives clients a chance to have organizers arrive throughout the year to help maintain an organized house. “We come for four visits per year with two organizers for a full day,” she says. Clients can choose what they want help with, from a playroom to a pantry to an office.

Kimberly Reynolds, the owner of Sarasota-based Simply Spacial Professional Organizing, moved to the area in January 2020 after building her business for 10 years in Austin, Texas. Because of the pandemic, during some months, she worked with clients virtually. “I had never done it before,” she says. “It was really difficult. I didn’t realize how much I use senses to pick out products and feel where things should go. I did a lot more thinking and preparation with pictures.”

During virtual organizing sessions, she goes through spaces with her clients and talks about what they could do differently and what organizing products might help. Reynolds has done virtual sessions with clients from Texas, Sarasota, Englewood and Port Charlotte. The most popular areas have been home offices and kitchens. 

Courtesy. In the early months of the pandemic, Marla Ottenstein, owner of Professional Organizer Florida, who brands herself as Naples’ Premier Professional Organizer, stayed top of mind with clients by sending handwritten notes.

Reynolds says that during the pandemic, demand has gone up 10%-15%. Clients have noticed that disorganization inhibits their productivity, she says. Another driver? Books and TV shows, such as Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the Netflix series “Get Organized with The Home Edit.” Reynolds says these books and shows have helped bring attention to the industry and what professional organizers do. “When I started 10 years ago, a lot of people didn’t know what professional organizing was,” she says. “It’s been boosted over the last five years.”

Like others in the area, Marla Ottenstein, the owner of Professional Organizer Florida who brands herself as Naples’ Premier Professional Organizer, experienced a drop in business at the beginning of the pandemic, too. “I went from being extremely busy to nothing,” she says. “It was painful.”

Cancellations rolled in from clients who weren’t comfortable having anyone in their home. But during those months, Ottenstein wasn’t idle. She helped clients with grocery shopping and stayed top of mind by sending them emails and birthday cards. “The businesses that have survived and will continue to survive are sensitive and very caring,” she says. “Kindness really does count.”

Ottenstein also offered a promotion she dubbed the “COVID 10,” giving existing clients 10% off their first appointment booked after pandemic restrictions were lifted. She sent emails and handwritten notes explaining the offer to 42 recent clients. “When it started again, it was really a result of my marketing because I got people who then called up and said, ‘I got your email, and I would love to take you up on this,’” she says.

She, like other organizers, is taking pandemic protocols seriously, including wearing a mask, asking her clients to wear a mask and maintaining social distancing. “I wipe down everything,” Ottenstein says. “I’m the queen of Clorox. We’re conducting business a different way.”

Project possibilities

Lately, Ottenstein has found herself working on several move, unpack and organize projects. “I’m seeing an uptick in business now because people are moving here,” she says. And beyond people moving to Naples and other nearby cities, people are also moving within the area, whether upsizing or downsizing. “A lot of people who are older are realizing they have a lot of stuff,” Ottenstein says. “This COVID-19 was a reminder to all of us that we are mere mortals.” That’s been a reality check for many, she says, to get physical possessions and paperwork in order.

Courtesy. Marla Ottenstein, owner of Professional Organizer Florida, who brands herself as Naples’ Premier Professional Organizer, helped one client get an office-den in order after a move. (See "after" photo below.)

At the beginning of the pandemic, Imagine Home Organization helped several clients organize home school and home offices setups. More recently, the company has been working on garages and moves, helping people pack, unpack and sort items. “Movers will do unpacks, but basically, they’re doing an unboxing, and then you have all of the stuff all over the place,” Fisher says. “We’re taking it out, finding a home for it and making sense of how the home should function based on how the clients use their home.”

Beyond home office organization, Harrison says Sarasota Home Organizer has likewise worked on a variety of projects throughout the pandemic, from organizing entire houses to organizing spaces for children. With many children attending classes from home, some families have called on Harrison and her team to help set up designated learning areas. “Now everyone is contained together in close quarters, and it’s important for everyone to have their own space,” she says.

Courtesy. The finished product after Ottenstein helped her client organize an office-den.

Another pandemic-driven demand Harrison noticed? Help with dorm rooms. Parents sought professional organizers to help their children clear out their dorm rooms when classes abruptly ended in the spring and for help getting them settled in dorm rooms if they were headed to college, and parents couldn’t travel with them. “It’s not organizing per se, but they wanted someone of that caliber they could trust rather than a regular moving company,” Harrison says.

Harrison also thinks she’s seeing more demand because some people have additional funds available because of activities they haven’t been able to do during the pandemic — and that’s likely to continue. “I have some clients who say, ‘Well, I was going to spend $10,000 on a family trip, but now instead we’re going to redo the kitchen and hire an organizer,” she says. “They’re able to spend that money improving their lives at home instead.”

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