January is naturally a time for getting organized — what with New Year's resolutions and all those winter days stuck indoors. This year, Netflix's Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has elevated decluttering to the level of cultural zeitgeist. If you got a particularly joyful thrill by watching her work her magic from the safety of your living room, you might be wondering: Could I be the next Marie Kondo?
Okay, maybe you don't want to snatch Kondo's crown from her sweet, perfectly coiffed head, but you really could turn your own passion for tidying up into a job. Organizing has been a legitimate, money-earning business for decades (at least!). The National Organization of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) first began 35 years ago and now counts 3,500 members in its ranks, and 98 percent of them are women.
"There are women who had successful careers in a multitude of different backgrounds in the corporate world, psychology, teaching, lawyers, doctors...but many of them made the decision to move to running their own business, because they wanted the flexibility," Jennifer Pastore Monroy, executive director of NAPO, tells Refinery29. "But now, we're seeing millennials who are coming in as a first career route... And I think that's reflective of the gig economy; people are looking to make their own path."
That path can be standard residential decluttering and organizing, or it can be something more specialized, such as helping people before and after big moves, cleaning up estates after a death, downsizing seniors, working with people with ADHD, optimizing business productivity, and even sorting through digital messes. Some organizers work solo, while others prefer to be part of a team. There are side hustlers who just do their thing on nights and weekends, and others who work six days a week. That makes it difficult to say just how much someone can expect to earn in this profession (especially because of geographical variances, too), but the pros we spoke to charge rates ranging from about $60-$150 per hour. Some entrepreneurs can earn in the mid–six figures, especially if they have people working under them.
Most of the organizers we spoke to are happy that Tidying Up is creating more awareness of their industry, and they're not worried about an influx of new wannabes. At the moment, they say there's still plenty of work to go around, and professional organizers are a very supportive community willing to help out newcomers. Just don't expect the work to look like what Kondo does on TV, where she stops by, delivers her wise words, and leaves her clients to follow her rules on their own.
"It's not a magic wand that you wave," says Amanda Wiss, owner of Urban Clarity in New York City. "But if you can be there side-by-side with your client in the trenches, that's the kind of support that people need. It's like having a personal trainer."
Read on for more about what Wiss and her colleagues do and how they got to these jobs they clearly love.