The Saved Piece of Paper that Changed my Career

Recently I was going through my own files to shed excess papers and projects that no longer fit my goals. I came across an article and wondered why I had kept it, until I noticed a note I’d written at the top: “This is the article that inspired me to become a professional organizer.”

The article was from a 1998 American Way, the American Airlines inflight magazine. Back then I managed volunteer teaching programs in Africa and Latin America. I spent a lot of time traveling on American Airlines back and forth from Boston to Miami, and sometimes on to Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This article was the first time I heard the term, "profesional organizer" and learned that it was a growing field. Although I loved my job something in this article spoke to me at the time, so I pulled it out an threw it in my “career” file.

I found that file and article years later, when I was a Product Manager for a large education company and was ready to move on. The article mentioned NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. I joined NAPO, took courses, and realized helping others get organized (and love their homes again) was my passion.

Sometimes it pays to keep a piece of paper—if you know why it’s important. If you have a document that’s important or a piece of memorabilia, jot down the significance. 

Is There an Organizing Gene?

Being organized seems to run in my family. My cousin Janna is super-organized, and she credits that to her mom and our Grandma Nell. I'm sure that I’m as organized as I am because of my mom. Here is what I learned from her:

  • Make a list.
  • Always have paper and a pen handy….in case you need to make a list.
  • Use a calendar (mom’s calendar always hangs in the kitchen and contains all the key family events, birthdays, and things to do).
  • Put things away when you are done.
  • Use labels.
  • Make things beautiful.

Although she didn’t explicitly teach me these strategies, they became ingrained in how I approach my life. Maybe it was seeing the behavior as normal in our home; maybe it was that organizing gene.

Now I see my daughter exhibit a natural inclination towards organization. As a toddler, she taught her classmates how to sort the dried beans by shape and color. As a pre-schooler, she loved to “organize” the dress up clothes at school. Nearly six, she likes to plan ahead for what she’s going to wear the next day. She knows where to put the library books that need to be returned. She loves to have things sorted and categorized. And with reminders, most of the time she’ll put away her toys. Yes, I’m a pretty lucky parent.

Whether it comes from nature, nurture, or both, I hope these organization skills help my daughter navigate the world of elementary school, and later in life.

Please don’t despair if your child doesn’t seem to be naturally organized in the traditional way. Even if your child doesn’t seem to be innately organized, you can model positive organizing behavior. Read some ideas in The Neat Sheet.

Another resource to read is Every Child Has a Thinking Style by Lanna Nakone. This great book details four different organizing styles based on distinct “thinking styles” to help you work with your child’s strengths and recognize their challenges.