Get it together

Mary Cate Claudias, left, a professional organizer and CEO of Charm City Organizers, helped Lindsay Fitch-Alexander, right, a pediatrician, organize her home office. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / January 7, 2014)

The first time Lindsay Fitch-Alexander-Alexander heard about professional organizing, she thought, "Wouldn't that be the best thing ever?" Several years and many piles of paper later, the Catonsville pediatrician and mother of two hired Mary Cate Claudias, owner of Charm City Organizers, to help her manage the paper flow.

"I have young kids in school with papers coming in and had a desk and computer area drowning in a sea of paper," she says.

Claudias initially helped her sift through her home office area, creating systems that would allow her and her family to stay organized over time. Fitch-Alexander then asked Claudias to move on to other areas of the home.

"We've done kid study space organizing, the kitchen, the basement playroom and sewing area, and a couple rounds of office organizing," says Fitch-Alexander, explaining that now that she has Claudias as a partner — and a good system in place — her space is tidy and she, her husband and kids are able to keep it fairly well organized on their own.

Fitch-Alexander is not alone in her desire to keep everything in place. "Getting organized" is the second most popular New Year's resolution for 2014 — beat out only by "lose weight," according to the University of Scranton's Journal of Clinical Psychology,

But according to the same poll, only 8 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions keep them. Like dropping pounds, getting organized is easier to talk about than to accomplish.

Katherine Trezise says many of her clients tried to organize on their own for years before calling her.

"They purchase organizing books," saysTrezise, owner of Absolutely Organized in Cockeysville. "Some of their libraries rival mine! But it doesn't really help. They don't know where to start, so they don't start."

Experts say people have organization problems for a variety of reasons. Some, like those featured on the television show "Hoarders," grapple with chronic disorganization because of underlying psychological problems. Much more commonly, people have simply fallen into bad habits over time or because of a new life situation, like a recent move or a new baby.

For those with "situational" reasons, identifying the need and deciding to hire a professional organizer can be an obvious decision. But those who have bad habits may have a harder time recognizing that it's time to hire professional help.

"If projects continue to be put off because they seem daunting or overwhelming," consider hiring a professional organizer, says Claudias, noting that many of her clients are "Normal Joes who call us because their basement is their nemesis."

The process of working with a professional is customized according to client needs — it can range from over-the-phone consultations to complete home overhauls with extensive follow-up. Typically, the process starts with an initial consultation and needs assessment, during which the organizer asks a lot of questions about goals and how the space is used.

After the initial consultation, the next step is to sort and purge. For many, this is where the real value of hiring a professional shines. "It's very difficult to make decisions about things, particularly when everything has a story behind it or is unique," says Trezise. Having an objective outsider participate can be helpful.

After de-cluttering and purging, organizers help clients set up systems to stay organized over time. "Maintenance is by far the most important step," says Claudias. "Anybody can come in and clean your space, but really understanding the skill of organizing is the important thing."

Professional organizers stress the importance of adopting strategies that fit your current life instead of trying to change your life to fit a strategy. "Unless it matches your lifestyle, you're not going to keep up with it," says Claudias.

After moving into a new house and starting a full-time job, Danelle Buchman of Clarksville found herself with a cluttered basement filled with unpacked boxes.

Two six-hour sessions with Jill Prevatt, owner of Arrange Professional Organizing, transformed the space into an organized room, including a living area, small office and well-organized overflow kitchen storage.

Buchman says she's still using the lessons she learned to keep the space tidy, including Prevatt's system of storing similar objects together for ease of access. "We continue to use the process," she says. "A year later, we're still using the 'like with like' advice."

Ultimately, organizers promise that taking the time to get organized, either on your own or with professional help, is worth it. It saves time (no more searching for the keys) and money (no more late fees for lost bills). But most important, they say, being organized leads to better relationships and overall well-being.

Because the process varies widely from client to client, professional organizers' fees are sometimes hard to pin down. Claudias says depending on client needs, she typically charges about $65 to $85 per hour. Prevatt says an eight-hour project using her services typically costs between $500 and $700.