Ellen Palestine speaks.

‘Compassionate, responsible, professional:’ Q+A with Ellen Palestine

by Jenny

Ellen Palestine — certified professional organizer and owner of Finally Organized in Livingston, N.J. — hears the same story all of the time.

“People tell me they’re drained, overwhelmed, and the disorder is beginning to interfere with their daily lives,” she said. “They say they can’t function or be productive. Most call when they are desperate. They often describe it feeling like ‘suffocation.’ ”

So what does she tell them? Well, to start, she addresses the clutter. “We have too much stuff,” she explained. “Keeping our lives simple, living with less, and identifying what’s truly important will help anyone get organized, and — more importantly — stay organized.”

Ellen Palestine began her professional career as a teacher. While she loved the kids, she felt something was missing. In the fall of 2000, she helped a friend move after going through a rough divorce. One day, while they were working together, he told her, “You’re really good at this. And you seem passionate about it. I bet you could make a career out of it.”

That statement was a major catalyst for Ellen. She went home that night and looked into professional organizing online. She immediately came across NAPO – the National Association of Professional Organizers. She found out when the next local chapter meeting was, and she went.

“As soon as I got there,” she said, “I knew I was home, among my people.”

Ellen PalestineEllen joined her local NAPO chapter in May 2001. She’s become a Gold Circle Member, and attained certified professional organizer accreditation.

Ellen has held several positions on the NAPO board, and currently sits as the national awards committee chair.

In short, Ellen Palestine knows her stuff when it comes to getting organized.

Ellen Palestine: Talking organizing

Jenny Young: What are some qualities a professional organizer must possess to be successful?

Ellen Palestine: An organizer must be compassionate, responsible, professional, a good listener, and both physically and mentally strong. It’s not an easy gig.

Jenny Young: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your day-to-day work?

Ellen Palestine: Helping people overcome the following obstacles:

  • Most people think they can get organized on their own, but some simply need a helping hand. I often have to help them see that.
  • A lot of people are embarrassed to share their cluttered homes and offices.
  • Many aren’t willing to let go of their possessions.

Jenny Young: What are some of the biggest challenges that your clients face?

Ellen Palestine: Too much clutter, and an almost inseparable attachment to their things. Bottom line: Most clients need help making decisions about what to keep, what to file, what to put in a storage unit, what to donate, and what to throw away.

Jenny Young: What advice would you offer someone who’s trying to get organized?

Ellen Palestine: It didn’t get this way overnight, so you won’t be able to straighten it out overnight. Be patient. Break large tasks down into small, simple ones. Make an appointment with yourself to get tasks done – add it to your daily schedule or your phone.

Start anywhere. Just start. 15 minutes a day is better than nothing. Don’t get distracted during that time. Just because the phone rings, doesn’t mean you have to answer it.

Prepare for your morning the night before.

Put like things together. Minimize paper clutter by making a decision about the paper right away. Change all your billing dates to the same day.

Analyze why you are keeping things. Try to conquer those tendencies. Hold on to what you use and love. Get rid of the rest.

Donate unwanted items to needy organizations or people. If you know something’s going to a good home, it makes it a lot easier to give away.

And most importantly, know when to ask for help, and ask for it.

Thanks, Ellen! Our readers appreciate the advice.

Header photo from The Alternative Press.


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