Organizing With You Teaches Chicagoans How to Address the Mess
Pooja Gugnani has been an organizing specialist for as long as she can remember – an unusual child who, unlike most, meticulously kept her room in order and went on to make organization her profession.
She now runs her own business called Organizing With You, focused entirely around helping people put their messy lives in order. Gugnani comes into a client’s personal or professional space and implements organizational systems that give them the power to address the mess -- if they’re willing to put in the effort.
We sat down with Gugnani to discuss some of the biggest organizational issues she sees in the workplace, how she came to be a professional organizer in Chicago, and which famous figure she’d most like to help organize their space.
How did Organizing With You come to be?
It really goes back to my childhood. I was a very organized child, much to the chagrin of my friends. Most kids have messy rooms, and I tried to keep my toys in order. I used to not like it when kids came over because I didn’t want them to mess up my functional systems.
As I grew up I really liked order and efficiency in my life and that kind of transformed into my job where I worked as a marketing and communications executive. My background is in political science, public policy and administration economics, and obviously it’s nothing related to what I’m doing, but it kind of was because I was a very organized person.
My physical office is very organized obviously, but I even had a very unique way of managing my schedule, of being able to conduct my meetings, being able to manage workflow. I was able to use that in helping to channel that with some of the operations.
I started wearing a lot of different hats. My executive director kind of noticed that and asked me, “Can you help do some of this -- manage the internal operations?” He saw that I had these organization abilities.
I helped people manage their offices and I used to informally help coworkers, family friends, and family members get organized in any areas of their work or life. I used to notice that I had this knack or this ability, but I never knew what to do about it.
I got married and relocated to Chicago and did the same thing for our condo. I completely revamped it without having to remodel it, without having to break walls or do anything. I felt like I completely gave it a facelift, just by organizing and giving it systems and by buying a few organizing products. It really improved our lifestyle.
My husband couldn’t believe the difference basic organization systems could make. He saw it as a complete 180 from how he lived before. I began to realize that I’ve been doing this and there had to be a way that I could do this for other people.
I started seeing if something like this existed. I found the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and started partnering with them. I took some courses and workshops, started reading books on organizing. I tried to hone my natural ability.
I began doing it informally. I wanted to gain some practice, so I still wasn’t charging people. I didn’t want to start charging people until I was confident in my ability to say that I was making a difference. I haven’t stopped since. I’ve been able to branch off in so many different ways that even I wasn’t able to imagine at the time. It’s just been very rewarding for me.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I think when I found NAPO and discovered that there’s a profession that exists around this. I just needed to know that there are people who do this.
I found out that there were 4,000 professional organizers in the country, and there’s a name for this, people do this, it’s a livelihood, and they’re helping people. That’s all I needed, just a validation to know that there’s a professional organization that supports this. Otherwise I probably would’ve done it a long time ago. I just thought maybe it was a hobby and I didn’t know that I could make it a profession.
What are some of the biggest organizational issues you commonly see in the workplace?
One of the hardest things is discipline -- that’s always the hardest part. They think there’s a magic potion, that this person’s going to come in and shake their magic wand and make things go from disorganized to organized.
I tell them we can set up some systems, but the main thing is where you guys come in and meet me with the discipline part of it. 60 or 70 percent is me setting up the good systems, but 30 percent is you maintaining it.
That’s the hard part; I have to be the accountability partner. It’s hard when clients don’t stick with that.
With most people it’s not that they’re disorganized people. The problem is time and space, especially in the city. A lot of times people are overrun. They don’t know where to start.
And there are a lot of people who don’t know that professional organizers exist. They’re not comfortable hiring one because they think it’s a luxury. The mindset still needs to change. It’s just like when you hire a personal trainer or a personal accountant; they’re an expert who’s trained and can come in and change your life.
If you give someone good systems, that can last you for a lifetime. It’s also about trying to get people to understand that organizing is not just tidying up. It’s not just about that -- anyone can do that. It’s about systems. It’s about giving things a logical flow. It’s about understanding what you need out of your space and what the space can provide for you.
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is when, personally and professionally, everyone around me can say that I’m doing a good job. Being a good wife, a good daughter, and a good professional organizer to my clients, when I’m fulfilling all my roles.
I’ll be happy when I’m being myself, when I’m able to make time for my goals, personal and professional. When I’m just content, when I’m not trying to seek the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.
If you could choose one famous figure’s space to organize, who would it be?
Probably President Obama’s. I’d love to see what his space is like, organize his closet or his office. I’d love to see what the Oval Office is like. I’d like to see if his systems are intact, if his filing systems are good. I’ve always wondered that because you think about the president sitting behind his desk but you wonder what his style is like.
I work with so many offices. I wonder if the top guy has the right systems -- if he’s got a place for everything and everything in its place.
What’s in store for the future of Organizing With You?
I’m hoping to expand to a few more cities. We’re thinking about expanding on the East Coast and having an Organizing With You in New York, Philadelphia, and D.C. and hiring some people to manage the operations there.
I’m writing and working on an eBook, just trying to expand my reach and also trying to offer more virtual organizing. I did a lot of that when I was internationally based last year, and it was pretty popular.
I think if I can continue doing that that would be great: spreading my wings and seeing what’s possible.