When you’re a professional organizer, you work with a lot of different people. Families, singles, twentysomethings, and senior citizens. You meet all sorts and you change their lives for the better. It’s never too early or too late to get organized. I love seeing what my clients have waiting for me behind closed doors. It's so exciting.
It didn't take me long to notice how clients from different generations organized. For example, I remember doing some organizing for older folks and I noticed the following:
A lot of things hand-written on small paper (especially phone numbers).
A large collection of bags (paper and plastic).
And things kept in plastic containers rather than on a shelf or permanent place.
This isn’t to say the way older people organize is bad. Many of my younger clients are just as guilty about hoarding bags and containers. It’s a testament to the organizing industry itself and how it didn’t really spike until the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Professional organizing as an industry
Professional organizing didn’t emerge as an industry until 1984. But like most budding businesses, it took a while for it to get up on its feet. People didn’t understand the need for a professional organizer. A stranger coming into your home to tell you what you’re doing wrong?! The audacity!
But then something happened. Like most trends, all it took was the right information getting into the right hands. Suddenly, professional organizing became a venture worth investing in.
According to CareerExplorer, membership on the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals (NAPO) increased by 400% between 1995 and 2016.  What began as a small group is now one of the leading sites where you can find and hire a professional organizer near you.
Newer generations like anything they can find online and learn more about. Now that professional organizing is mainstream, younger clients are more willing to seek help. Their chaotic lives too often get in the way of making their home the way they dreamed about. They’re happy to hire a professional to help out. Seniors aren’t directly opposed to the idea, but most are set in their ways. They don’t feel the need to learn new tricks.
Still, there are organizing businesses specifically dedicated to helping seniors downsize. Their adult children encourage them to take the leap. The older clients I worked with have been very receptive and grateful for the process.
Professional organizing in the media
Following the spike in NAPO membership, the media took notice. And as it often does, took advantage. One of the first television programs to focus on the topic of organizing someone’s home was Clean Sweep. It ran on the TLC network from 2003 to 2005. Another popular TLC organizing show was Mission: Organized, which also premiered in 2003 and ran until 2009.
The interest in organizing shows made its way all the way to the streaming powerhouse, Netflix. In 2019, they premiered Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, an eight-episode series about the popular KonMari Method. And in 2020, they followed up with Get Organized with The Home Edit.
Books, magazines, and other outlets began jumping on the trend. Organizers were invited to go on local or national news channels to give their best and quick tips.
Trends like Swedish death cleaning and Minimalism began to spike.  If you wanted help in a specific area, chances are there was a professional organizer out there for you. While the pandemic certainly hindered many businesses, organizers trialed virtual organizing. And you know what? It worked.
This new form allowed us to reach out-of-state clients and elevated our worth.
Organizing for seniors vs. younger adults
What does all this have to do with the generational difference in organizing? Let’s face it, your parents and grandparents could have been the most organized people you knew. So why is there such a difference in the way young people organize compared to older people?
It really all comes down to the stuff they decide to keep.
For example, how many photographs do your parents or grandparents have? My guess is a lot. Now, how many do you have? With today’s digital means, most young people don’t have as many printed photos. They instead keep them in digital scrapbooks. My older clients have boxes of photos and many scrapbooks.
Neither one is worse than the other. Trust me, my younger clients have an abundance of something. But years ago hard copy photos were the only option. Generational organizing comes down to technological advances and access.
I mentioned earlier that I find many handwritten notes in my older client’s homes. I can understand why they have more of this than my younger clients. Before smartphones, the main way we kept track of contacts, events, and notes was to write everything down. It was common to keep a notepad beside the phone for messages. This is why paper riddles my older client's homes.
I find my younger clients collect a lot more items like clothes, storage containers, and duplicates. They may have more than one kitchen utensil they don’t use that often. They also need more tips on how to keep similar items together to locate them faster.
We’re living in an instant gratification world. If we don’t know something, we can look it up on our phones. We’re afraid of letting things go because what if we need them someday. Some of my older clients are the same, but they’re more willing to let something go if it doesn’t serve them.
When organizing for seniors, the best thing is not to try and force them to go 100% digital. To them, hard copies are the way to go. Here are some tips to share with them:
Sort through paperwork and toss any old receipts or warranties.
Encourage them to create a medication list for easy access.
Create a binder for them to keep all documents in. Label by categories such as “Insurance,” “Medications,” “Important Phone Numbers.”
Leave it somewhere they can easily reach it and label the outside in big, bold lettering.
Teach them about keeping floors clear to decrease tripping hazards.
Move storage somewhere safe that is still accessible.
Seniors may not be the type to appreciate the rainbow technique most organizers use. Younger clients prefer aesthetically pleasing systems. Older clients are looking for systems that’ll be easy to keep up with and make finding things easier.
This isn’t to say some older clients won’t appreciate a fancy-looking bookcase. But most just want to get their paperwork in order and their unwanted items out.
There is a world before professional organizing and a world after. This is the leading cause of why generations organize so differently. Helping seniors declutter is a massive undertaking, but it’s amazing to see how lighter they feel. Not to mention how happy they feel knowing they won’t leave their families with a hoarded home.
One of the services I offer is downsizing. I can also help with photo organizing and digital editing services. Find out more here.
Do you organize differently than your parents? Is there something they did that you didn’t like? How did you change it to fit your needs?