Spruced Up Spaces Ann Arbor

I’m Training to Become an Organizer Coach

Posted at November 3, 2015

In the fall of 2014 I enrolled as a student in a coach training program for professional organizers. This training program has shifted, in a seismic way, how I think about and approach my work with clients. I want to share a little bit about this experience with you.

I was feeling stuck. Just like my clients.

There tends to be a familiar rhythm as my clients and I progress through their organizing projects. The rhythm varies, of course, but it’s generally marked by a gradual movement from a place of “stuckedness” to a place of “flow.” In other words, we identify the client’s problem, design and implement strategies for fixing the problem, and – by and large – those strategies work. The client overcomes their challenge, gaining confidence and skills along the way.

In some cases, however, the rhythm proves elusive. There are some wonderful, dear clients with whom I’ve logged many hours. And yet despite mutual commitment and hard work toward their goals we’ve been unable to crack through the “stuckedness” and unable to step into the “flow.” As a professional dedicated to helping people achieve their goals this has weighed mightily on me. It’s felt like I’ve failed my clients, like I haven’t been smart enough or clever enough to unearth the hidden key to their mysterious lock. I’ve thought, “What am I missing? What is it about these strategies that isn’t working? How do I guide them from here?”

Enter coaching. At the annual conference of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization in September 2014 I heard Denslow Brown present a session on coaching. I sat through her talk and felt electrified, I’m not kidding. It was as if a previously invisible door had been opened right in front of me. “This is the key I’ve been missing! This is how I can help my stuck clients!” I came home from that conference and immediately enrolled in Denslow’s coach training program.

Why the seismic shift?

Before coach training I saw myself as the expert. People hired me, I thought, because I had the answers. I thought they wanted (expected) me to step into their lives and demonstrate some rarefied mastery over their disorganized situation, in the process tidily solving their problems. After all, I was the professional, right? Coach training has helped me to see that I am not – I cannot ever possibly be – the expert that I’ve just described. I’m learning that my clients are their own experts. They are the source of their own best organizing solutions, not me. As an organizer I can still bring my organizing expertise to the table and share from it strategically. But as an organizer coach I can now use the coaching conversation to help my clients reach superior outcomes.

Before coach training I did not appreciate the power of awareness. I believed that a “thorough enough” conversation with a client about their challenges and goals was adequate foundation for jumping into the hands-on work – the action! where the change happens! – and that once the physical organizing work had been completed the client would naturally “find the flow.” I was wrong. As a kinesthetic learner myself I was blind to the reality that for some people the hands-on work is not the key at all. These clients need something different. They need to think about, talk about, and otherwise spend time processing their challenge in a supported and mindful way. In doing so they become more aware of their situation and more able to examine their habits, beliefs, and other dynamics relating to their challenge. As their “awareness cup” fills up and up and up, it’s bound to eventually brim and spill over. When it spills, this is when the client experiences a new insight, an “aha!” moment, seeing their situation from a new perspective, seeing an opening for change. It’s these pivotal insight moments that then lead to action, and to subsequent learning. What I have just described here – the awareness/insight/action/learning cycle – is why I find coaching so elegant and so awesome. By simply increasing awareness, bit by bit, the coaching conversation can set off a chain reaction of right, client-driven change.

Before coach training I considered myself to be talented listener. I’d been told by people close to me that I “had a natural way with people,” “could make friends with any stranger,” and that “people open up to you so easily.” I’d chalked these things up to my natural compassion for others, my out-going but fundamentally introverted personality, and the fact that as an only child I’d spent a lot of time learning to talk with adults. I’d assumed these things would make me a great coach. Coach training has helped me to see how woefully narrow I’d imagined the role of coach. Being a coach is not just about providing an ear and offering bits of encouragement. Coaching involves a robust, nuanced, and powerful set of receptive and active skills which are to be practiced, practiced, practiced. These skills entice me! I’ve witnessed them being used by my instructors and it’s a beautiful thing to see them so artfully and effectively employed. I aspire to one day employ them so gracefully in service to my clients.


The binders containing my coach training materials. These are like gold to me!

The binders containing my coach training materials. These are like gold to me!

What’s next?

Later this week I will begin the third major course of my coach training, Brain Based Coaching. This course follows on two previous courses, Coaching Essentials and Strengths Based Coaching. In addition to these core courses, I’ve also participated in a skills building lab and a client enrollment course. As a student in this program it’s been scary at times and I’ve felt way out of my comfort zone. But, thanks to the safe space that our instructors provide for learning and the support of my fellow students, I’ve been reminded of the amazing, good things that can result when one trusts, opens up, is curious, shows vulnerability, and collaborates.

I am really excited for this next step in my learning journey. I know it’s going to help me help my clients to find their flow. I look forward to giving you another update on my coaching progress down the line.

Warmly, Nia

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