Jessica Dolan Brings Order to Living Spaces
Jessica Dolan has always been one of those people the type who knows where everything is, never shows up late to an appointment, and maintains an impossibly organized closet. And though shes been that way all of her life, it wasn’t until eight years ago that she realized she could turn her passion for organization into a business.
As a professional organizer (or Bringer of Order, as she likes to call it), Jessica helps people reduce their stress and improve their productivity by helping them organize their spaces and their lives. Her company, Room to Breathe, serves many states along the east coast.
Jessica was gracious enough to talk to me about who she is, what she does, and how she was able to turn her passion into her job.
You’re a self-described neat freak, and you’ve found a way to turn your passion for organization into a business. Personally, I think that’s really cool. How did your idea for your business come about?
It goes back to when I was a child. I still have notes from high school outlining the kind of business I wanted, which at the time, was a retail furniture and decor shop. I think I always knew I would be self employed.
However, it really began when I was working in a job (manager of home medical equipment company) and was burning out quickly. It was at the same time that the organizing shows hit the airwaves and I realized that the things I did so naturally and were made fun of for, was a business opportunity for others. I had always known I wanted to own a business, but I never, ever would have considered organizing if it hadn’t been for the TV shows.
I grew up looking forward to cleaning my best friends bedroom; she was my complete opposite. She thought I was crazy for wanting to spend a Friday night organizing her clothes by color and making her get rid of things that didn’t fit anymore. She still thinks I’m crazy, but now recognizes how organization plays an important role in her life. Funny enough, I just organized her Brooklyn apartment closet this past May.
Everyone who starts their own business goes through least a couple periods where times are hard. What did you tell yourself during those hard times to keep yourself motivated?
Business is hard. A successful business that pays the bills is even harder. I don’t think the hard times ever really stop and if they do, it probably means you have stopped challenging yourself.
I stay motivated by constantly reminding myself that I’m helping others change and/or improve their quality of life. Its pretty amazing to watch the transformation some families and individuals experience.
I also remind myself that I have total control over my schedule and my life. I can take a day off whenever I want, I can vacation whenever I want (not that I do, but I could), I can work in my pajamas from home on certain days. These are all HUGE benefits to being self employed and they help to outweigh the not so great aspects of business ownership.
You call yourself a Bringer of Order, and you work to create spaces that help people breathe. How is what you do different than what an interior designer does?
Great question! I actually work with designers at times. They (designers) don’t necessarily want to be involved in dealing with the clutter and assisting in setting up organizing systems. They enjoy making the rooms beautiful. They will often refer to me to do the decluttering so they can then do their designing.
I like to make rooms both beautiful and functional for the real family or individual living or working in the space. I would never call myself a designer, but I do a decent amount of improvements (custom built furniture, painting, custom closets, selecting decor/lighting/hardware, etc) for my clients. I refer to interior designers only when someone is looking for a very custom space or they need structural renovations.
Are you able to (anonymously) share a story about one of the most challenging clients you’ve worked with, and how you helped them improve their organization and efficiency?
This is a tricky question because often my most challenging clients have a very hard time ever staying organized. I currently have a hoarding client who expresses true desire to have a neat and orderly home. Each session is met with tears of sadness over the homes current condition and its horribly heartbreaking. It goes so much deeper than simply being disorganized. There are often emotional and physical abuse experiences from their pasts keeping them in their cluttered (and often dangerous) situations.
This particular client desperately seeks a more simple life, but is restrained by her past and financial limitations. The house has been out of control for a very, very long time and isn’t an overnight fix. Well, it could be if my team and I went it, but that would likely be detrimental to the client.
Ive taught her some basic principles to keep the clutter at bay while we work through things. She is now implementing things like:
- For every item brought into the house two must go
- She is no longer allowed to shop for items she doesn’t absolutely need for day to day life and must shop from her own house first
- She takes a couple of minutes at the end of each day to put things back where they belong
- She has removed some of the flat surfaces that tend to accumulate things
I’m going to be honest with you, my work space is a disaster. I have papers all over the place, bills I’m trying to ignore, and a couple empty coffee mugs that haven’t made their way to the dishwasher yet. How would you help me get organized?
I always meet with a client first, at no charge, to view the space(s), discuss frustrations/challenges, and determine goals for moving forward. Its during this session, that I ask you don’t clean up for, that I start to develop a sense of why things are the way they are. You must also want to change or my suggestions will accomplish nothing.
From there I would ask you a series of questions to explore your thought process and watch how you work in your space. Its from this information gathering that I develop a system that will work for you. Without knowing more about you and your space its hard to give you specific ideas.
I would though encourage you take a few minutes at the end of every day to put things back where they belong and review your next day. I would also encourage you to only use one notebook, in most cases, to track things.
Aside from being neat and organized, what are a few of the qualities that people would need to have if they wanted to have a successful career in this type of business?
To do this successfully you must remember that your clientele is basically your total opposite. You cant expect them to jump right into organization and comprehend it. You must be compassionate and understanding of the hows and whys of how they got to where they are.
You must be able find solutions that work for each individual and not apply cookie cutter solutions. What works for you doesn’t mean it will work for your client.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
To be who you are first and you will attract those to you that you want to either work with or spend time with. Its so true!!! Being truly authentic provides an ease to life that I hadn’t experienced before.
What does a typical day at the office look like for you?
I’m not sure I want to classify myself as a workaholic, but I do have those tendencies. I love what I do and its often hard for me to shutdown. I tend to get up around 7am, make coffee, and proceed to check emails, do some marketing, follow up with clients, and do billing before my first client starts at 10am (most days). I’m not in my office much because most of my time is spent in other peoples homes and offices.
I then typically return around 5-7pm and return phone calls and emails from the day. I may also need to do a little research or shopping for clients, but I try to end my day at 8pm despite where I stand on things. I take about 5-15 minutes to put everything back where it belongs; leaving out the one thing I want to start with in the morning. Its so great to enter a clean, fresh office space in the morning.
What advice would you offer to a college student who has a passion for organization and would like to turn that passion into a career?
I would encourage him/her to take business management classes and get familiar with basic marketing and accounting principles. This will be important during start-up when funds may be low and you cant afford professional services. However, I didn’t go to college, but do have an Associates Degree in Business Administration and Marketing. I learned many things in those two years that I still use to this day.
I would encourage the person to intern for a small business and get some inside perspective and experience. And most importantly, find some great mentors who have a variety of skills.
Thanks so much for your time!
You’re most welcome! Thank you!