Sometimes things will be awkward, so be prepared. I’ve had clients undress in front of me to try on clothing to decide whether or not to keep it when cleaning out a closet.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Corriveau.
Melissa Corriveau is a teacher, turned mom, turned professional organizer. She currently owns and operates a professional organizing business called Life with Less Mess. Life with Less Mess provides in-home and virtual organizing services to clients, custom labels to customers, and information on how to run a household to readers and followers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
As a professional organizer, people always ask if my home is always neat or if my bedroom was always clean when I was a child. The very real answer is NO — but after years of considering this, I think I know why.
Messes don’t really bother me until they bother me, then when I notice them and can’t live with them anymore, I get a lot of joy out of transforming a space.
What this meant as a child (and as an adult, to a lesser scale) is that my bedroom would become borderline intolerable until I did a total clean sweep and tidied every single item.
As a teen, I have vivid memories of reorganizing my desk drawers, dresser drawers, closets, everything, unprompted by a parent. I thought this was normal, but now, as an adult, I’m not sure.
My home now is much the same. We day-to-day tidying such as washing the dishes and vacuuming, but the clutter tends to build up until I take care of it all at once.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
When my children were younger and I stayed home with them, I relied a lot on organization and routines to stay sane. I stumbled upon a yearly cleaning and organizing challenge and completed it, taking a lot of joy in my freshly organized spaces. I had a group of fellow stay-at-home mom friends who I thought might benefit the same way I had so I invited them to participate too.
A good portion of them found the challenge helpful and satisfying and participating in it every January became some what of a tradition for us.
A few years in, when my kids were older and I’d pretty much ruthlessly organized every space in my home, someone suggested that I organize for other people. I laughed, thinking that wasn’t a real job someone would pay for, but the thought wouldn’t go away.
After doing some research on the topic, I discovered that professional organizing was, in fact, a job. I did some further research to figure out how exactly I go about becoming a professional organizer, then finally took the leap, registered with the IRS and made it social media-official.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
While it’s always a struggle to take a leap you aren’t sure about, I had stayed home with children for the past 8, or so, years and was ready to do something outside the home. I was also ready to make some extra money for my family. Organizing might help my clients, but, in a way, it was for me, as well. I was very motivated to make this business a reality — I’m not very good at doing things halfway.
I also had the added security of not currently having an income I relied on, which meant I only had gains to make and nothing to lose.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
While not all passions and hobbies can translate into a business, so many can, especially with the possibilities the internet provides. If you have a passion you’d like to get paid for, start by doing research. First, try to determine whether there’s a market for what you do. Second, try and find others doing the same and learn as much as you can about their business. Third, start figuring out exactly how and where you can market yourself to reach your audience.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I’ve got to be honest — organizing professionally has taken away a bit of the joy I once felt doing it, but I still greatly enjoy a good before and after, and I love how I help clients feel lighter and love their homes again.
With this profession, every job is different. No two pantries I organize are the same size, the same shape, or have the same contents, so every day is different and that keeps things fresh.
One other aspect of being a professional organizer is finding the right bin or tool for the space. This helps my job stay fresh, as well, because I can solve problems in different ways by using different materials and systems.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
What I enjoy most about running my own business is making my own schedule and taking jobs I’m interested in.
When clients call me wanting to book an organizing session, I schedule them on days I’d like to work (and days that they’re available). I can work one day a week or five days a week, if I choose.
If I’m getting burnt out and need a break, I can avoid booking sessions for a week and not have to justify it to anyone else. I can also make time to volunteer at my children’s school.
If a client calls me and I feel like they aren’t a good fit for my business or their space isn’t one I want to organize, I can say no.
But this goes both ways. The downside of running my own business is that when I give myself days off, I don’t get paid. If I go on vacation for a week, I’m not going to make money that week as someone with a salary job might.
Additionally, it can be hard to truly relax when you’re a small business owner. There’s literally always more I could be doing to market or improve my business, so I usually feel guilty when I’m not working as hard as I could be.
I try to overcome this by reminding myself that if I push myself too hard, I won’t love this job anymore.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The biggest difference between my actual job and how I thought my job would be is the gross-factor. That’s something you definitely do not see on organizing shows and something I didn’t really experience when organizing my own home.
Organizing can look quite glamourous on those Netflix shows — but often that’s not reality. I’ve stumbled upon everything from bugs, to dead mice, to feces, to mold, and rotten food — and I have to handle it in a professional way.
It makes sense. When people can’t keep up with their spaces, they can’t clean them properly or even keep track of what they have.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
The thought of quitting my small business and getting a “real job” occurs fairly often. It can be tempting to let someone else tell you what to do and receive a regular paycheck for it. To overcome this feeling, I often take a break and think back on the successes I’ve had over the past few years.
I try to be grateful for all that I’ve done, all that I’ve built, and the people I’ve helped. I’m also proud to be running a successful, profitable business and by giving up, I’d be losing a part of myself.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I’ve ever made is showing up to organize at the wrong house. I showed up and rang the doorbell. I was quite confused when no one answered as I had just confirmed the appointment shortly before. I waited for a few minutes, then decided to double check the address. Yup. Wrong house. I hustled back to my car and drive right across the street where I found my client waiting for me. Thankfully she didn’t mind that I was five minutes late.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I’m constantly inspired by my virtual group of professional organizer friends. We met up on Instagram and have an epic group chat going. These ladies are all business owners, some work two jobs, most have children, and they’re all killing it. More than that, though, they are kind and supportive to one another. If someone trolls one of us on social media, we stick up for one another. If someone has a rough day with a client, we’re a safe place to vent. They inspire me.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope I’m making the world a better place!
I often have client donations and bring them to fitting places such as a local pregnancy center.
I give back to nonprofit organizations in my area.
I share ways to be more environmentally friendly.
It’s not a ton, but I’m trying!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Sometimes things will be awkward, so be prepared. I’ve had clients undress in front of me to try on clothing to decide whether or not to keep it when cleaning out a closet.
- You will make mistakes. Own them. I’ve accidentally broken items belonging to clients (a light fixture and a picture frame, so far). They’ve always been very kind and understanding, but I hate it. I reimburse them, if they let me.
- Just say no to clients that aren’t a good fit. Working as a professional organizer brings out all sorts of clients. Most are wonderful and grateful for your help. Others treat you like a slave and ask you to run errands. It can be insulting. Difficult clients aren’t worth the money they’re paying you.
- Charge what you’re worth! I think almost every small business owner charges too little, especially when they’re just starting out. Thinking back to my first job, I paid my babysitter more money than I made to organize after I factored in supplies and travel time. Know your worth and charge it!
- What you see on social media isn’t reality. It can be quite easy to compare yourself to others in your profession, thanks to social media. Many people brag about their successes or share how “booked up” they are, but this is all relative. Social media is a highlights reel of business, it’s not the full story. Try and remember that when someone appears more successful than you.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to start an organizing challenge in which people go space by space through their homes to declutter and organize. It’s truly changed the way I live and I think everyone should do it. It would be the Life with Less Mess movement and at the end, we’d all be so much less stressed out about our homes!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” By Maya Angelou.
I love this quote because it can be applied in so many situations, but it basically just reminds me that I’m doing the best I can and I shouldn’t feel guilty about that. As I grow and change and can do better, then I’ll still do the best I can but my best will have changed.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.