Niche Professional Organizers
Welcome to the first in our series of interviews with Professional Organizers focusing on their unique niche.
This month we interviewed Annette Adamska of Back Up Your Life.
Anne: Annette, Why did you become a professional organizer?
Annette: Quite simply, I wanted to help people.
Longer version: I realized that my skill set—innate and professional—focused on helping people understand their needs, and then working with them to achieve their goals and “get it done”. I began my career as a stage manager in the theater, and the theme of helping people around me achieve a greater goal has remained consistent.
Anne: As a Professional Organizer, your unique niche is in helping others organize their life and legacy. What suggestions do you have for those that feel overwhelmed by this task?
Annette: First, take a deep breath! There are so many facets to life and legacy organizing, it is totally normal to get overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, and a pause, and don’t get discouraged.
Secondly, talk about it! I think it’s an incredible disservice that our society doesn’t talk about end of life care, or wishes, or what’s important to us as we age. As Benjamin Franklin said, “There is nothing guaranteed except death and taxes.” By sharing our core values and wishes with our loved ones, they can make the best decisions for us when the time comes. Medicine can be so wonderful in so many ways—but it begs the question of: “What does quality of life mean to you?” Everyone has a different answer, which is totally OK. It’s about understanding what your priorities are, and making sure that others know them as well.
Lastly: Find trusted advisors to speak with. A good estate attorney and financial planner are key to understanding exactly what you need to have in place, and how to best do it. Remember: we all have our specialties, and the experts will be able to answer questions you have and respond to your scenario. Knowledge really is power; power to understand what the estate and probate laws mean for you, in the state or country you live in.
Anne: Why did you decide to specialize in life and legacy organizing?
Annette: I saw a need, and I’m trying to fill it. In 2015, my mother had a catastrophic accident while traveling overseas that left her paralyzed. She died three and a half months later.
There are many products/ways that people can get their lives in order (much like organizing), but I think the human connection is missing. So having a dedicated organizer shepherd you through the process—and facilitating the uncomfortable conversations—is helpful for many people to move forward and close those loops. Quite simply, my work is to help people plan for what matters.
Anne: What would you advise your client to do as the first step in life and legacy organizing if they haven’t done anything?
Annette: If you haven’t done anything, your first step should be to fill out your state's advanced health directive/medical proxy form. Many of us will likely have an unexpected medical event pop up; having the information written ensures that your wishes are known, even if you aren’t able to speak for yourself. CaringInfo has links to the advance directive form for each state, if you’d like to check it out!
Anne: What is your most surprising discovery about working with clients on their life and legacy organization?
Annette: How much they realize that not having done this work has weighed on them! There is a real sense of space and openness that comes from going through this process. It’s an opportunity for someone to really consider if they are living their lives in according to their values. It’s incredible to be a part of the process.
Anne: What has been your personal challenge with organizing your life and legacy?
Annette: After managing my mother’s estate and all of her personal belongings, I found it surprisingly straightforward to document what different people will receive in the event of my death. What was much more challenging was thinking of a situation where my husband either precedes me, or we die at the same time, and how (and who) would manage our respective estates. (Hoping that’s not the case, but one that needs to be covered!) It led to interesting conversations about our priorities and the wishes for our respective legacies.
Not only did I have an opportunity to evaluate where I’d like my charitable giving to go, but it also led me to add notes for my friends who are beneficiaries in my will. Most of them are to the effect of: “At least half must be used for fantastic travel.” Of course, the receivers of the funds are in no way obligated to actually do that, but them knowing me so well means that I know they would at least consider it!
Anne: Do you have any information or product that professional organizers can share with their clients?
Annette: The Conversation Project: A non-profit dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. CaringInfo (mentioned above). Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande; truly wonderful book that I wish was required reading.
I also am a huge proponent of fire safes! It gives your documents the best chance of surviving a fire or flood, is locked against theft, and some models can be bolted to the floor. In addition, if you are home and either need to grab and go with your most important documents, due to a medical emergency or evacuation, you can!
Anne: Annette, thank you so much for sharing your unique organizing niche it is truly a service that can benefit everyone. What is the best way to connect with you?