An ideal organizer is fairly easy to describe. You want to look for someone who is compassionate, but has good boundaries; someone who has high energy, but is willing to match your pace if you need to move more slowly; someone observant, who can see why some of your organizing challenges occur and who can suggest several inventive ways you might surmount them. Most people want a somewhat flexible organizer; someone not wedded to a “one method fits all” way of organizing, but who will still hold you accountable to at least attempting to maintain your new systems and help you tweak what doesn’t quite work.

But what about the ideal client? Every organizer has his own version of an ideal client. Some organizers serve particular age groups, or focus on one gender or refuse to work with hoarders. When I started out, I worked with women only, and focused on office organization. I’ve expanded my clientele to include almost anyone who feels they could benefit from being more organized, but even with all that situational variety, the clients I continue to work with have some important commonalities.

First, my ideal clients recognize they need organizational help and what’s more, really want and feel ready to change. I don’t take clients who don’t call me themselves. For example, I won’t work with a husband whose wife made the call and wants him to organize the garage. I can’t even get my own husband to organize the garage. I don’t let people buy gift certificates for my services unless they have talked it over with the recipient and it is totally welcome.

A personal organizer is a luxury service provider, much like a personal trainer or life coach. When I organize a business, improved productivity, and therefore income, is obvious. Value is more difficult to gauge with residential clients—stress relief, finding long lost items, saving money because multiples of items already owned aren’t purchased, greater ease of cleaning a less cluttered house, etc. are all ways of gauging value.

But some clients have unrealistic expectations. Generally, the clients with the most chronic organizing challenges are the most unrealistic. They expect an organizer to pull out a magic wand, helping every sock float back to its mate and tuck into the proper drawer. They believe organizers have access to enchanted containers, like a cupboard that expands to hold three times its size in crafting supplies. There’s no magic in organizing. We purge what’s not needed, sort what remains, find logical homes for things, and maintain by consistently putting things away.

My ideal client, like that of my guru David Allen, is someone who is excited about organizing and productivity, and who is thrilled to get every little boost toward a totally streamlined home and business. Chronically disorganized people can be ideal clients if they have reached the point that they are completely ready to adopt a new way of life, stop procrastinating, and start putting things away after they are used. Much like an alcoholic, in order to recover a chronically disorganized person has to see that his life is unmanageable and must change.

My ideal client is a hard worker, someone who stays focused during our sessions and doesn’t often stop to answer phone calls or check e-mail and texts. My ideal client turns off the TV, puts pets out of the room we are working in and gets a sitter for the children.

Recently a client left me alone for two hours while she went to a yoga class, then sat down and took 45 minutes to tell me part of her complex family history. The wasted time itself is not ideal, but even worse was at the end of the session she commented that I was expensive. The ideal client keeps the clock and cost in mind (I do the heavy lifting as much as possible in the time management department) and will take responsibility if she misspent our time together.

Being able to pay the bill is a necessary quality in an ideal client, but sometimes money is much less important than attitude. I have bent over backwards to accommodate clients who were on tight budgets to make organizing more affordable for them because they had such positivity toward the process and were so willing to work hard and make changes. Having plenty of money can often keep a chronically disorganized person on the hamster-wheel of dysfunction, because there are always funds to rent yet another storage unit, buy more containers or hire people to help clean and organize. Also, money can feed a shopping addiction. If the tide of new objects coming into a space as great or greater than the trickle out of items being donated, trashed or consigned, it can completely defeat the organizing process.