“You can never have enough of these tools,” Julia Child once proclaimed, referring to her wall of neatly organized copper cookware. Her kitchen—now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—had a pegboard wall with an outline for each sauce pan and pot. Me, I have water bottles crammed in three different cabinets, kids’ plates sloppily separated from adult plates, and what my family refers to (with dread) as the “Tupperware cabinet.” I’ve perfected the ability to open its door just wide enough to (hopefully) find a matching container and lid, but not so much as to allow a plastic avalanche onto the floor.

While I’m not in love with my kitchen, a reno isn’t in my foreseeable future. So for now I live with a broken built-in microwave (extra storage!) and non-adjustable cabinet shelves (sturdy!).

To have a fresh pair of eyes evaluate how I’ve distributed my kitchenware, I hire pro organizer “Deb.” I’m expecting her to waltz in, open a cabinet, and announce that Julia Child is wrong: You can have too many gadgets, gizmos, and (gulp!) plastic lids. I brace for an interrogation, and I make a mental list of items I’m willing to sacrifice.

“Shall we start….here?” Deb asks as she picks one of my three water bottle cabinets. “Are you keeping all of this?” she asks in a curious-but-not-judgey tone. Hmmm, shouldn’t she be telling me what to do? Or questioning why I have 17 water bottles and telling me which 10 are going to Goodwill? I offer up a few things I’m ready to throw out, not even worthy of donation. One by one we tackle the cabinets, sometimes restacking and shuffling them several times just to get everything to fit just right. We don’t throw out very much, though, which disappoints me. I’m ready for a purge worthy of a TLC special.

Deb’s most common question is, “How often are you using this?” At first I feel defensive, as if she is accusing me of owning frivolous objects that I really do use. “The salad spinner? Oh, sure, every day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I sure do eat a lot of salad!” After she asks me the same thing a few more times, I realize she’s putting the less-frequently-used items in less-accessible spots. My pasta makers are pushed to the back of a cabinet, the salad spinner goes up front.

“Do you know you have a pot-less lid?” she asks. I flash back to a kitchen incident nearly 20 years ago when a roommate “overcooked” food to the point we had to toss the pot. Somehow I’ve moved the lid to six more homes without its dearly departed partner. We send it to the great pot rack in the sky.

At one point Deb pulls open a utensil drawer, glances at the items, shuts it, and announces that I’m doing great. Huh? I ask her what a disorganized drawer looks like. “In a home really needing help, I’d find a hammer, tape, napkins, all sorts of things that simply don’t belong,” she tells me. My four potato peelers are safe for now.

During our two-hour session, I realize that maybe my kitchen isn’t as disorganized as she’s used to dealing with. She mentions several times that I’m off to a great start. While we didn’t do the complete overhaul that I had expected, Deb brings some fresh ways of stacking and alternating items that help free up some much-needed cabinet space. Water bottles went from standing upright to lying on their sides like stacked firewood. Drinking glasses now alternate between upside-down and right-side-up, which helps open up enough space to merge kid cups with adult cups.

I decide that hiring an organizer most benefits those who simply don’t know where to begin or can’t seem to get themselves started. I found myself much more willing to throw away and donate items while Deb was there than if I did it on my own—she didn’t even nudge me to put anything in the “get-rid-of pile,” I put the pressure on myself.

Cost: $150 for two hours of work

What We Learned:

  • If you don’t involve a spouse in the organizing event, plan ahead so you can ease him or her into the new kitchen configuration. When my husband came home hangry—with hangry kids and a trunk full of groceries, ready to cook dinner—and entered a reorganized kitchen, he was…hangry about it.
  • Give yourself time to adjust. We probably moved too quickly to return some items to their original spots (see the bit above about the hangry spouse).
  • Clean and put away all dishes and cookware before your organizer arrives.
  • Paying an organizer can motivate you to actually tackle a project.