From Order in the Courtrooms to Order in Your Rooms
Hi! I’m Heather, lawyer turned professional organizer and founder of BirchTree Organizing, the professional organizing company that helps you make a new beginning by maximizing space, optimizing time and simplifying life. So, how did I go from being a lawyer to starting my own organizing company? Well, it all began with a folksy, but exceptional defence lawyer named Matlock.
For those of you not familiar, Matlock was a television series from the 80s and 90s about a criminal defence lawyer who brilliantly proved his clients’ innocent in dramatic courtroom scenes.
When I was 8 years old, it was one of my parents’ favourite shows and because we only had one TV at the time, whatever my parents were watching, I was watching. It did not take long for 8-year-old Heather to be taken by Matlock’s ability to look at all the evidence, see past what wasn’t important and focus on what was, to prove his client’s innocence. He was always one step ahead of everyone and I wanted to be just like him.
So, at age 8, I decided to be a criminal lawyer. Apart from determining I was better suited to be a prosecutor than a defence lawyer (sorry Matlock!), I never considered any other career path. Well, until recently, but we will get to that shortly.
Living the Dream?
Fast forward a number of years, university and law school graduations and completion of my year of articling (the lawyer’s equivalent of apprenticing) and I had done it: I was a criminal prosecutor, doing what I had dreamed of doing since I was 8 years old. I must have been thrilled, right? Except I wasn’t. It quickly became clear to me that while I enjoyed my legal education, I did not enjoy the actual practice of law. Confronted with the harsh reality my dream job was not what I thought and burdened with A LOT of student debt, I did what any young professional would: I lived in denial and kept working. After all, there were aspects of the work I did like, I was pretty good at it, and I was compensated well. I convinced myself it would be crazy to leave after all those years of school and that it was alright not to enjoy my work. I mean most people don’t, right?
12 LONG years passed this way. I probably would have stayed until retirement if not for the birth of my daughter. You see, being a criminal prosecutor is not a 9-5 job, there are a lot of nights and weekends working and that was now time away from my family. It was much harder to justify staying at a job I did not enjoy AND that regularly kept me away from my daughter. It was this lack of work-life balance that finally made me realize the crazy thing was staying, not leaving.
Life After Law?
The only problem was that while I knew I did not want to do law, I didn’t know what I did want to do. Other than daydreaming about winning the lottery (and the Italian villa I would buy), I had not considered any other way of earning an income since I was 8 years old.
So, I turned to my trusty research skills and a piece of advice I repeatedly came across for people making career transitions was to think about the aspects of your job you do like. Well, my favourite part of being a lawyer was getting a new file and organizing it in a way that made sense; reviewing all of evidence and documents and sorting them into logical categories (because trust me when I tell you they don’t come like that).
When done, everything was ordered and placed in labelled files. I invested this time and effort at the beginning of each file, not just because I loved the aesthetic of a labelled, colour coded file (which I really, really do), but because knowing what I had and where to find it made it easy to identify and focus my efforts on what was important in the case, to quickly respond to new information or events, and ensured I was not scrambling for documents or information when I needed it. In short, creating order at the beginning of a file saved me valuable time, energy and stress as cases progressed.
The other aspect of being a lawyer I enjoyed and excelled at was working with victims and witnesses to prepare them to testify in court. People coming to criminal court are almost always there because something bad happened to them or they witnessed something bad happen. Testifying in court is (thankfully) a foreign experience to most people (and I might add, not at all like it is depicted on tv).
My job was to explain the process, help them understand what to expect and to try and make them feel as comfortable as possible, sharing not only with me but with a courtroom full of strangers, their evidence. It was one of the most satisfying parts of my job to help someone who was afraid or untrusting of the criminal process, come to court and confidently tell their story.
After identifying what I did enjoy about being a lawyer, I turned to the second piece of advice I came across, which was to think about activities I have always enjoyed and lost myself in. When I was little, I organized and re-organized everything: my room, toys, closet, books. I loved the feeling I got when I found a new and better way to store my stuff. When I went away to school, I loved finding ways to neatly fit all my worldly possessions into tiny residence rooms and small student rentals (and I do mean small). I enjoyed organizing so much I organized my mom’s cupboards and closets when I visited home on breaks from school (yes, that is a true story and it happened on more than one occasion). As an adult, I actually enjoyed moving because I knew it meant I would get to spend time organizing a whole new house. I would be up until the wee hours of the morning happily organizing my new kitchen or closet. And I get ridiculously excited when I find a new organizing method that makes life easier and can’t wait to share it with friends and family.
Why BirchTree Organizing?
All signs clearly pointed towards working as a professional organizer: I have always loved all things organizing, I have been an amateur organizer all my life in my own homes, offices and those of friends and family, organizing is a skill I used and honed professionally every day as a lawyer, and I genuinely enjoy working with and helping people. But this alone was not enough to inspire me to start my own organizing business. Sure, I thoroughly enjoy the process of organizing (sort, purge, assign a home and containerize, yes please!), and I experience great joy just seeing an organized space (it is not uncommon to find me returning to recently organized drawers/closets/shelves simply to admire them). But what really motivated me to begin BirchTree Organizing is the chance to share with busy people and families the real return on the investment in organizing: maximizing space, optimizing time and simplifying life.
When I know what I have, where it is, and that it can be easily retrieved, I don’t spend my precious time looking for things, being frustrated trying to get to them or worrying I am forgetting something. When everything is in its place, I am not distracted by what is around me, I can focus on what is important and actually be present in the moment. I feel prepared and on top of things, which makes me calmer and happier in all areas of my life. I believe everyone deserves to live and work in spaces like this, spaces that work for them, not against them.
So that is how, and why, I went from being a lawyer to starting my own Professional Organizing business. Through BirchTree Organizing I get the privilege of helping busy people and families make a new beginning by maximizing their space, optimizing their time and simplifying their lives. It is also why I chose the name BirchTree Organizing; the birch tree is a symbol of new beginnings and fresh starts. Being a Professional Organizer is my birch tree, and I’ve never been happier. I’d love to help you find the birch tree and happiness in your space.