Happy almost Thanksgiving! With every passing year I count my blessings – large and small. 2021 has been a great one. Definitely not perfect and faced some challenging times, but overall great. Thankful for it all – good and bad – and will share more in an annual wrap up to come soon. Hope you have something special planned for Thanksgiving!
This year, I have something extra special to celebrate.
There’s been many milestones along this professional organizer journey, but I can truly say successfully hurdling this one…I didn’t see coming for a while. And didn’t think I would pass the exam on the first go round. But as of last week I received my official notice that I’m a Certified Professional Organizer® and can now share the designation with everyone.
Still can’t believe it!
After all these years. From blogging about organizing to digging in / doing the work to our positive social media community to a keynote speaker to a Better Homes & Gardens Field Editor…and so many wonderful families / clients along the way. I can’t believe this happened…all of it!
Sharing the experience is important for a few reasons.
First, I’m proud of this major accomplishment…it’s not often I celebrate something I’ve accomplished. You guys know I’m here to encourage you too. If I could pass this exam between everything else on my overflowing plate – you can do ANYTHING your pretty little head thinks of.
Second, there was an enormous amount of time and effort that went into studying and prepping.
Third, I’d like to share some of the details with anyone who may have hopes of becoming a CPO® …maybe you did a google search and landed here. I can’t share all the details because I’m held to a code of ethics, but I can share a little behind the scenes and what I’d suggest you do to prep for this board exam.
And most importantly, I’d like to introduce the fellow members of my study group…who all passed the exam as well.
WHAT IS A CPO®?
As defined on the NAPO website – this is the technical stuff…
CPOs earn their credential by proving they embody the founding principles, have the requisite experience, adhere to the BCPO Code of Ethics, and comprehend the entire body of knowledge required to pass the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers® (BCPO®) examination.
In case you’re wondering what the BCPO is…
The BCPO is the certifying body whose mission is to advance the credibility and ethical standards of the Organizing and Productivity industry. The CPO designation was developed by NAPO and is operated under the auspices of the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers (BCPO). BCPO follows the accreditation guidelines set forth by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA).
I’ve been a member of NAPO for a very long time. Long before I even considering a blog about organizing, I would occasionally peruse the website with dreams of one day being a member. The certification page was something I’d click from time to time. There’s quite a few pre-requisites to apply for the exam / be eligible.
To further clarify, it’s not required you be a member of NAPO to be a professional organizer. For me, it was about having a community of peers I could connect with / ask questions, build professional relationships, have access to education, attend conferences, and more. I wanted to be part of a professional organization. There’s not a downside to being a member – it’s only positive!
There’s lots of opportunities to get involved and volunteer. There’s a National membership, which I’m a part of…and there are local chapters around the country. I used to be a member of my local SF Bay Area chapter, but I was paying annually for both memberships…yet didn’t have time to commit to helping or doing anything local. I was busy building this business. There’s in-person and virtual meetings, field trips, conferences and more. But I had to step back for the moment because there’s too much on my plate.
WHY TAKE THE EXAM?
Let’s get to the good stuff.
THIS was the question I deliberated over for weeks on end. What’s the point?
Why do it? Will it make a difference? Change anything? Be a positive?
The exam wasn’t a goal on my radar for 2021. I had other aspirations / goals for the business. But, insert my dear, sweet, lovely colleague Lauren Mang of Let Me Organize It. She’s based in the Bay Area too and reached out asking to meet for coffee. It was early in 2021.
We met and she said she was thinking about taking the exam this year and that I should as well. She had ideas of pulling together a study group and shared her reasons why it would be the perfect year to do it. She’s VERY involved in NAPO and the local / national chapters so she does have her finger on the pulse. More so than me in that regard. Her opinion greatly matters to me.
As we sat having coffee, we tossed it all out on the table. What’s the point? Is this going to make an impact? Is this more of a peer recognition type thing? What’s involved? How many people take it and fail? Or pass? When are the testing windows for 2021? Will we have time to run our full-time businesses AND prep for a board exam??
We parted ways and agreed to reconnect about it asap. There were others interested in joining a study group so we wanted to get that solidified and figure out a direction / course of action.
I went home and spoke to only a couple trusted friends. They agreed they weren’t sure how it would impact me or the business, but encouraged me that either path would be fine. It wouldn’t change my trajectory or goals or business if I didn’t go for it.
Ultimately, how I came to the decision to study and take the exam….I sat alone many evenings in the office reading the certification handbook and letting the decision come to me organically. Trust me, looking back, I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by the amount of work and studying and reading…the seemingly uphill battle I’d face in the coming months if I did it.
One day it just hit me in a positive way – what the heck, Sam?! You have nothing to lose. The rest is history.
MY STUDY GROUP
Including me, there were six people in my study group. Here’s my group of peers:
Lauren Mang of Let Me Organize It
Anne Sharp of A Sharp Space
Karen Schroter of Orderly Outcome
Judith Dold of Twilight Organizing
Meghan LeBaudour of Sweet B Organizing
Lauren and Karen were responsible for bringing us together. Each of them knew of a couple organizers interested in joining the group…so here we are. Our mighty group of 6.
Together as a team, we worked HARD for over 6 months. And do believe it’s because of our support in each other … dedication to learning, reading and encouraging along the way … that ultimately helped us pass. Could we have done it alone? Maybe…but who wants to go backwards to find out!
We are great organizers / business owners to begin with, but there were times someone in the group broke down and considered not taking the exam or pushing it to a future test window.
We didn’t leave anyone behind.
Our group is so solidified / connected that we decided to continue working together in a mastermind group. It’s a group of women I cherish … forever. Admire them so much.
The prep course is something you’ll definitely want to take. There’s only 3 months during the year when the test window is available. We took the exam in the month of October, so our prep course was in August. During the course, the instructor invited us to form a study group with members in the class…but we were well ahead of the curve. We had begun back in March or April. So having a study group – whether early in the game or later – is a smart move.
There’s a long list of books – all of which we mostly purchased and read ourselves. (I’ll share some of my favorites further into this post) We met virtually 2x a month to review the books, have conversations about the material, and connect but once the prep course was over we had a very specific agenda. And then we held “accountability sessions” where we would be online with each other but study independently. We’d mute ourselves to study…and then at the end of the session we may quiz one another on the material.
As I said, we really came together and I’m forever grateful for this group of women – look forward to our continued positive community.
No matter if blogging, on social media or doing my professional organizer work….I am ALLLLL about community over competition. So I hope you’re able to have the same mindset if prepping for this exam. We are better together!
MY TIPS FOR PREP
Besides forming a study group, I’d suggest the prep course FOR SURE and flashcards. A lot of flashcards.
I downloaded all of the paperwork and organized a binder full of information. It was my go-to for studying or if I had a question.
Also, plan a lot of time to prepare for the exam. Not just a couple months. You’ll need a fair amount of time to work through the recommended book list. We formed our study group in March and I still to this day haven’t read every book. During the prep course our instructor pointed out specific books / authors and topics they may have covered. At that point I hyper-focused on certain books. But I did read A TON of books…all worth the time! I learned an incredible amount from reading. Topics around organizing, but what I loved learning more was new ways of running the businesses or streamlining business practices / workflows.
What I will say with 100000% certainty is that you absolutely need the experience and a big body of work before taking the exam. I’d suggest a minimum of 7-8 years of being in the trenches doing the work. If you’ve been doing the work, the studying will come easier. It won’t be a breeze…but I found having the experience definitely guided my learning process in positive way. I could connect easily with the book authors and the exam questions / scenarios were a touch easier because I had been working for over 10 years.
My family helped me not only with emotional support but also with the flashcards and memorization of a few key elements. Have a support system besides your study group.
MY FAVORITE BOOKS FROM THE BOOK LIST
Every book on the list is fantastic, but these were my favorites:
Organizing From The Inside Out
Organizing For A Living
Conquering Chronic Disorganization
THE DAY I PASSED THE EXAM
Other than my study group, no one in my family knew my exam date. Once you’re approved for the exam, you choose a test date within the testing window and where you want to take it – at home or at a testing center. I chose to take it proctored from home on a random Wednesday late in the month. October 27th, to be exact.
By the way, everyone else in my group took it at a testing center. There wasn’t a testing location convenient to me and I had a few spaces that would work based on criteria, so that’s why I went that route. I knew I’d be anxious so I didn’t want the added stress of not being somewhere I felt comfortable.
Anyway, I didn’t want the added pressure of people counting down the days with me or asking me the week of or in the morning or after. I just wanted to be in it by myself and manage the emotions. And trust me – there were SO MANY emotions. More days than I can count I’d break down and feel like I was a fool for thinking I was ready to take the exam in October. That I should wait until February. Didn’t think I had enough time to really study. Or read the books.
It was a full on roller coaster, trust me.
I took off 3-4 days prior to the exam to lock myself in the office to study. Re-watch the course. Re-read key parts of books. Lay my flashcards on the office floor or family room table or dining room table. Shuffle them and start again. Ask the family to test me.
So when the day finally arrived, I couldn’t get the kids to school fast enough. I scheduled the exam for 11am and dropped them at 7:45 so I was free and clear to take a shower, get ready, do a little more prepping, and ensure my set-up was good for the proctor’s approval.
I sat with Lucy for a while to calm down. My breathing was off the charts.
Thirty minutes prior to the exam time, I logged into the system and was greeted by a nice proctor. He was the one to take a tour of my space, run through the security stuff, make sure I was who I said I was, check out the entire setting (including me and what I was wearing), etc. Wanted to get past that quickly and I did. Took about 15 minutes or so. Then, I was handed off to the proctor who would watch me throughout the 2 hour exam. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him.
The exam is 120 minutes and is 125 multiple choice questions.
About 30-40 questions in I was certain I had failed. It was incredibly HARD. SOOOO hard. Not at all what I was expecting.
I put my head down and got through it. Figured at least if I didn’t pass I’d have the experience and maybe some of the test anxiety out of the way for next time. I could try again in February and that would be ok. You did your best, Sam.
Pushed through and finished with only 90 seconds to spare before clicking “submit”. I revisited a few questions but ultimately, it took almost all of those 120 minutes to finish.
At the end of the exam you find out right away if you pass or not. I sat back, closed one eye, clicked submit…the first thing to pop up was a survey about the experience! UGH!! I finish that quickly and then to the next page…there it is.
And I was ALONE.
I literally yelled and screamed and banged on the desktop and pushed myself back in my chair…like NO WAY!!!
In the meantime, I had totally forgotten about the proctor. LOL!!! Poor guy … I don’t know, maybe they see this type of stuff all the time. But wow! My reaction…I wish I could have snapped something but you have access to nothing while taking the exam. No phones and you’re in an app so you can’t even grab a screenshot of your result. You are emailed your results right away though so that was nice.
I truly couldn’t believe it.
And I cried. I laughed. I was shaking. Here it was almost 1pm and I was home alone with the dogs. All I could do was yell and scream and cry. By myself. It was incredible. Such an incredible experience.
When it was over, I called my sister and a close friend. Then I waited for the kids to come home so I could share the news – they were very proud. Such an amazing moment!
Before getting the kids from school, I celebrated with a pedicure and my favorite minted iced coffee. Otherwise, it was back to work!
Although you pass the exam, you don’t receive official notification for a couple weeks…maybe longer. They have to review documents you’ve submitted and some people are chosen at random for an audit (I was!). You don’t find out until the testing window has closed completely for the month.
It wasn’t until the 2nd week in November when I received the official word. SO hard to keep in this great news that long. We wanted to scream it from the rooftops.
Still now I can’t believe I passed. So grateful. Forever grateful for the opportunity. And VERY grateful to have it behind me.
I’m now one of less than 400 CPOs WORLDWIDE!! As of September 2021 there’s not even 370. Honored and humbled. Very excited! And proud.
Grateful to the families who I have worked for and who continue to hire me / our team to help them get organized. Without them, I wouldn’t have the experience or hours to take the exam.
I’ll share more if you’re interested…so please feel free to ask a question or email me privately.
So much to be thankful for this year…and that includes YOU!
Back soon with more, guys! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Congratulations on reaching your goal after all your hard work👏👏👏
Thank you, Marianne!!
Congratulations! Even if it meant to be, it’s asking for a lot work, self discipline and some luck too.:)
Very happy for you, Samantha. Enjoy and celebrate the Thanksgiving with your family!
Thank you so much, Valentina!