Katherine Blackler

Spotlight on members’ professional development: Becoming a Certified Professional Organizer, CPO®

APDO’s President Katherine Blackler (SortMySpace Ltd) recently became the UK’s first Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®). We caught up with her to find out what the qualification means and what was involved.

What is a CPO®?

The CPO® is a mark of differentiation for professionals working in our field. It is issued by the Board of Certified Professional Organizers (BCPO®). There are now 368 CPOs® across the globe but there are only two in Europe at present. It’s great that we have another APDO member, Vincy Tam (Jupp UK) flying the CPO® flag in Hong Kong too. Once qualified, you can use the CPO® designation after your name and display the CPO® badge on your website, email and marketing materials.

I have a lot of respect for the CPOs® I met at two NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conferences I’ve attended and the ICD (Institute of Challenging Disorganization) conference recently. My 2016 NAPO conference buddy Andrea Walker CPO®, Smartly Organized NJ, USA encouraged me earlier this year to take the exam. Because I admire the way she and the other CPOs® I know, approach their profession, I decided to take the plunge myself. I feel it shows an extra level of commitment to your career choice. Colleagues and clients know you’re taking it seriously and that you’re continually striving to improve your skills and knowledge to help them. I hope I can inspire other UK organisers to consider it too, even if that’s as a future goal. 

What do you need to be a CPO®?

You need to demonstrate an active career by chalking up 1500 hours working with organising clients over the past 5 years OR show that you have worked at least 1250 hours with clients and then you can add up to 250 substitute hours at the point of applying to take the examination.

Aside from accruing the client-facing and/or substitute hours, there’s also a 2-hour 125-question multiple choice exam to sit at one of their global testing centres. In the UK they’re available in London and Newcastle. You can apply to sit the exam in February, June and October each year. You need to pull together a detailed spreadsheet which captures all your client hours and/or the different types of substitute hours. 

NAPO runs a preparatory webinar (4 hours over 2 sessions) which I found useful and participation in that has been proven to increase the chances of passing the exam itself. 

There is also a reading list of approximately 40 books, although the BCPO® does stress that you are not expected to read every book from cover-to-cover but to pick any which cover the areas you’re not familiar with.

What sort of substitute hours could I include?

You can provide up to 250 hours-worth of such things as CPD credits (Continuing Professional Development). This includes classes (physical or virtual) which relate to the organising industry and can demonstrate a skill or learning that would benefit your clients rather than simply benefiting your own business (such as marketing or social media training). You also need to have a certificate of attendance or completion for each course for them to be treated as CPD. 

If you serve on an organising association’s board you can include 10 credits so I could include my volunteer role of APDO President. Publications, articles and blogs of at least 500 words that you’ve written are worth 10 credits each (with a maximum of 3 in this category). Mentoring or training hours can be included too and higher education study can count for up to 100 hours of credit.

Whatever you include, be prepared to provide evidence of all the substitute hours you are logging as BCPO® conducts audits on a small percentage of applicants.

What do you think the benefits of being a CPO® are?

I definitely learned more about my craft by studying for the CPO®. It’s also enhanced my natural curiosity to develop skills and knowledge that could help me personally, better support my clients and also boost my business. As with many CPOs® I’ve been able to increase my hourly rate so there’s a practical benefit to taking it too. I do feel it helps you to stand out in an ever-growing market.

The Board of Certification

Tell us more about what you learned in the process?

I realised that whilst a lot of organising skills do come to me naturally, I still had a lot more to learn about the many ways our brains work (such as left brain versus right brain thinking). I’m good with spatial awareness to optimise an environment. I’m practiced helping clients to streamline their physical belongings. And I love what I do with my clients. But I’m the first to admit I frequently struggle decluttering my own diary and commitments! (Spoiler alert: Professional organisers are human too!). Studying for the CPO® gave me a good (external) excuse to finally make time to read up and tackle some of the time management techniques out there. It’s helped me to better understand why we (myself included!) have certain challenges and how we can ride the rollercoaster of life accordingly.

As I read some of the books, I spotted ways to improve systems and processes in my own business, and life, as well as techniques to use with/for my clients. I’m confident that as a result I’ll now be a better organiser and business owner.

The exam was harder than I had expected and the time flew by. I was actually one of the approximately 10% of examinants who was audited. Doing the lion’s share of the spreadsheet and data gathering exercise before I even applied to sit the exam really paid off in terms of reducing stress when I got the unwelcome notification that I was one of the few selected for audit! Don’t get me wrong, the BCPO® staff aren’t ogres about it but any kind of audit is one extra headache we can all do without! 

How much does CPO® cost?

The CPO® costs USD $450 to sit the exam and you then pay an annual fee of USD $100. You are also required to recertify every 3 years by completing 45 or more eligible Continuing Education Units (CEUs) during that period to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to professional development. Alternatively you can re-sit the exam to recertify.

NAPO’s optional preparatory course costs USD $120 as a NAPO member/USD $220 as a non-member if you wanted to sit that to help get into the study zone. They run these a month prior to each exam window. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of sitting the CPO® exam?

Browse the reading list straight away and aim to plod steadily through the books while you build up your client-facing hours. Write a review or brief summary for each book when you finish it so you can easily refresh your memory further down the line, particularly before you sit the exam. If you can, find a study buddy and divide up the reading list, teach each other what you’ve read about and test one another. Explaining to someone else really helps consolidate the knowledge.

Check out and start populating BCPO®’s sample spreadsheet from the get-go. I remember thinking about the CPO® qualification when I first started my business and realised it would be a few years before I could accrue enough hours to sit the exam so didn’t dig deeper into what would be needed. It was much harder going back and completing the spreadsheet retrospectively as you need to provide a lot of detail:  hours worked, the rooms worked on, the skills imparted to the client, etc.

It helps to memorise the CPO® Exam Outline inside out. I ended up reworking it into a flow chart as I’m predominantly a visual learner. I had copies up on my office wall, lounge wall and a photo on my phone to refer to it when out and about until I could replicate it all without looking at a hard copy.

And finally, I’d recommend: Go for it! It’ll help you, your business and our industry to gain recognition and respect.


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