From law and sadness, to joy as a professional organizer
Pia Thompson, founder and CEO of Sweet Digs, tells Scott and Nora about her path to becoming a creative entrepreneur (including the pivot from her career as an attorney), and how she runs her home/life organizing business, Sweet Digs. Plus: Tips on starting fresh, organizing and decluttering to kick off the new year.
Scott Rogowsky: Nora, Happy New Year.
Nora Ali: Happy New Year.
Scott Rogowsky: Happy New Year. We are in the new year, 2022. New year, new you?
Nora Ali: Mm-hmm (affirmative). New year, who dis?
Scott Rogowsky: New year, new Nora.
Nora Ali: Yes, I hope so.
Scott Rogowsky: What are you planning to do with your life this year Nora? How is this year going to be different from last, especially when it comes to organizing your life?
Nora Ali: Well, now I know what I'm going to do when it comes to organizing my life, because we got a lot of good advice from our guest. I have too much stuff. Let's just put it that way. Got a lot of stuff. I tried to use one of these services, actually, in the past of where they come to your house, these two women came with a bunch of hangers and dress racks, and we took everything out of my closet, tried to figure out what I wanted to keep and not. And honestly, I think my apartment was more messy when they left. And I felt like I didn't know what to do with anything. I think Pia Thompson's services certainly much more sophisticated than that. But yeah, I mean, in addition to talking about organizing, decluttering, we also talked about career changes with Pia, which I think is relevant for people in the new years or trying to find their passions, make it into their career. So basically I have one of the two things down that we talked about with Pia. I've had career changes in my life, but I'm pretty terrible at organizing.
Scott Rogowsky: The organizing is not there yet, but yeah-
Nora Ali: No. No.
Scott Rogowsky: ...you'd certainly have experience with the pivoting when it comes to what to do with your life. So tell me about that, three times you've changed up your direction.
Nora Ali: Yeah. And it's a lot of what our listeners will hear in our convo with Pia, where you just kind of know when you're in a certain job and it's, you're just totally unhappy. You might work with cool people. The office might be cool. You might get free snacks, but you just don't feel like you're listening to yourself.
Scott Rogowsky: Those free snacks keep people at jobs probably more than anything else. Right?
Nora Ali: Totally. Totally. Yeah. Those baked Lay's, that's what the--
Scott Rogowsky: Baked Lay's, that's really all, so a bake Lay?
Nora Ali: No, I'm just joking. I don't even like baked Lay's. Yeah. But I love that in the last couple of years people have been more open about talking about being dissatisfied with their jobs. And now it's easier to turn your passion into something that makes you income and makes money. Have you ever wanted to switch careers?
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Nora, actually it's just exciting to announce for the first time on the podcast here. I'm actually, this is my last episode of Business Casual.
Nora Ali: No, don't say that!
Scott Rogowsky: I'm becoming a full-time Bitcoin miner.
Nora Ali: A miner?
Scott Rogowsky: I'm going all in.
Nora Ali: Oh.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm going to actually go to the mines. I'm working in the mines. I believe they're in Kentucky. And I got my pick ax. I got my little pith helmet there. My lantern. You got to get the coins. You got to get the coins. So that's what I'm doing now. So no, I'm sticking around listeners. I know you love to hear it. I'm not going anywhere. No change for me, thank you.
Nora Ali: Thank goodness. All right, let's get to it, Scott. Wall Street lawyer turned professional home organizer Pia Thompson joined us today to discuss her transition away from the corporate world to creative entrepreneurship. Pia is the founder and CEO of Sweet Digs, where she teaches clients how to get their homes in order. From Morning Brew this is Business Casual, the podcast that gives you a front row seat to candid conversations with some of the biggest names in business, asking them the questions you wish you could ask. I'm your host, Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm your other host Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you stories of how business shapes our lives today and into the future. Now let's get down to business.
Pia Thompson: Hello, Scott.
Scott Rogowsky: I love those glasses.
Pia Thompson: Thank you. Hi, Nora, how are you?
Nora Ali: So good, Pia. I wish I had those glasses on my face right now, very cute. For our listeners they're a light green and very trendy looking.
Scott Rogowsky: Sea foam.
Nora Ali: Sea foam, ooh.
Scott Rogowsky: Would you call it sea foam?
Pia Thompson: Yes, Scott, that's perfect. Sea foam is right on the money. Yes.
Nora Ali: So you started your career as a lawyer and you wrote on your website about your "journey from law and sadness to being a home organizer." So what did your original attorney career plan involve?
Scott Rogowsky: Law and sadness.
Nora Ali: What were you envisioning? Yes. Law and sadness. I'm sure you didn't envision the sadness part of it bit.
Scott Rogowsky: My three generational lawyer family might take umbrage with that. Okay. Go ahead.
Nora Ali: What were you envisioning for your career at that time?
Pia Thompson: So I was envisioning I think the quote-unquote vision of what success is. So it's making a lot of money, having a job where you've got a lot of power. Maybe you manage a lot of people. Going to an incredible school, working at amazing companies, like sort of the quintessential idea of success. In my family, an mmigrant family, it's really doctor, lawyer, engineer or you're a disgrace.
Nora Ali: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pia Thompson: Why are you even trying? So really it was about focusing myself on what seemed reachable and never once considering who I was in the story at all. It was really about making sure that I was set for the future. And honestly, people pleasing. That's really what it was about. It was people pleasing. It was picking a career that had nothing to do with me so that I could please my parents, so that when people looked at me or asking me what I did, and I said, "I'm a lawyer." They would smile. "Really? Wow. Where did you go to school?" And then I said, "Duke." "What?" It would blow people's minds. So I wanted that. I needed to be filled up because I was empty inside.
Scott Rogowsky: When did it really start to become apparent to you that, I'm on the wrong path for myself to make myself truly happy?
Pia Thompson: Law school. For so, I hadn't passed the bar. I hadn't practiced a lick of law. And I knew in law school, I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I never felt comfortable. Never felt like I fit in. Never felt like this was for me. It was a constant struggle. I mean it's law school right? So I expected it to be hard, but I think there really is a fine line between working hard to achieve something and something not being for you basically. And if you don't have enough self-awareness, you won't be able to tell the difference. So that's what happened. But I still kept pushing. I was like, "No this is what I should do." My mom and dad came to this country with practically nothing, paid to put me through school and all of that. So how dare I go out and not reward them with a law degree. And then I ended up having a almost 17-year career.
Scott Rogowsky: Oh, my gosh.
Pia Thompson: Practicing.
Nora Ali: Literally same, Pia. My immigrant parents had nothing coming here. I started my career on Wall Street because I felt like that was part of the expectation, but I kept thinking, maybe I don't like it right now, but I'll figure it out. I'll find happiness. I'll force myself to find happiness. So did you think during law school that maybe you would find that contentment when you got your first job at a law firm? And what was that like when you actually started working in law?
Pia Thompson: My first job was at a law firm. And law firms, I think then and now, are just notoriously difficult places to work. So I don't know if I expected that it would be wonderful at the law firm, but I knew that it would be a foundation to potentially move me into a job where it would be wonderful. So I knew I had to quote unquote suffer for a little while until I could get to go in-house, which was my dream. So I just kept talking myself into it over and over. I'd have a good day at work on Monday and then a crappy day on Tuesday. Good days on Wednesday, Thursday. I'd get paid on Friday. So it was-
Scott Rogowsky: Always a good day.
Pia Thompson: Yeah. I just sort of kept going with the story.
Scott Rogowsky: But for 17 years, you're going, and going and going. And then what? What was the breaking point for you when you said, "I can't do this anymore? I can't continue working in law."
Pia Thompson: I'd been raised by well-intentioned parents, but they didn't really know how to love me very well. And so I was raised in a way that I didn't appreciate myself. I didn't love myself. I didn't trust myself. So this is how I was able to get myself into a space where I had a career for such a long time, that didn't match who I was as a person. So I got divorced. That was in 2014. That wasn't the clue either. It wasn't like, oh, I just sort of found myself after divorce, that didn't happen. But I did start working on myself and considering, how did I go wrong in this space? And then that opened me up to learning about myself, and understanding myself, and appreciating myself. And so that sort of led me to leaving the law. And I had a daughter. And being a single mother, I'm running back and forth. I'm dropping her to school, I'm running to the city, I'm running back, I'm doing all this and pulling myself in a thousand different directions. And I remember sitting down one day and saying, "But I hate this." And I think my daughter got older and started asking questions, and I sort of thought, I have to be a role model for her. What am I teaching her by hating my job where I spend so many hours a day, running all over the place, what am I teaching her? And so I decided to leave. And it all, it's like when you decide something, every thing sort of falls into place, when you do what you're supposed to do. I was working on something that my company ended up pulling out of. And eventually I got laid off. So literally I decided I was going to leave. And then I got laid off a few months later.
Scott Rogowsky: The universe was listening.
Pia Thompson: You know what I mean?
Nora Ali: A sign. Yeah.
Pia Thompson: Yeah. The universe was listening. So it took two years between leaving the law and finding what I do now. And everyone around me was freaking out like, "What the hell are you doing? Why are you... You're not working. What's going on?" I'm like, "I don't know. My intuition said to wait, so I'm waiting." I just got to a place where there was a knowing that this is not for me. Something is for me. And if I'm patient, it'll be amazing. So I did. And that led me to Marie Kondo.
Scott Rogowsky: Amazing. Well, we're taking a quick break, but we're going to hear more from Pia after this. You found the path, it took two years, but you found it. And was it watching the Marie Kondo documentary? What was the moment where you found this new path that you're on now in organizing?
Pia Thompson: The way I found it was, the top of 2019, everyone was talking about Marie Kondo and Spark Joy, her show was on Netflix. And so I was like, "Okay, I'll sit and watch the show." And I did. And I swear it had to be maybe 10 minutes in, I was like, that's what I want to do for a living. Just like that. So I was like, "But then she's on TV doing that, how am I going to do what she does? She's already on TV. How's this going to work out?" And so I started Googling and found out that she trained consultants. I was like, "Yes." So I signed up for the class. After I watched the show and I tell my friend, I tell everybody that day I'm opening organizing business, I'm going to do this. All my friends were like, "Yes, that's exactly what you should do."
Nora Ali: Wow.
Pia Thompson: "You've been so organized, you're..." I'm like, "Well, for the past two years, y'all couldn't tell me anything?"
Nora Ali: You could've told me that earlier.
Pia Thompson: Yeah. The past two years, or even the past 17, y'all couldn't tell me?
Scott Rogowsky: But who knew? I mean, who knew that this was a business? I certainly didn't until Marie Kondo started going viral. I didn't realize there was a way to actually earn a living, organizing for others and helping others. So is that what it was? You just didn't realize that this was a career path?
Pia Thompson: I knew it was, but I didn't know about it in the way that Marie does it. So let me tell you what that means. During this two years, I thought about it. I'm like, oh, maybe I'll be a DJ, because I love music. I was trying all the things, honey. I was DJing friends parties and messing up. Okay. Like it was-
Nora Ali: That's awesome.
Pia Thompson: Yeah.
Scott Rogowsky: We got to hear your Spotify Unwrapped later.
Pia Thompson: Yeah. I thought about home organizing. I love organizing, but it didn't feel like enough for me because I did not just want to go into people's homes and make things look pretty and leave. And then in a couple months they'd have to call me back because they've done, it's untidy again. I didn't want that. That didn't feel like enough. I was like, that's not. That doesn't feel like me. So the thing about the KonMari method and the thing about Marie is she really brings a journey of self-discovery to the process. So the things in your home, as I like to say, tell the story of your life. They're your memories, your likes, your dislikes, your habits, everything is in your house. And so as you go through and you make a decision as to whether or not it fills you up, does it spark joy or is it not for me? And I can say thank you. And let it go. You really are learning about yourself and who you are. And because I had this love of self-discovery and joy, and learning about myself and personal growth, I knew I wanted to share that, and I wanted to be involved in something that had that as part of it. I thought about becoming a psychologist, going back to school, I thought about all these kinds of things. I was like, "I don't want to go back to school. No, thanks." So that was it. It was really the marriage of home and ease with learning about yourself and living in your truth that really brought it home for me. And I somehow got that in the first few moments of the show or at least my energy did.
Nora Ali: That's incredible. You said you went to this KonMari training. Does that just teach you KonMari method or does it also give you a plan to make money from the method? What do you actually get out of the training?
Pia Thompson: It's rigorous. Okay. So we have three days of training over a weekend, full days. It's workshop. So you're watching people speak and talk to you and taking notes and all that. But you're actually working through things. You're with other people in the course, they're playing the role of the client, so you get to sort of work through things and then you have to tidy with at least two people. Take one person through the method and one person through at least one category of the method. Then you have to take a test. Then you have to have an interview and then you can become certified. So it's a process.
Nora Ali: Wow.
Pia Thompson: In those conversations they are yes, explaining the method to us and we're working through things, but they're also talking to us about running a business. And not super in-depth. It's not a business training seminar, but it's mostly about the method and working through the method and all that.
Nora Ali: So no one's really advising you on how much to charge. I've wanted to declutter my life for as long as I can remember. And there's super expensive, multiple thousands of dollars services then there's the cheaper ones. How did you even decide what you were going to charge people?
Pia Thompson: I think at first I did a Google search. I was like, "What are people charging?" And at first I looked at non-KonMari organizers and then I was like, "No, that's foolish. They don't even do what I do." Then I looked at KonMari organizers and that gave me an idea. I would do this for free, people like this, this is my passion, da, da, da, da, but also I got to live, I got a kid. I like going on vacations. My pricing really has to do with what I need to keep the lights on and do this without feeling resentment. I don't want to show up and feel like I'm not charging enough. But also one of the things I want to do in the future is figure out how to do this from a socioeconomic perspective so that some people are paying more and then subsidizing the people that can't pay my other prices, there's like this sort of concept that it's a luxury thing, but it really is just self-care. It saves you time. It saves you money. It decreases your stress. It brings you ease. It brings you joy. And so I feel like that's something that frankly should be free. And if you can't afford it, I would love to be able to help anyway.
Scott Rogowsky: Interesting. Yeah. I'm learning a lot about this because, I'm not too familiar with the organizing world. Going back to the actual training that you went through, the school, the Marie Kondo, the school, the KonMari method. First of all, where's this taking place? A Holiday Inn by the airport or? I mean, does she have... These schools are around the country or is this localized to certain places? And did you get to meet Marie? Was she on-site for any of this?
Pia Thompson: Oh, these are all good questions. All good questions.
Scott Rogowsky: Or is this too secretive? Is this the whole thing so secretive and clouded in in a shroud that I can't even ask?
Pia Thompson: So yes, Marie came and spoke at the event that I attended, which was really awesome to see her. We took a picture with her too and got to listen to her speech. She spoke for almost an hour. So that was pretty cool. And right now I think they take place virtually. They haven't had any in-person since the pandemic started. Mine was in-person, it was in November of 2019. And it was at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. So it wasn't at a Holiday Inn. It was at the Botanic Garden, which is one of my favorite places, and it was about 15 minutes for my house. That was even better. But it's beautiful there.
Scott Rogowsky: Marie convenient.
Nora Ali: Oh my gosh, Scott.
Pia Thompson: But it was cold and so we couldn't wander around, but it was a beautiful facility. Yeah.
Nora Ali: All right. Well, let's take another very quick break. We have much to learn from Pia after this quick respite, but we'll learn more about the business, more about the KonMari method, and we'll be right back. Okay. Pia, let's back up a little bit to the very early days of starting your business. That I think a lot of people have reflected in this last couple of very terrible years that we've had, that it might be time to pursue your passion and turn that into your career. So what were some of the biggest challenges at first after you decided, I'm going to do this thing, but now I have to actually turn it into a business? What were some of the biggest challenges at first?
Pia Thompson: I think the first was really getting out of my own way. Being a lawyer, I tried to make everything perfect. I got to figure all this out. I got to figure out my onboarding process, get my contract just right, and do all of this stuff before I could even put my shingle out. But what I think would've been better is to honestly just put myself out there, because what ended up happening is I put this whole package together and that package changes practically every time I have a client. I learned something that I should add here. So it's always a moving process. It's not ever going to be perfect. And I think understanding that I will learn from my clients, too, and I will learn on the job, and I can't be prepared for everything. I think another thing is pretty much every idea you can think of, someone's thought about it. Someone's doing it already. So you can easily get caught up in comparing yourself and looking to see what everybody else is doing. But every time I connect with my intuition, I'm making the right decision. It always turns out well.
Scott Rogowsky: Some of these clients you're dealing with here in New York. I want to hear about, without naming names, but I want to hear about some of the worst environments you've stepped into. Any real hoarder situations. Are you finding cat skeletons in the walls?
Pia Thompson: Oh my God. No. Thank goodness. So I actually don't have hoarders as clients because hoarding is a psychological condition and I'm not equipped. Because with a hoarder, as you can imagine, everything sparks joy. Piles of old newspaper spark joy. And if I'm leading people to figure out what sparks joy, I mean they'd still keep everything they have. So I'm not equipped to do that. But I've got a lot of different kinds of personalities. I have clients who are very open to what I suggest and I have clients who are very closed to what I suggest. And so there's a lot of massaging that I have to do with people sometimes. So I have a client who, when she was younger used to be very religious. And she would not only attend services on the week weekends, they would be at church multiple times during the week. And so as she got older, she decided she was more spiritual than religious. And so she stopped attending services, but her mom is still very much into. So she told me this as part of our vision conversation. And I said, "Okay." I noted it. I was like, "All right, these are the things that I will use to guide you through." Because now I know she's going to have probably religious items in her home and these issues are going to come up. So we get to books. The first book we get to is a religious book, not the Bible, but a religious book. And so we have a-
Scott Rogowsky: Chronicles of Narnia.
Pia Thompson: Chronicles of Narnia, in fact, yes.
Scott Rogowsky: It was.
Pia Thompson: So we have a conversation and I say to her, remind her of her vision. I ask her to hold it in her hand, tell me how it makes her feel. Tell me what it's bringing up for her. So she talks about her mom and how her mom's going to... What her mom's going to feel if she let's this go, and all her memories and all of this. And I guide her to getting comfortable with allowing this thing to go, because I know that's what she wants. So keep going through the books, going through the books and then we get to the Bible. And so I sit up in my chair, I'm like, let me get ready. This is going to be, right, I'm like, "This might be a sticky one." She gets to the Bible and she talked herself through exactly what I said to her. She's like, "Okay, this is not who I am anymore. I trust myself that I know what's best for me." And so those are the clients that I have. Those are the things that come up. That is what I have to hold space for, for memories, parenthood issues, religion, all the things. And have people feel comfortable enough, not only to share with me and invite me in. I mean, I spend a lot of time looking through people's stuff, but then also to tell me the truth, and know that I won't judge, I won't criticize them. Whatever they decide is what they decide. I have no stake in this game. I just want them to be happy and living their truth. And so that is really what it looks like. And that can be the four-bedroom house. That's the studio apartment. They really are amazing what they can do for themselves, and life that they can create for themselves when we work together.
Nora Ali: It's so nuanced. You have to know about their history, their stories, their motivations. You're like a therapist in some ways, Pia, I love that.
Pia Thompson: Yeah.
Nora Ali: So our relationship with our homes, I think generally has changed during this pandemic. A lot of us are working from home and it's been that way for some time. I think a lot of people in the new year, 2022 here we are, it's time to make a change in our homes and make that space feel really comfortable. So we don't want you to give out too much advice for free because you are running a business, but what would be the best place to start if you're trying to organize your life this new year?
Pia Thompson: I would say the first thing to do is don't think about it as organizing your life, organizing your home, that feels completely overwhelming. It's like saying, "I need to lose 40 pounds. I'm going on a diet." And then you jump in. This is why people, yo-yo, all the time. You're just jumping right in. Take it step by step. So with KonMari, as I said before, it's really category by category. Other organizing methods make a room-by-room, bedroom, bathroom, or what have you. And so start with your clothing, pull out all your clothing in subcategories. So all of your dresses, all your socks, all your pants and go through each. So take it slowly, step-by-step. The other thing is, make sure you curate an environment and leave a space for yourself so that it doesn't feel like you're just rushing through it or fitting it in. Because as I've said, and that's something I discourage my clients from doing as well. As I've said, it needs to be a thought, it needs to be thoughtfully done, otherwise you'll rebound. You don't want to keep anything in your house that makes you feel badly about yourself. If you have things that generate fear, or guilt or shame, this is your home, your home should be a place of ease and joy. So understand what that vision is and think about it as really a process that should be filled with joy too.
Nora Ali: And it seems like it's just good for your mental health overall, right? Is if you have that space that brings you joy literally.
Pia Thompson: Absolutely.
Scott Rogowsky: So you're also good about incorporating this method in your own life? Because I know for a lot of people, it's easy to give advice, it's easy to tell others what to do, but they can't do it themselves. You, Pia Thompson, you practice what you preach?
Pia Thompson: Sometimes. But I also give myself grace. I mean the pictures you see on Pinterest that organizers post are beautiful, but first of all, nobody's refrigerator looks like they just came back from the grocery store every day. And also I'm human. And I'm a single mom. And I'm running my own business. Sometimes my laundry sits on the couch for a couple of days. I gave a big presentation earlier today and I was working on it last night. So I didn't wash the dishes in my... I just, I mean, I'm human, so I'm not... I don't hold myself to this perfect expectation that my house is always going to look amazing. The chair that I'm sitting on, I had to clear it off before I sat down. But everything has a home. I know where it goes, so I'm not going to buy a duplicate. I'm not wasting money. I'm not wasting time. I can direct my neighbor to find something. I've created that ease for myself, but I also give myself grace when I need to.
Nora Ali: That's so important. It's so important.
Pia Thompson: Yeah.
Scott Rogowsky: So, Pia, we started this conversation discussing your first foray into law and your first career, and the definition of success that you put on yourself, and your family had prescribed for you. Now that you're in this second career and I take it much happier, you've found your joy. How do you measure your success now? And is it different from what it was 20 years ago, when you were starting out in law?
Pia Thompson: That's such an awesome question. Thank you for that. Thank you. So yeah, hell yeah. It's totally different. Success was external for me before. Success was measured by what other people thought, how much money I was making. That's what success was. And success for me now is, how aligned am I with my truth? Am I resentful when I show up? Am I bringing my full self? And so that's what success is for me. Success is feeling fulfilled when my head hits the pillow. When there's nobody around, my kid has finally gone to bed, whenever that is. When I lay down, do I feel really good by myself? That's really what it is. It is about aligning with my intuition. There we go again, with my actions. Am I living in my truth? Am I doing what feels really good to me? And what I've noticed is that it's just service. Once I turned the work I was doing into service, it made all the difference. And even though I was a lawyer and that's a service career, it didn't feel like service. It felt like I just spent all the time making people who already had a lot of money, even more money. And that just didn't align with who I was. And so now I get to change people's lives and teach them how to live in their truth. And so that's service. That feels like a gift and purpose to me.
Nora Ali: That's amazing. That internal acceptance versus the external validation. We've moved completely away from that external validation. That's great. Well, Pia, I am excited and energized to now take control of the clutter in my life and own my truth and all of that. I think Scott can probably say the same. We feel pretty inspired from this convo. Pia is the founder and CEO of Sweet Digs. Thanks again, Pia, for the time.
Pia Thompson: All right. Thank you.
Scott Rogowsky: And now, BC listeners, we want to hear from you. We love hearing from you. So send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM us on Twitter @bizcasualpod, that's B-I-Z casual P-O-D, with your thoughts.
Nora Ali: You can also leave a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm, or give us a ring and leave us an old-fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. As Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners old and new, drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from, so we can hear from you in a future episode.
Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is produced with joy by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production sound design, and mixing by Daniel Markus. Alan Haburchak is the director of audio at Morning Brew. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia and Jessica Coen is our chief content officer. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, sparking all kinds of joy for all kinds of podcasts, including ours. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. And we'd love it if you would give us a great rating and review.
Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual, I'm Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky.
Nora Ali: Keep it business.
Scott Rogowsky: And keep it Kondo, Marie Kondo.