A Visit with The Chaos Ninja

For Lisa Cather, home organization is as much about people as it is about organizing.

As Lisa Cather, a.k.a. The Chaos Ninja, approach the front door for a recent consultation with a new client, her first observation was that it was clearly a beautiful custom home. Once inside, she saw the type of detail, like a tongue and groove ceiling, that gave the space a sense of warmth. The type of choices that were impressive without being loud.

“I could tell right away this was a management issue,” she said. “This was not someone who was a highly cluttered person or someone who didn't care about their space. They cared very much. They just needed some management help and knew I could help make it as beautiful as they intended by getting it organized for them."

Lisa knew from previous conversations that this was a family with three small children and anticipated seeing a lot of toys. Based on her years of experience – she’s been a professional home organizer since 2004 – she realized that an important part of her work with this client would be helping with the kids’ bedroom and the many toys that had accumulated over the years.

“With children, it's important to remember that, while we as adults are able to simply get rid of things we no longer need and are cluttering up our homes, children see it as a toy that's being taken away from them. It can be very upsetting for them if you don't handle it with some compassion and understanding.”

As she stepped into the children's bedroom, she immediately saw the challenge before her.

“These kids love dinosaurs,” she said. “They literally had different sized bins for different sizes of dinosaurs. They had remote-control dinosaurs. There was literally an entire drawer in a four-drawer plastic container that only held small dinosaurs that were like little army men. And that was just the dinosaurs. There were matchbox cars. There were big cars that were remote-controlled. There were medium-sized cars that could zip around the floor. And all the pieces of track that went with them. It was a lot.”

Yin and Yang

Organizing anything – it could be your desk, a scrapbook, a sock drawer - is an analytical process. Whether you realize it or not, math is taking place in your head, even when it's a simple task. Start organizing someone's home and you’re adding layers of emotion into the mix. It means both sides of the brain need to be fully engaged.

“What I do is very personal,” Lisa said. “I'm right there in their personal space. I'm touching their personal things a lot. So it's important that they like me, but not just like me. I really have to earn their trust when I first meet them. The actual organizing of the space is pretty intuitive to me and I can pretty easily delineate that when I walk in. Just as important, though, I've developed a pretty good understanding of the human side.”

As it turns out, that was really important working with the kids who had the dinosaurs and matchbox cars and plastic track pieces. Here's the challenge … How do you get them to be okay, and even feel good, about letting go?

“I choose my words carefully and try to connect with them. I don't want them to see me as a threat who's there to take their stuff. Once that connection is made, I try to have fun with them. And, at some point, I'll talk about how some of these toys that they don't really play with anymore could make a child who doesn't have as many toys very happy. And that's really meaningful to them.”

That, she said, is one of the most rewarding feelings she gets from her work.

“It is a beautiful thing. And in every single household, no matter what demographic, every single kid I’ve talked to understands it. They understand what they are giving when they pass it on.”

It is a beautiful thing. And in every single household, no matter what demographic, every single kid I’ve talked to understands it. They understand what they are giving when they pass it on.

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