Fairy tale job: Niskayuna woman helps clients retake control of their lives

Two women stand next to a van reading Carri the Filing Fairy

From left: Carri LaCroix Pan and her colleague Pamela Troncone.

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NISKAYUNA – When Carri LaCroix Pan tells people she’s a professional organizer, there are usually a few misunderstandings.

“It’s so funny. They assume that I’m going to walk in the door and tell them to get rid of everything,” said Pan, a Niskayuna mom and owner of the organizing business, Carri the Filing Fairy. “Even with my own grandmother — she thought I went and cleaned houses.”

And while there is a fair amount of decluttering and cleaning involved in Pan’s work, her business model goes much deeper than that: helping people live safe and productive lives.

Pan opened the doors of Carri the Filing Fairy just over 10 years ago in December of 2012. At the time she was simply looking for a part-time gig that was flexible enough to accommodate her children’s school hours. She landed on the idea of helping people declutter their homes.

“I thought I was really going to help people that just had a little extra paperwork that they needed to wrangle and get under control, because I feel like if that gets out of control then life gets out of control,” Pan said. “I started with a Sharpie in one hand and a label maker in the other.”

But as word of her business started to spread, a much different kind of client began to seek her services: those who suffer from chronic disorganization, or CD.

“It tended to be people who needed more than [just decluttering],” Pan said. “I began to see that it wasn’t just paperwork that gets really out of control for people.”

According to Pan, who has received professional training from the National Association of Productivity & Organizing Professionals and the Institute of Challenging Disorganization, those who live with CD often have brain-based conditions — such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a traumatic brain injury or a stroke — that make it difficult to maintain an organized and functional environment.

As a result, individuals with CD, who often try to self-correct the behavior but are most times unsuccessful, tend to experience poor quality of life that can even begin to endanger their safety.

Pan recalls this with one of her clients. She had received a call from a woman out of state who was concerned about her brother and his wife, who lived in the local area and had disabilities. According to the sister, the condition of her brother’s house had worsened from the last time she visited, and they needed help.

“It had gotten to the point where the wife, who had had a stroke, was tripping over things and falling, and they were calling for lift assist about three times a week,” Pan recalled.

So, Carri the Filing Fairy went to the couple’s house and helped them declutter and organize enough to make it a safe and functional environment.

“Maybe we’re not going to make it look like Better Homes & Gardens, but we’re going to make it safer one step at a time,” Pan said. “So now that family does not have clutter to trip on.”

Sometimes CD can also stem from a lack of education about cleaning and organization.

“I was working with someone, we were working in the kitchen,” Pan recounted. “I was washing dishes while she was putting things away off of the table. She was kind of scattered in the way she was putting things away and I asked her, ‘Please put the dirty dishes on this side.’ ”

At that point, the client turned around and saw Pan’s dish system — dirty dishes on one side of the sink, clean dishes on the other.

“She asked me why I was doing that and I explained, and she said ‘I was never taught that. My parents never taught me that. I’m going to do it like that from now on.’ ”

Although Carri the Filing Fairy offers a number of services, including real estate staging, downsizing and even helping high school juniors and seniors organize their college mail, the company devotes much of its time to CD issues. For Pan, who has an educational background in human development, elementary and special education, as well as family and multicultural studies, Carri the Filing Fairy has been her shining role.

“I feel like everything I’ve done leading up to this prepared me for this world,” said Pan, who worked as a special education teacher in the past.

In fact, Pan’s previous experiences have helped her reach one of her biggest business priorities: meeting clients where they are emotionally and physically. Aside from decluttering and cleaning, professional organizers also try to transfer organizational and working skills and strategies to clients so that they can maintain functional spaces on their own, and for the long term.

These strategies, according to Laurene Livesey Park, certification and services director at the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, include body doubling, in which a person sits or works beside a client to make sure they stay on track with their tasks; and emotional organizing, which allows a client to make emotional decisions about the belongings they want to hold onto, rather than impersonal “do you actually need this?” decisions.

“A lot of people think that organizing is one-size-fits-all — you know how to organize and you do the same thing everywhere — and that absolutely is not the case,” Livesey Park said. “Regular organizing skills often don’t work with clients who have more than the usual degree of disorganization. These are people who have various types of neurodivergence and so you need different strategies than everyone reads about in standard magazine articles, and if you try regular organizing with neurodiverse people there’s a good chance it won’t work, because their brains don’t work that way.”

Because of that, Pan knows she must vary her methods so that each client has the opportunity to best absorb the strategies and skills she is teaching. As a result, she keeps in mind how long they are physically and mentally able to work in a session, how much they already know about organizing and, more generally, how their brain best processes information.

“You may have to use more visual reminders for someone with, say, Alzheimer’s than you would for a different kind of client,” Pan said. “And for me personally, I take it one step further: I like to ask the client what they do or did for a living because I like to see how they work and think. I’m going to work very differently with an engineer than I am with an artist.”

Recently, following 18 months of multistructural coursework with social workers and psychologists, Pan received high certification from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, making her a Level III certified professional organizer in chronic disorganization (CPO-CD).

Locally, there are roughly a dozen professional organizers, all of whom have different specialties and backgrounds, but Pan is now the only professional organizer to hold the CPO-CD distinction in a 100-mile radius. She has also earned Level II certificates in chronic disorganization, aging, ADHD and hoarding.

Overall, Pan says working with her clients leaves her feeling “hopeful” and “proud,” and that the Carri the Filing Fairy team is always excited to see their clients grow and their situations improve.

“I would say this is the first job I’ve ever had where I can’t wait to go to work in the morning,” Pan said, noting that she would have laughed if she told her past self about Carri the Filing Fairy, but is grateful for where she now is. “We work for the hugs.”

Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Your Niskayuna

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