If you’re a fan of home improvement-type shows, then you know the basic format. A pair of mildly attractive hosts (they only come in groups or pairs, home makeover shows don’t have huge personalities like nightmare chef Gordon Ramsay or Oprah’s messenger angel Iyanla Vanzant) visit a person or family in distress (often out of their own doing, but many tears are mined if the reason is beyond their control). They talk, see what’s been going on, maybe give someone a haircut, and by the end of the show Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk has rebuilt the entire home from scratch (the division of labor on that program is insane). Many more money-earning tears are shed, and the hosts bid farewell. And if you’re like me, you take a glance at the pile of mess that’s scattered on your floor just a week after you’ve had your place cleaned and wonder, “But what happens after the hosts leave?”
This is why Marie Kondo’s new show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has been so refreshing. She comes into a home and instead of renovating it, she teaches its residents the simple magic of cleaning up, staying for as long as a month. She doesn’t clean it. You do. And, unlike what a lot of people think, Kondo doesn’t force you to throw things out. It’s all up to you. For the persons she helps, the joy at the end doesn’t come from having a home renovated, but from actually taking the time to sort out your life and seeing it all pay off, and you can tell that they plan on keeping at it.
It’s such a novel thing that, when a coworker told me about “a real life Marie Kondo” (which says a lot more about Kondo’s larger-than-life-ness than my coworker’s spatial awareness) living in the Philippines, I jumped at the chance to see her.
That’s how I met Issa Reyes, the woman behind Neat Obsessions. Calling herself a “professional organizer,” she explains that the job is “in between a interior designer and a professional cleaner.” Interior designers design your place and see which things would best suit it, “but they won’t help you move in,” she elaborates. Meanwhile, professional cleaners will do the heavy work of cleaning (scrubbing floors, disinfecting sinks, polishing windows, the whole shebang), but they’re not going to change the layout of your space, nor care about your aesthetic preferences. “My job is to check if all items are in place, [making] sure that everything has a specific place for everything.”
To do this, she comes in to a home and teaches the owners how to efficiently use their space. She has cleaners in tow, too, to clean while she organizes. If you doubt her credibility, check it: she’s a member of the International Organization of Professional Organizers, and she’s had online interactions with Marie Kondo herself.
Her job sounds simple enough, almost to the point of being unnecessary, until you think of all the people whose homes, after their interior designers or professional cleaners leave, quickly devolve into chaos (guilty as charged). A quick glance at her blog, where she goes in depth about organizing projects (you can easily tell it apart from her other blog posts—the ones about her clients all follow a “The One” naming convention in the title, kind of like in Friends), shows how much work she puts into helping people.
And the job really is more about helping people, going further than the rudimentary act of cleaning. “I never thought I was going to touch lives,” she confesses, but I can see how it happens: your home is your personal space, and the way you keep it is very much a personal thing, too. No one actively makes their home dirty. For someone to let their home turn into a mess, “may pinagdaanan [sila]. There are single moms who seek help, too.”
She narrates to me a story about how one of her clients let her whole house get taken over by her clothes, except for one room, her daughter’s, which she kept pristine. After working with her, they were able to realize that the mess was a manifestation of the mother’s empty nest syndrome. “Visit your mother more,” Reyes told the daughter. “She misses you.” The success of her job, then, lies on her being empathetic.
That’s where her background comes in. As a psychology graduate, she understands that the act of letting a stranger into your home to “fix it” is stressful, but also indicative of how much the clients want to change. “Actually, even just messaging me and sending an inquiry already shows that there’s something in you that wants a change.” She helps her clients navigate through this by making sure that they’re not triggered by her work, and that cleaning up doesn’t hit any of their anxiety points. She also reminds them of the purpose of keeping your home clean. “You always go back to your home. Dapat, you don’t feel you are lost.” Tidying up is not something you should rush, so she doesn’t rush her clients, either. “I have a client I’ve been working on for six months.”
If that sounds a lot like Marie Kondo’s process, there’s a reason for that. “Marie Kondo is one of my heroes,” she says, though when I offer that she’s the local version of Kondo, she quickly notes that she isn’t. “Those are very big shoes to fill.” And, she points out, “Being myself, that’s already a big thing.” Still she greatly admires Kondo for how she practically made her own industry, and the respect that she was able to bestow upon it. “People see it as beneficial to your life,” she says. “Before [her], I never knew that someone actually does [this kind of work].”
At the end of the day, her job is to ensure that her clients has undergone a holistic change. It’s not just her home that she’s working on, but how her clients view their own living spaces too. “Mindfulness is important,” Reyes stresses. “Before buying anything, ask yourself: Do I have enough space in my closet for this?” Because of this, she notes that her work is always a step-by-step process, one in which she has to listen to her clients. “I don’t want to incorporate my system onto them,” she says.
Reyes believes that her clients have to be able to see the beauty in organizing themselves. Through organizing, she wants them to see the value of their items, to see why they’ve kept it in their homes in the first place. That’s why, even though she’s a huge fan of Marie Kondo, she doesn’t get her clients to declutter by throwing out their stuff.
“I like her system when the person is ready,” she remarks, but often enough, just making small, efficient changes is often. “It’s up to [them] to sustain the change,” she says. “It’s a good result when my clients don’t need me anymore.”
Neat Obsessions’s tips on how to keep your home clean:
- Admit to yourself that you won’t always keep your house clean. And clean. And organized. What you need to do is find the balance.
- Admit when you need help.
- Be mindful.
- If you’re decluttering, find the joy in it. Do not attempt to do it in one go.
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Writer: ZOFIYA ACOSTA
PHOTOGRAPHY TRICIA GUEVARA