Neat Obsessions' Issa Reyes and the ‘Homemaking Movement’

Professional Organizer Issa Reyes on Taking Part in a ‘Homemaking Movement’

Issa Guico Reyes grew up in a household where cleaning was a currency. Tidying up a corner in their house was a pass to playing with other kids and scrubbing the bathroom was a prerequisite to going out with friends. 

It was this strict training instilled by her father that would later catapult her foray into professional home organization, a small but growing niche in the Philippines that makes labeling paraphernalia, stacking up books in neat piles, and categorizing clothes per color, season, or mood look cool. She founded Neat Obsessions, a passion project that began as a blog and eventually bloomed into a professional home organizing company, a sold-out book, and a community with tens of thousands of followers eager to get Issa’s opinion about how to tidy up.

Issa has a flurry of big-name celebrities in her clientele. She decluttered Kim Chui’s makeup stash and memorabilia, organized Toni Gonzaga’s toddler room, and helped Team Kramer in moving into their dream home. But it was in the household of actress-entrepreneur Neri Miranda that sparked the potential of making a business out of her obsession for being clean. A bookshelf corner, to be exact.

“One afternoon, I went to [Neri’s] house and then I asked her if I could organize her bookshelf,” Issa recounted in an interview with The Beat Asia in January.

“She said yes and went out for a walk. [A]fter an hour, she came back and was surprised with what I did with her bookshelf. And then Neri said, why don’t you do it as a business?”

Issa Reyes Neat Obsessions
Facebook/Neat Obsessions

Issa, a psychology graduate who once worked as an HR practitioner, had zero idea about making a professional living out of cleaning clutter.

Eager to convince her friend, Neri flooded Issa’s inbox with various Instagram profiles of professional organizers based in Canada and the United States, including that of the female duo behind the highly successful organizing firm The Home Edit. Amazed at how vast and deep the professional organizing industry in the west is, Issa sat down with her husband to discuss the potential of the business and how she would market herself.

One of her biggest hurdles was overcoming intimidation. When she started her blog in 2018, there was very little knowledge locally about professional home organizers. People would tap interior designers to lend an aesthetic touch to their space and professional cleaners to fix any ensuing clutter, but never the same person for both roles. For Issa, a professional organizer ticks off both boxes while providing an emotional support in the process of parting ways with someone’s clutter.

The mom of two is also very much aware of the structure of a Filipino household. “I was so intimidated to start at first because I know that in every Filipino household there is already a homemaker.”

“[When] you visit someone’s house, you don’t see their personal stuff; you don’t know if they’re messy because most Filipino homes have clean living rooms,” Issa said in mixed Filipino and English.

“My idea was that, perhaps all Pinoy [homes] are clean and organized. So, they don’t need a [professional organizer.]”

But when Issa began decluttering and organizing for friends and posting her work on social media, inquiries also started trickling in.

“That’s how it evolved. I didn’t plan it to become big.” Up to this day, Issa has never published her rates to avoid the intimidating air that sometimes comes with her specialized niche.

“When you accept that you need help, it's such a humbling realization. When you finally admit it and you find that person who can help you, then we [can] have a conversation about it. If they see that I published a rate, they [might] get intimidated. [S]ometimes, I don’t have to help them physically. Sometimes it's just through conversations on social media that I get to help them. It's already a fulfilling feeling because that’s what Neat Obsessions is about.”

The Homeward Technique

In a world gone mad over curated feeds, Issa chose a different approach. Her Instagram posts, for example, do not follow a templated palette nor do they mirror a virtual mood board prevalent among brands today. Instead, they feature practical tips and some behind-the-scenes from her projects.

“I want people to relate to [my page.] I am also a mother. There are days when my house is not as pristine as you thought it would be.”

Issa Reyes Neat Obsessions
Facebook/Neat Obsessions

Having a conversation with her clients plays a big part in Issa’s job. While a professional cleaner shows up at one’s doorstep to tidy up, Issa begins her process by helping her client dissect the varying emotions that go with decluttering.

“Neat Obsessions is like an encouragement. I don’t think I will be in a position that I will force someone to clean up. It’s really more of [telling yourself that you need it] not because you want things to look perfect but…because you want to change something in your life.”

One of Issa’s longest-serving clients has been with her for three years. Aside from organizing the client’s existing stuff, Issa also helps them decide what new items can be added next. The client, whom Issa calls a “collector,” would consult her if there is space for a new purchase. It is never a contest between a need and a want; for Issa, the better question to ask before splurging on something is whether you have space for it or not.

“Thinking about where to put [her new purchase] is a sign that she is now mindful about making sure that her space would not be affected. It took us three years for her to realize that,” Issa said, referring to her client.

Issa Reyes Neat Obsessions
Facebook/Neat Obsessions

In her debut book, Issa introduced the “Homeward Technique,” a three-step process she employs when organizing one’s home space. The first step is sorting, a basic and straightforward process of categorizing your stuff. Think of it as creating an inventory of your life in disarray. Issa said it is very important to turn off your emotions at this level as doing otherwise could slow you down.

The next step is detaching. In this phase, you are allowed to be nostalgic and sentimental until you realize and accept that the old appliance collecting dust in your basement has no longer space in your life. Then you let go.

The last step is rehoming, which Issa said is the technical aspect of organizing. It means being intentional with your space and employing the right tools to make your space work. This is where you make a commitment that “whatever you decide [to keep], you make sure that you can preserve the value of that item.”

But before starting the “Homeward Technique,” it is important to know your season.

“Who are you right now? What are you celebrating at the moment? We Pinoys are very sentimental; we tend to live in the past. We keep so much stuff from our past that limits our space for the present. Sometimes you don’t have space for the future,” Issa told The Beat Asia.

“Are you a single professional? Are you a mother? Are you an empty nester? If you have identified your season, then the things that should be evident in your home are the things that will help you perform your current season.”

Issa Reyes Neat Obsessions

Homemakers’ Ecosystem

Issa is training to be a consultant under the KonMari program, a certification course that expands on the science and art behind Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo’s tidying techniques. As one of the pioneers of professional organizing in the country, Issa often finds herself being labeled as the Marie Kondo of the Philippines. When asked how she feels every time she gets the recognition, Issa humbly said: “I don’t think I will ever get used to it. I feel overwhelmed, I am flattered, but I think I am still far from what she has achieved, and I want to prove myself a little bit through learning. I’d love it if I could be referred to as her student.”

Issa Reyes Neat Obsessions
Facebook/Neat Obsessions

Describing herself as a “student of life,” Issa is the go-to resource person among brands when it comes to home organization, a role she is happy to play especially with the renewed appreciation for homemaking at a time when people are spending most of their time inside their house.

Looking ahead, Issa envisions a solidified Philippine homemaking industry where all stakeholders—designers, architects, construction suppliers, organizers, and the homemakers themselves—are in a single ecosystem. She likened it to the more mature wedding industry in the country, where professionals representing all segments—from photographers and coordinators to caterers and other suppliers—are interconnected.

While much needs to be done, Issa believes the homemaking industry is making strides in this aspect. During the pandemic, Issa had the chance to work with other suppliers and MSMEs to create a line of home items. Instead of seeing her as a threat, designers and architects recognize Issa’s role as a welcome addition to filling the gaps in the industry.

“I love that I am allowed and I can work with architects and designers and assist a client from end-to-end.”

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