When governor Jay Inslee issued Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in March, few could predict how much the idea of home was about to expand. Once a place of rest and respite, living spaces soon became offices, gyms, schools, and even happy hour haunts. But for Seattleite Lisa Holtby, home remains, most importantly, “the one place where we can be fully ourselves.”
Holtby, a professional home organizer and yoga teacher based in West Seattle, has made a career out of helping people find space. On the yoga mat, this means giving people room for contemplation, and the opportunity to feel powerful in their bodies. At home, Holtby aims to help her clients create a space that “reflects and supports how they want to be in the world.”
While some may dread the prospect of cleaning out a long-neglected closet or office space, Holtby relishes it. “This is how my mind works, and what I do for fun,” she said. “I put myself to sleep rearranging rooms in my head.” For Holtby, a four-hour organizing session with a client can feel like 15 minutes.
Holtby’s skills were in high demand before the pandemic hit; she kept a full schedule, working five days a week at clients’ homes and maintaining a waitlist. When the state initially lifted some Covid-related economic restrictions early this summer, Holtby says her business “came roaring back to life,” returning to pre-pandemic levels. She began to offer remote consultations, and when she started visiting clients’ houses again, she brought along a trusty HEPA air purifier and followed strict safety protocols (Holtby has paused in-person services for the time being but plans to offer them again when Covid numbers go down).
Holtby begins a home visit by sorting: spatulas in one pile, spoons in another. Ditto pens and paper clips, toys and books. If the space needs it, she’ll also do a deep-clean. Homes can be distinctly personal spaces, so throughout all this, Holtby is asking her clients questions about their needs, wants, and habits–where they set things down, how they move about a space. If they have filing cabinets that they don’t use, they should try sorting papers in cubbies instead.
One of the trickier parts of organizing can be figuring out what to do with all the stuff you don’t want–Holtby will help with this, too. Intending to keep as much out of the landfill as possible, she’ll fill her car with items to donate. In Covid times, she has more limited drop-off options. Prior to the pandemic she would select nicer items to donate to the Refugee Women’s Alliance or Humble Design, a nonprofit that furnishes homes for those emerging from homelessness. Due to pandemic-related restrictions, Holtby now drops off most items at Goodwill (and she’s not alone).
While Holtby is just as busy as she was before Covid hit, her clients’ needs have, of course, shifted. In recent months, she’s helped people convert dining rooms into classrooms and garages into gyms. For families with kids, she’s helped establish designated “adult space” in the house. “There's no one right way to have your home,” she says.
Even for those fortunate enough to work from home, the pandemic has put a strain on mental health and relationships. Not only can an organized space feel relaxing, but it also might improve our interactions with family members or housemates (who, these days, double as coworkers). If partners thrive in different environments, Holtby can help them create those separate spaces, even if it’s as simple as having two desks in different corners of a room–one minimalist, the other sporting abundant decoration. “It's not that they have to change their way of thinking or their personality or their habits,” she says. “We have to change the system to accommodate them.”
For most people, staying home all day isn’t easy, but our homes might be able to give us something the outside world can’t. “This is a tough world,” says Holtby. “We’re in a tough time. And our homes are the one place where we have agency.”