For Saudi entrepreneur Sara Alissa, it’s time we all re-examine our consumer habits – and get organized
Being tidy has always been the norm for Sara Alissa, a Saudi entrepreneur and mother of two sons. Maintaining a well-organized living environment at her spacious home in Jeddah allowed her to balance parenting duties and the demands of managing her family. It was her friends who noted that she was rather exceptional at it. They often called upon her to help with relocations, or to sort out neglected, disordered rooms in their homes. “They told me, ‘People don’t think like this; they are not able to see spaces the way you do, or manage things the way you have,’” she recalls. “I never thought I could translate my organizational skills into a career or that there would be a demand for this kind of service.”
Bolstered by their encouragement, Alissa founded Sorted, a home organizing service based in Jeddah. Since launching five years ago, the business – part interior-design service and part space organization – has grown organically through word of mouth and social media, where she has nearly 50 000 followers across Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Alissa takes a holistic approach to her projects, employing her background in visual art from Franklin University in Switzerland and her study of feng shui (the Chinese practice of spatial arrangement to allow the flow of energy) to create both functional and aesthetically pleasing results. Her Instagram feed features a compelling display of pantries lined with labeled jars, color-coded books, and shelves of arranged children’s toys like every perfectionist’s dream. On her website, she offers guides in the form of back-to-school shopping lists, or what to pack for the hajj.
Her methods are strongly influenced by Japanese organizing expert Marie Kondo, founder of the KonMari method. “She made me realize how life-altering the process of purging and organizing can be. She noted that, ‘The question of what you want to own is actually a question of how you want to live your life.’ That philosophy informs each job we take on, in order to bring happiness and joy to people by helping them transform the way they live at home and work,” Alissa declares.
Currently, Alissa is working on becoming the first certified KonMari expert in Saudi Arabia. “I want to tailor my methods to meet the region’s specific needs based on our culture. The KonMari method teaches you to keep only those things that speak to your heart and to discard items that no longer spark joy. People around the world have been drawn to this philosophy not only due to its effectiveness, but also because it places importance on being mindful, introspective, and forward-looking.”
“In the region, the emergence of a consumer culture on a large scale is a relatively recent phenomenon,” states Alissa of the problems related to acquiring “too much stuff.” “A consumer culture on the scale of the West didn’t start until several decades after the oil boom of the 60s and 70s,” she explains. “In the past, whether a Bedouin, city dweller, or farmer, people in the region faced living with limited resources. We took care of what we had and passed it down along the generations. The emergence of affordable mass-produced goods on the market created a culture of hyper-consumption that we are feeling the effects of today.”
It is also a reflection of changing lifestyles. Just a few decades ago, the average house size in the Gulf was smaller and typically contained several generations of an extended family. As people moved to bigger homes with nuclear families, there was more room per person – and that extra space soon became filled with clothing, books, furniture, papers, and gadgets. This has led to the Gulf joining a global reckoning on what to do with all the clutter. The environmental havoc of disposing this junk in landfills, or by incineration, is an increasingly pressing issue. “Global warming has forced many of us to become mindful and aware of what and how we consume. In my line of work, it’s not simply about getting rid of items, but what to do with them once they are no longer used. We need to find better ways to redistribute these items, find alternative uses for them, and encourage mindful consumption,” says Alissa, whose services also extend to assisting clients in finding charities to donate items.
And while long-term cultural change to consumer habits will take time, anyone who has experienced the instant euphoria that can ensue post clear-out will be familiar with the gratifying nature of Alissa’s work. “Having a well- organized living space can be both uplifting and energizing for those living there. For me, it’s ultimately about bringing joy to people’s lives and making sure they are surrounded by the things they love.”
Originally published in the February 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia