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Around the home

Making dreams a reality

manuelita otero


When was the last time you dreamed something big? When was the last time you worked toward that dream? Making dreams come true doesn’t look like it does in the movies or in fairy tales, in real life there’s a day by day process that may not be as exciting or romantic. Making your dreams reality involves lots of hours, plans, to do lists, failed attempts, fear, courage, and new opportunities. A roller coaster of emotions worth riding because in the end you either achieve your dream, or you know you gave everything you had and it just wasn’t meant to be, which is not necessarily a bad thing, dreams evolve and sometimes what you thought you wanted was only a stepping stone for what you needed.  

My daughter and I have a dream at this moment. We want to buy a house. Maybe buying a house for a lot of people is not a big deal, it’s the expected thing people do at a certain time, but for others it may not be that easy.  To make our dream more interesting, we want to buy our house soon, and we have certain characteristics that we definitely want. We don’t have all the money we need right now and we know it is a short time span, but that’s what makes the dream even better. We feel it is the right time and a wise decision, so we are moving forward with our plan.  But a dream is not enough, and a plan is only as good as its execution. Things don’t just happen, we need to find a way to make them happen. 

So if you have a certain idea floating in your head, ask yourself the following questions: 

-What is it that I really want to do and why?

-Is it the right time?

-Why am I interested in this now? 

-Is there a way to make it happen? How?

Think, plan, and do. It sounds simple, and in a way it is simple, but it’s not easy. 

Maybe you don’t want to buy a house, your dream might be to release the music you have been working on for years, to travel the world, to go back to school, to start a new career, to open your own business. Whatever it is, remember to hold on to it and don’t let the size of your dream discourage you. On the contrary, let it inspire you. Let it remind you as you work long hours why you are doing what you are doing and focus on the end goal as you enjoy the process. 

We will keep you posted on our house buying process. We are so excited, but also a little tired from the extra work we had to take on. It will be worth it and nothing beats the feeling that every day we are getting closer to our dream.


Our own

manuelita otero


There’s something special about your own place. Buying your own home is an exciting step, it gives a certain type of security and comfort that is difficult to explain. As fulfilling as it is, it’s not an easy task and it takes time. It doesn’t matter what season in life you may be in, if you have owned many homes or if all you can afford right now is the dream of having your own place, we all want the feeling of owning our own home. At this moment in our family there’s a lot of talk about this topic because we would really, really, really like to own a house. We love our apartment, but it is time to stop paying rent and invest in our own space.

As exciting as buying a house may sound, not everything is peachy and reading, learning, preparing before making any moves is the way to go, so here are some general things we have been reading about. If you are searching for a home, we hope they help, if you already bought your own place and lived through the experience, please comment and share!

  • First things first. You don’t have to be a certain age or in a specific situation to buy a house. You can start planning as soon as you want and start saving as soon as you can. Be wise with your financial decisions early on, and develop healthy financial habits.  

  • Owning a house comes with a huge responsibility and a long term commitment, so don’t take it lightly. Of course it doesn’t mean that you have to live there all your life, but you are responsible for it, so keep that in mind.

  • Be realistic with how much house you can buy. Look at the money you make each month and define a budget that considers all of your expenses. See how much can you really afford, and take into consideration insurance, administration, upkeep, and maintenance. Make a fund for those “unexpected extras” so they won’t surprise you.

  • Get rid of debt. That is the best thing you can do whether you are thinking to buy a house or not. Debt is a heavy weight to carry and the sooner you get out of it or better yet, the sooner you don’t get into, the better.

  • Give yourself a timeline and make it realistic so you can actually enjoy the process.

  • Check several neighborhoods, visit them at different times of the day, early during rush hour, midday, late at night. Have a feel of the place, walk around it, see who your neighbors would be. Take time to do the research.

  • Think first about what you love, what are the “musts” and the “nice to haves” Then, think about the things that would help you sell your place in case you need to sell. It is good to keep in mind that this may not be the place you will live in all your life, so things like great schools, access to walkable areas, safety and other things are appealing to buyers, but first think about you, because you want to live in a place you love.

  • Don’t get a 30 year loan, it may seem that you are paying less, but in reality the cost is much higher. Get a 15 year loan and the higher the down payment the better.

  • Keep in mind closing costs, which are around 3-4% of the cost of your house.

  • Once you get your house, don’t get swept away by the desire to decorate it. Again, make a budget and follow it. Decorate slowly, room by room if you have to, as long as you don’t get in debt.

Listen to other people’s experiences and learn from them!


Moving things around

manuelita otero


Sometimes you just need change. Otherwise, life can quickly become a monotonous list of things we do - habits and schedules we have mastered day after day. Change can be as simple as switching your toothpaste or as massive as switching careers.  I like change and at the same time I like my schedule. It’s a sweet mixture of needing a system but getting bored easily. A couple of days ago as I was working in our living room, I looked up and saw our sunroom. (We live in a very small apartment so I can see everything from our dining room.) Our sunroom is what I consider our prettiest room because it is full of windows that look over trees and nature. My daughter has an online vintage store, My Closet Etc and she has been keeping the clothes there. They look cool, but I wanted to be able to enjoy that room more. So I changed it and this is what I learned as I moved things around:

- What do you really want?


I wanted to be able to use our sunroom in a more efficient and practical way. I wanted to have an inviting space to enjoy. I knew what I wanted. That’s easy when we are talking about changes in a room, but when it comes to our lives, it may not be as clear. You may feel something is not clicking, you are overwhelmed, or something is just not right, but do you take the time to dig deep and figure out what is happening and what do you really want? How can you achieve what you want and need if it’s not clear to you? Time to analyze your situations is time well spent.

- Just do it

I thought for a few minutes about what I wanted to do with that space. I asked my daughter what she thought and when she liked the idea I started moving things around.

Sometimes we take too long to put into practice our ideas or the changes we need because we want to avoid uncertainty. If you know there’s something that needs to change in your life and a new direction you need to take, don’t think too long, do it before fear keeps you in your “comfort zone”.


- You don’t have to do it alone

I am stubborn and a little impatient sometimes. I had an idea, I wanted to do it so I started immediately. That wasn’t smart because moving boxes, tables, and a sofa at 11 pm on my own is not recommendable. It took me awhile just to figure out how to get the sofa out of the room it was in. I kept thinking “it went in, so it has to come out” but when we moved in, I had help.  

In life some things we need to do alone, but others we simply can’t or shouldn't. There are times in which you will need support, encouragement, and a friend to remind you that it will be alright. That’s why we need community. A group of non judgemental friends who really care about you and will be by your side no matter what. Yes, do it, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Moving a couple of piece of furniture around sounds simple, but I can’t express how happy it has made me. I love spending quiet time in this area. I love working as the rain falls or when the sun rays come through the windows brightening my day. The space is exactly what I was looking for, an invitation to be creative. And I also love the lessons in the process. Now is your turn... Is there anything you would like to change? Maybe something simple at home or maybe something deeper within you. Whatever it is remember to clearly define what you want, and do it whether it is on your own or with help. There’s no better time than now.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero  

Home sweet home

manuelita otero


“There’s no place like home.” It seems like such a common saying, but isn’t it so true?

These past weeks we have had the opportunity to think about the concept of home more than usual. My parents decided to move back from Florida. They sold their house, packed all their belongings and drove to Atlanta in search for their new home. They stayed with us for a while, but soon they realized that living in someone’s house is just not the same, no matter how much you love them. They missed their space so they rented an apartment and made it their temporary home. I understood them, and I am happy for them.

Around the same time we had the opportunity to watch an adorable little dog and stay in his parent’s home. A beautiful, huge, amazing house, I must add. We spent a wonderful week in our friend’s house. Still… we missed home. Because really there’s just something about the place you live in, the space where you share special time with friends and family. It doesn’t matter how small it is, how simple or humble.

There is a program on Netflix that we love called “Amazing Interiors”, it is so interesting to see how some people take a daring step to making their home the place they have always dreamt of.  In the show we have seen a couple who worked for a year converting an old boat into their beautiful home, a writer who made a house that told a story from room to room. A man who loved his cars so much that decided to move into the garage and an artist who converted his home into a circus. Watching these people’s home stories inspires me. I loved their creativity, hard work and willingness to be different.

It is refreshing to be reminded that there is no such thing as the “ideal home” or the “perfect house.” It is up to you to make your space yours, to make it fit your lifestyle, tell your story and be that dream home. It’s up to you to make your home that place you just can’t wait to come to. A home is supposed to be more than a place where you sleep and eat, it’s a space to build memories, to reset, to think, enjoy and share. Are you ready to let your creativity loose and enjoy your home even more? Don’t think you need expensive decorations, a big space or an ideal location; it needs to be that beautiful place that makes you smile just because.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero



A fresh start

manuelita otero


How do you feel about cleaning? Not the regular weekly cleaning, I’m talking about a serious deep clean. It’s that time of year in which we are supposed to clean our house from top to bottom and somehow organize our lives in the process. I love the idea, I really do. Cleaning, decluttering, and organizing are like therapy for me. Spring cleaning nowadays is part of our daily vocabulary, but have you ever thought about the origin of this tradition?

Cleaning was more than just cleaning some generations ago, and it still plays an important part in some cultures. For example, it is a Jewish custom to do a deep cleaning during Passover. This holiday remembers the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. During this time they eat unleavened bread, called “matzah.” It is so important not to have leavened bread during this season that Jewish families carefully clean their houses to make sure not even a crumb of it is found. The Chinese and the Iranians also do a deep cleaning around this time of year in anticipation of the New Year. The Chinese clean their houses thoroughly because they believe it helps them get rid of bad luck that may have accumulated during the year.

Whatever the origin or the reason it is a good idea to take some time during the year to focus on a deeper cleaning for our homes. How about you? Have you started your “spring cleaning” yet? Maybe you already finished it or maybe like me you are still trying to figure out how to fit any type of cleaning into the schedule. Here are some ideas of what you could include in your list:

  • Clean the oven.

  • Clean out your refrigerator.

  • Clean walls and doors.

  • Clean ceiling and fans.

  • Clean out drawers and cabinets, especially that one drawer… you know which one I’m talking about.

  • Clean the garbage disposal.

  • Clean the dishwasher.

  • Clean the washer and dryer.

  • Clean curtains and blinds.

  • Clean carpets.

  • Clean sofas and chairs.

  • Rotate mattress.

  • Wash pillows.

  • Sort through closets.

  • Update first aid kit.

  • Throw away expired medicine and beauty products.

  • Wash outdoor furniture.

  • Wash windows.

  • Check fire alarm batteries.

  • Clean your physical files.

  • Organize your computer files.

  • Clean out the garage.

  • Organize your books, magazines, Cds and Dvds if you still have some.

  • If you have children, sort through their toys and give away the ones they don’t use anymore.

  • Clean and organize your jewelry and also give away what you don't use. 

The list can go on and on so keep adding to it. Don’t feel that you have to complete everything at once, do what you can with the time you have, maybe you can   choose the same dates each month to tackle one of your cleaning projects, or maybe you want to do it all in one month, just have fun and try to make cleaning and organizing part of your habits. If I am honest, I don’t think my spring cleaning list is going to look as complete as this one, but thinking about it and writing it down makes it more possible. A little cleaning can go far so don’t let the mess overwhelm you and why not start your own cleaning traditions to pass on from generation to generation.

If you want some cleaning and organizing tips check this out: Celebrating small victories

And if you want to downsize, this will help: Downsizing

Manuelita  @manuelitaotero

Home for the holidays

manuelita otero


December is such an exciting month, an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful season with family and friends. It’s the perfect moment to spend time with loved ones, to share memories, and to get ready for an amazing new year. December is a fun month, but it can also be very stressful. If you have friends or family staying over for the holidays you may already be thinking about all the cleaning, organizing, and logistical challenges you are going to have to face, not to mention the additional cooking, the Christmas shopping, the decorations, the events that you will have to attend and all the other things we do during this time.

What if this year we let go of all the perfect standards we have created? The beautiful decorations, the amazing food which  is all wonderful and all, but many times comes at a cost. Something’s gotta give, and it’s usually you. It may cost you sleep, time, and money, which may make you wish you didn’t have to invite all “these” people to your house and go through so much “trouble”, which ends up being the complete opposite of what the season is about and what you really want. Think about it… Does it take fancy dinners and intricate decorations to make beautiful memories with loved ones? Who decides the tone of your gatherings? You do! You are the one and only who can tell all your guests the “rules of the house” so why not make get togethers in your home relaxed ones?

For Thanksgiving we got together in our home. It was my first turkey from “scratch” and I was very excited, but I was also a little nervous because what if it didn’t turn out good, what would we eat? I didn’t want to have that pressure; I wanted to enjoy the experience and be able to laugh about it if the result was not the expected one. Like many times in life, the solution was closer than I imagined. My aunt decided to bring ham, so if the turkey was uneatable then we would not be hungry. My children and I decided ahead of time that it was going to be a very relaxing dinner. We focused on the opportunity to express our gratitude and the opportunity to share a meal with friends and family. Since I was going to be busy that morning each of my children was in charge of a dish and a dessert and they did an excellent job. I loved our dinner, it was not only delicious, but I got to really enjoy it because I wasn’t worried about it being perfect. And if you are wondering, my turkey was amazing- just not very photogenic.  

Maybe you have a lot of people coming over during this holiday season or maybe it’s just you, or maybe you have been thinking about opening your home to your friends or coworkers but you are not too sure if the experience may be overwhelming. Whatever you decide to do and as many people as you decide to invite, the most important thing is to enjoy it! Remember what is all about and don’t let things distract you from the main purpose. Open your home, invite friends and make memories. To be a community, to listen to each other and to make others feel welcomed is more important than flawless meals or picture perfect table settings, because what really matters is how we share our love.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero



Make your home your ally

manuelita otero


I love visiting houses. I like seeing decoration ideas, analyzing different combinations of colors, and the little details that make a space special. I love seeing cool furniture and a daring attitude- and I do mean attitude because at the end that’s what a house transmits, an attitude toward life.

I would be happy if I could dedicate more time and money toward my house’s decor and design. I am not an interior designer or an expert of any kind, it’s just a passion of mine. There’s still a lot of work to be done so my home can look the way I envision it, but that will come at the right time, for now instead of decoration I have been thinking about how the spaces in which we live can be our allies or our enemies, especially while we are going through difficult times. It may seem like an exaggeration, but sometimes a space in our home can bother us and make us feel uncomfortable or the opposite, it can make us feel peaceful and welcome. Our living room, kitchen, bedroom, our whole house can add or subtract to a situation. It can be part of the good “mood” that we need as we are going through challenging moments or, if we allow it, it can become part of the problem.      

I notice in my house and the houses of family and friends that there is always something you can do to turn those square feet into something special and unique, something that is truly yours. It may not even require an expert or a big budget, it’s more of a decision to make our spaces a positive addition to every situation we are going through. Of course who wouldn’t love to be surrounded by beautiful things, pay an expert to help beautify a space, or buy things to make a room even more inviting. If you can and there’s no limit to your budget, great, but there are still many things that you can do to make your house an ally, especially as we go through different stages in life.  

If you need more clarity and order why not “hide” the clutter that could be distracting you such as papers, toys, and books. Put everything in containers to keep things in order for focus and clarity. Or maybe you need a change of color in your surroundings. Just by changing the color of a wall you can feel more relaxed and serene. Or you just need to use what you have, decorate with the things that you have stored, things you have forgotten you even had or things you only use during “special” occasions. You may have more than you realize, you may need to buy less so you can enjoy more. Use the beautiful things you have such as candles, mugs, vases, fancy china, use it all. And when going through a sad moment, make your home a place where you can find some joy. Buy some flowers to brighten your day, take out your favorite book and put it  close to a comfortable place where you can sit and read.

Sometimes people who love to go out may have to stay at home for more time than they would like to. With a little adjusting of what they already have they don’t have to feel “trapped” in their homes. Simple things like making more space for natural light to come in, having more green plants or flowers, or decorating a space in a completely different way so it might feel like a small coffee shop that could serve as a place to work, read or simply talk could make a world of difference.  

There are countless ideas, according to each situation and mood. This has nothing to do with feng shui or movement of energies or any of those things, which I don’t know anything about and honestly don’t believe in, this is something simple and practical that can be practiced in the day to day without complications. I am inviting you, without the need of experts or studies, to make your home your friend, to make simple changes if needed in your space so you will feel happier where you live, breathe, and rest.   


Do you want to have an open house mentality?

manuelita otero

Some time ago when we moved to Singapore, I remember thinking that I wanted to be more generous with our home.  A couple of weeks later we heard about a group of teen choir members who were coming from Philippines and needed host families. We received two wonderful young girls as they visited the city. That was the beginning of our open house mentality. Fast forward to today- We just said goodbye to family who stayed with us celebrating my son’s graduation and as soon as they left another family member came and stayed with us while he had meetings in Atlanta. Also, a friend is sleeping on our couch because her apartment flooded. Did I mention that we live in a two bedroom  apartment and I work full time?

I have always loved having people over, but I liked everything to be controlled. A certain number of days, during certain seasons, and leaving enough time so I could plan the menu, clean the house, and prepare everything for my guests. By the time they arrived I was exhausted and stressed because, if we're honest, there’s not much we can control. Things are different now because if someone asks me if they can stay at our apartment, I put myself in their position and welcome them in.  And the best thing is that I enjoy their visit because I have let go of the hosting standards I had set up for myself. I decided that I simply couldn’t be everything. I couldn’t be the perfect chef, the perfect hostess, the perfect friend, and still keep the rhythm of life that I live.

What helped me change my attitude?

  • I accepted that I couldn’t do it all and that having a lot of people over naturally makes a messy house.  

  • Meals stopped being a big ordeal, they became fun time for conversation around the table, even if the main course is pizza.  

  • I thought about me, not only my guests. If I need to sleep early I simply say good night. If I need some time I alone, I take it.

  • I started cooking around my guests. Many times the visit is at the kitchen or if I am making guacamole I just prepare it at the table with my guests who like to keep trying until the flavor is just right.   

  • I specialized in a couple of dishes that I can cook fast. They are delicious, one dish meals that feed a lot of people.   

  • I started accepting help. As simple as this may sound, for some reason I thought accepting help from my guests was not appropriate. Now when someone asks me if they can help, I have several duties in mind.  

  • I learned to be flexible and go with the flow.

  • I started focusing more on the moment. Every time someone is in our home is an opportunity to let them know how special they are and to create a stronger relationship. This is a gift and an honor.  

  • I spoke the truth. If for some reason I can’t  receive someone at home, I tell them and offer another time. Sometimes even if you really want to have guests over, you just can’t and people understand.

An open house doesn’t mean a perfect one and once we realize this, we get to enjoy precious time with  friends and family.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero


Moving Lessons

manuelita otero

“Moving”… the word alone brings many emotions doesn’t it? I have moved plenty of times and I don’t dislike it, actually there are many things I love about moving. During our most recent move, in the middle of the packing, unpacking, loading, unloading and the mess that comes with it, I  was reminded of several things:    

- Is the grass is greener on the other side?: I don’t know if it’s just us, but every time we’re going to move we start talking about our new place as if it’s going to be the most beautiful home in the world. We dream of wooden floors, perfect lighting, huge closets and we vow to put great time and effort to make it amazing. I think possibility overtakes reality and the same thing can happen in our lives. For example, when we start having problems in a relationship we think that if we had someone new everything would be wonderful. When in reality If we’d spend the same time working on our relationship instead of fantasizing about a perfect someone, maybe we would see positive changes. The grass is greener where it’s cared for.   

- Preparation is key:  I knew we were moving, and I knew what I needed to do, like sort papers and give things away.  But there seemed to be no time for that then, so I ended up doing that in the middle of the mess. There are things you are hoping for or things you want to achieve, but sometimes there is so much waiting that you feel like you are “wasting” time. Waiting time is actually preparation time. If you have a specific goal, a dream burning in your heart, then what you do each day should be getting you a step closer to it. Prepare while you wait and you will be ready when opportunities arise.

- Be creative: We moved to a smaller apartment and we decided not to buy anything new so it’s requiring a lot of creativity to find ways to use what we already have to solve organizational issues. In life we have to do the same. We may already have the solution to a certain issue that is stealing our peace, but we just haven’t seen it from a different perspective. Sometimes we get too caught up in the problem and can’t focus on the solutions available. Find solutions with what you have at hand.

- Me time, us time: Even though our apartment is small we’ve defined clear small areas which in a way “belong” to each of us. A place where we can work, or think, or have some alone time.  At the same time we have carefully crafted inviting areas where we can get together to share a meal, fun stories, and make memories with friends and family. In our daily lives we need to create spaces where we can be on our own enjoying our own company and also make time to share with those we love.

And one last thing, something that you probably already know: Most of us have more things than we actually need. All this stuff may be holding you back and getting in your way.  It’s better to travel light, so  give away the things that you don’t need, get rid of negative feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and shame. Let all your fears and regrets go and embrace change.

 Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

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Do You Live in Your Dream House?

manuelita otero

Do you ever find yourself lost in your dream world, looking at photos of amazing houses on Pinterest? Is it just me? What would your dream house look like? I think one way or another we all want something different in our home, which is why so many people love those shows where houses go through a “Cinderella” transformation. The old house is turned into a beautiful, Pinterest-perfect place and the owners are crying tears of joy.

We can wish about something or we can dive into it and get it. I’m not saying that doing that dream project is going to be easy.  I know there are many hurdles to conquer before you can even get started, but once you make the decision to do something about it, you’re heading in the right direction.

Some projects around your house may be related to lighting, furniture, or decoration. Taking those projects may be easier. You could divide a big one into small steps and see your home transform month by month. Some projects may include construction or even moving and getting another place. Those will take more time, planning, and money, but the sooner you make a budget and a serious strategy to achieve your dream, the sooner you will be able to see it materialize. Maybe these tips will help:

- Be clear: Know what you and your family wants. Start with an open discussion where everything is possible; dream big! After all the ideas have been given, narrow it down to what everyone has agreed.

- Be inspired: Look through magazines, Internet, and TV shows. Get information to help you stay motivated and translate what you imagine into reality.

- Be knowledgeable: You don’t have to know everything about fixing the basement or changing the lights, but the more you know the better, so try to learn something about the project you want to achieve.

- Be prepared: A dream without a plan is just that, a dream. So if you are serious about what you want, if you want to see it a reality, define a strategy, make a plan, give yourself deadlines, and make a budget.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero



manuelita otero

There’s a show called Tiny House Nation where two renovation experts travel around the U.S. showing the experience of families who decide to live in smaller homes.  After an interview, the hosts of the show design a house that’s right for the family. Did I mention the house is no larger than 500 square feet? When we first watched the program we got so excited and said “let’s do it”- then reality kicked in and we realized how small 500 square feet really are.

We moved from a house to a cozy apartment around three years ago and we’re now thinking to move once again to an even smaller place. We love apartments because cleaning and organizing is easier, but a smaller place also brings the challenge of not having enough space which gives us the opportunity to once again look at our things and see what we really need and what can be enjoyed by someone else.

Decisions, decisions! We love what we have but we can’t take it all. So how do we  choose? Here are some things we’re keeping in mind as we downsize:


  • Do you love it? Sometimes you may love a piece of clothing, but it just doesn’t look good. Don’t toss it back into your closet and forget about it. Make a decision, it either works or it doesn’t.

  • Does it fit? Do you feel good in it? If not, give it away.

  • How about accessories? Have you checked lately your purses, belts, necklaces? Do you still love what you have?

  • Have you used it in the past year? If not, why? If you still love it and it fits, find a way to update it. I always give second chances to what I love (you see why it’s so hard for me to get rid of things?)


  • Does it make you happy?

  • Does it bring a memory?

  • Sometimes things aren’t just things, and that’s ok. During years we moved often and we would always pack all our belongings in one container. Our things have gone from Colombia, to Australia, to Singapore, back to Colombia and now to the States and I can’t describe my joy once our things would arrive. They would make any place feel like home. The key is to carefully decide what pieces are important to you and to be realistic and see if they still fit your lifestyle. We change, times change, and some of our things need to change too.


  • It seems that we keep getting more and more papers, even in this digital era. The most important thing is organization, which will make it easier to define what’s important.

  • Try to separate one day a week for filing so things won’t pile up.

  • Put important papers in a safe place, including art work by your children or special things you don’t want to lose.

It seems that once things are in one place for a long time we don’t even notice them and we get used to the mess being there.  That’s why it’s so important to look at your home with fresh eyes and be as honest as possible when it comes to downsizing. Traveling light is good, but it is also good to carry those things that mean something special. Use common sense when it comes to giving things away.  Enjoy what you have and try not to keep more than what you need.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

A small change at home, a big impact in your life

manuelita otero

The other day my daughter and I decided to switch things around. We were tired of the way things were looking in our rooms so we thought a few changes would help us get creative and see things in a different way. She gave me her minimalistic and sleek desk and I gave her a beautiful low and long teak table. Giving up my table was a challenge because I was now left with papers, notes, and books that had no home. I was forced to decide what had to go so I kept asking “Is this adding value?”,  “Will I ever need it?”. I loved clearing up my room and my mind at the same time, decluttering for me is a type of therapy. We both love the way our rooms turned out. It’s amazing how one small change can catapult into so many positive things.

Would you like to change things in your home too but you don’t want to make a big time or money investment? Here are some ideas that you could put into practice right now:

-Add a colorful lamp to create an accent or a light that can be adjusted so you can change the mood of a room.

-Frame your artwork or your pictures. Frame black and white photos.

-Rearrange your furniture.

-Paint a piece of furniture a bright color.

-Change the fabric on your chairs or sofas.

-Add some plants, change them around the house or put some flowers in the places you spend most of your time.

-Put a throw on your favorite sofa or on an accent chair.

-Look for ideas from magazines or Pinterest. Remember this is a source of inspiration so don’t pressure yourself if things don’t turn out the same.

-Repurpose things.  

-Make some quick changes on your decorative shelves.

-Change the covers of your pillows.

-Add a colorful rug.

-If you don’t love it, give it away. If it’s not working, give it away.  If it doesn’t add value, give it away.

-Make family spaces more inviting.    

-Have less, enjoy more.

Small changes create a big impact. Let your creativity loose and enjoy your home even more.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

Places to disconnect and reconnect

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The other day I went to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in some time and she excitedly showed me how they changed the landscape of their yard. They made an inviting space with two big wooden chairs surrounded by bright flowers. It was the perfect place to just sit and enjoy quiet time or time with friends. I told her how much I loved it and asked her if she ever used it. I don’t know why, but I thought she would tell me that she hasn’t had the time, but to my surprise she said that it’s their favorite part of the house and they sit there every night, sometimes just with her husband, other times neighbors come and join them. I was happy to hear that this beautiful space was being used and enjoyed, but I was also concerned about my assumption that it wasn’t. I think my quick decision was based on the fact that I know many people who have beautiful spaces and don’t take advantage of them. And I must admit I’m the first one on that list.

The older I get, or should I say, the wiser I get, I want to have what I need, but specially enjoy what I have. I feel anything else is unnecessary. Too much unneeded stuff distracts me, takes away my time, and stays unused when it could be given to someone else. Instead of having stuff I want to create memories and feel time stand still as I laugh with friends or have fun with my children. I live a busy life but I also like to live fully each moment.

My friend’s garden made me so happy because it’s an invitation to smell, taste, and feel the moment. We need more spaces like that, those that help us disconnect from everything that is pulling our attention and to connect to what really matters to us.

Do you have those spaces in your home? Can you think of a place that you love, but you haven’t visited lately because you “haven’t had the time”? Time is what we have right now, and we need to take advantage of it because someday we simply won’t be able to. The now is a gift, look around your home and find the places you enjoy the most and spend more time there, on your own, with your children, your pets or your whole family. It’s your time, it’s your space, enjoy it!

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

Your house is not perfectly organized?… So what!

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Have you ever been at your door, ready to leave and then you see something that's not in the right place so you just have to go and put it where it belongs? I’m like that.  I don’t like to leave my home until everything is organized.  I don’t want to see clutter or dirty dishes or mess on the table, which is great until I realize that I’m five minutes late everywhere I go and when I can’t fix everything it bothers me. Sometimes I need to practice a little self-forgiveness when it comes to home cleaning and organizing. I need to understand that no matter how hard I try to keep my house organized, it won’t look perfect all the time and  that’s ok.

A clean and organized house is great, but losing your peace over it isn’t. Not being able to enjoy time with family and friends because you couldn’t clean the whole house isn’t right.  So I started thinking about what I could do to let go of that desire for everything to look perfect at all times.  Here are some things I came up with, maybe they can help you get your list started:

-Choose one day a week for cleaning:  For someone like me, who likes everything organized and very clean it could be easy to lose a lot of time cleaning every day, so I decided to do major cleaning one day a week.  I do quick touch ups every morning, but if I see something that would take a little longer and can wait I put it off until the cleaning day. I want a clean and organized house, but I don’t want that to be the priority of my life.   

-Make it easy to keep a place organized: If everything has a place where it should be, then it is easy for your family and friends to also keep the home organized. The responsibility is not only for  one person; it is a team effort and everyone gets to enjoy the results.

-Set a date and do it:  If you have a special project or a chore you need to do, stop repeating over and over that you have to do it, give it a date and then don’t talk about it until it’s time to do it. All that talking steals your energy and feeds something very dangerous called “dread.” When you dread something you are reminding yourself over and over of the thing you don’t want, you are polluting your present with something that hasn’t even happened.  

-Be in the moment: If friends or family drop by unannounced and your house is not up to your standards, don’t over apologize.  It is annoying when the people who are around you only hear how sorry you are because your house is messy.  They came to see you and to enjoy the moment with you, so let it go, say it once and just enjoy the moment in good company.

Sometimes this idea that we can do it all steals our peace and weighs down on us. Some days you will look at your home before you leave and everything will be in the right place, but others it may look like a battle field. The important thing is not to let a little mess affect your day.  The mess can be cleaned up later, but your day can’t be replaced.   

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

One more reason to love coming home

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You come home after a long day, and saying hello to your family you want to take a few minutes to relax by doing what you love.  You want to do some writing, but the T.V. is loud and doesn’t let you concentrate, there is no place for you to sit down, and your desk is so full of papers that you can’t get inspired.  Our home needs to be a place where we can rest and grow while we enjoy time on our own or with family and friends.  

Have you ever thought about decorating and organizing your home around your strengths? The first thing you need to do is look at your life and how things flow in it.  Do you have a busy schedule of coming and going? Then try to minimize the work at home by having everything in proper places that will make it easy to pick up and go. The next question: Do you know what you love to do?  Before you organize your home around your strengths, you need to know what they are.   Keep in mind the following ideas to help you as you get your home ready for growth: 

-Let your home reflect who you are:  If you like to paint is there a way you can create an art studio?  A place where your art supplies can be readily accessible as soon as inspiration strikes?  You don’t need a big house to be able to do this; the corner of a room can be a perfect place for an artist to let his or her imagination roam.  If you have children and they like to write stories and illustrate them, then have desks for them, their size, with their crayons, colors, pens and their journals to document their day. Let your home invite those who live in it to develop their abilities.

-Invest accordingly: If you like to write, you may spend hours seated writing, so make sure you have a good, comfy chair.  If your children like to do gymnastics, make a space for them to do it without having to worry that something will break and they could get hurt.  If you have a hobby that requires attention to small detail, invest in good lighting.  Sometimes we prefer to spend great amounts of money on fancy furniture that we hardly ever use and forget to invest in the things that we will be using more often and the ones that will impact those living in your home. 

-It’s a journey: Our interests change with time, our strengths grow as we get to know ourselves better, so our home needs to reflect those changes.  Let your home grow with you and change according to all the people who live in it.  Let it be a place that continually reflects who you are.  It is a journey, so don’t get discouraged if you haven’t been able to create that workshop for your jewelry making hobby, or a place to work on pottery. Good things take time. 

Defining ways and spaces for everyone in your home to explore and develop their strengths is an invitation to do what you love in your own home; one more reason to love coming home. 

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

Celebrating small victories in the middle of the mess

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Is there a certain area in your house that you try to avoid because it’s just too messy?  Once in a while you may make the decision to tackle the problem only to walk in and feel overwhelmed not knowing where to start, so you close your eyes and decide to postpone the battle for another day. Maybe it’s an attic, a basement, a garage, an office, or even your own closet.  It doesn’t matter where it is, but you know it’s there and it bothers you.    

A messy area steals our time and our peace, even if we don’t realize it. Don Aslett, an expert on cleaning and organizing says in his book “Clutter Free” that “Clutter takes as much space in our minds as it does in our closets.” Wouldn’t you agree? You keep thinking about all the places in your house that you would like to organize, the things that you need to sort, the papers you need to check and throw away, and just thinking about it makes you tired!  Instead, think about the day you clean your house or organize your room.  Don’t you go back often just to look at the beautiful work done? I do! It makes me happy and no one has to notice or say anything, I know I did it and I know it looks great. Organizing and getting rid of what we don’t need is a liberating experience.  So don’t let that mess take any more space in your house and in your mind and let’s look at ways to get rid of it:

-Visualize it: Define what do you want and create a plan of action. Get ready mentally before you start doing the physical work. Define your final goal, how long is it going to take and what will you need to achieve it.

-Divide and you will conquer:  Sometimes a mess is just too big, and will take too long to organize, so it is better to divide the place in mini work areas.  This will help you tackle a job even if you don’t have too much time and it will give you the opportunity to celebrate small victories as you slowly see the difference in the room.  

-Invite a friend: Everything is better with good company, invite a friend and make organizing a fun event, catch up, laugh for a while and just share a good time. Inviting a friend to help you organize not only makes the work more fun, but it helps you be accountable because you can’t just give up and postpone the work for another day.   

-Be strong and honest:  Do you really need everything you have?  Most likely not.  If you haven’t missed it and haven’t used it for a while then probably you don’t need it, so why not give it away? Someone else could use it and you will be free of clutter. It’s a win-win situation.  Be honest with what you really need and be strong to be able to let go of what you don’t.

-Set up for success: Once you have finally worked through the mess and conquered it, make it easy to keep it organized.  A place gets messy because things don’t have a “home” or because we don’t put them back in the right place. Use labeled containers, give a special place to each thing and ask everyone in the house to keep things neat. Don’t let things pile up, take time to put them back in place. You will see how easy it is to keep your place organized.     

The key to confront a big mess is to get started.  No matter how big the mess, it can be divided and you can have your space and your peace back. You may even enjoy the process and definitely love the final result.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

For you… What is home?

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When moving into a new home, have you noticed how much time we invest thinking about where to put the furniture, the color we want for the walls, and the things we will need to decorate? That is part of the fun and excitement of getting a new place.  But for all the times you have moved and all the homes you have lived in, have you ever considered the following question: For you, what is a home? I haven’t really thought about it until someone asked me and made me think. And it is not that I had never considered my home as a place where I can relax and build memories with loved ones, but this person made me realize that a home is much more than that.

Our homes are special places and they mean a lot of different things, but for all of us our home can be a place to give. Whether you live alone or with a large family, your home could be a place where people, including yourself, are constantly giving and receiving, a place of growing, sharing, and multiplying. 

What can we give specifically in our home?

-We give refuge: When my children were small we used to read together a book called “Grover’s bad, awful day” by Anna H. Dickson. The book describes how Grover’s day starts badly and it becomes worse, until he gets home and can’t take it anymore and sits on his mom’s lap and cries as he tells her all about it. Like Grover, we have all  had awful days where we just couldn’t wait to get home and cry about it, letting it all out and then finally finding peace and relaxation in our own space. Our home is a safe place and the people who live there or those who come and visit can feel and receive that peace that it radiates.

-We give freedom: Don’t you love hanging around people who accept you for who you are? Don’t you love people who lovingly tell you what needs to be said but they don’t judge you? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone who comes into our home feels freedom and the ability to relax and be themselves? In a world full of expectations, it feels good to find a place where we don’t have to act in certain ways, but we can be who we are.     

-We give laughs: Good times with friends and family are a great thing to give in our home.  Meals shared with loved ones don’t have to be fancy or complicated; they just need to be sincere.   Making time for what is important, such a family time or opening our home to those who make our life special is a wonderful way to let others know how important they are in our life and how much we appreciate them.  

-We give example: The people who live with us or those who visit often are probably the ones who know us the best and will get to see firsthand our reaction to different situations.  They are watching and learning.  Whether we know it or not, our home is a place where we are constantly giving example, and that is a great responsibility and a wonderful opportunity.   

Our homes are so much more than a place where we go every day after work or school.  It is a place where we give refuge, special times, and example.  A place where long talks take place, wise advice is shared, and silly jokes are repeated. In other words, a place where memories are made.  In the future, what we consider today as part of our routine could become a warm memory of a certain time in our life.  Since our home is a place of constant opportunities to give and receive, why not take advantage and be generous? Are you ready to give big?

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero



Plan pantuflas

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Problems or not, my home is my favorite place to rest.  I feel something magical when I go home and do my favorite thing: “Plan pantuflas”, which literally means “Slippers plan” which  can be translated as: a good book, magazines, TV, or a movie with  something good to eat that is easy to prepare. No shoes, no purse, no makeup, no worries.  When I get home I get there with a relaxing attitude.

As a first time mother and with a marriage of less than five years, I brought the “plan pantuflas” into my new family, and I think it has really helped us.  I don’t know where the tradition came from, but I do know that I want to leave this to my daughter so she can apply it for the rest of her life without having to wait for Sunday to rest.

I have always believed that when we have one of those difficult phases, full of problems and uncertainty, our home, regardless of how big, fancy, or the number of people living in it should inspire us and bring us that peace we need. It should be a place where we renovate and lose some heaviness and strife.

When we start having problems, we get a feeling that starts affecting everything; little by little it could even become a serious problem such as depression, anxiety, or continuous stress.  From the moment we notice something happening we need to shake off that extra weight, even if the process proves to be difficult. Your home is a great place to start the process. I may exaggerate, but I couldn’t live in a place where I had no “me time”. When I relax I let go of my worries, remember who I am, and what do I want.  

So, what gives us that feeling of relaxation and peace in our own space? It’s a different thing for everyone, but it may have started when you were small. Maybe you built your own house with blankets and pillows in the living room, or maybe you built a tent and loved to spend time there, or maybe you had a secret place under the stairs or under the dining room.  Now that you have grown and you have your own place; let it be the one you dreamed of when you were little. 



Owning it

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In my country, Colombia, there is an obsession to buy a home.  I don’t know if it is the culture or the way we have been brought up, but it is a reality.  Although buying your own house or apartment is an achievement, a great investment, and a step toward your goals, it seems that people “lose value” if they do not have their own house by the time they are 35. It has become a standard to measure happiness, success, and how much money people have.

We live in a society where personal achievements never seem to measure up to the idea of owning your own house. Some people may think that meeting the love of your life, doing what you love, being able to take your parents, no matter their age, to the trip of their dreams, or feeling peaceful because you have found your spiritual journey or a healthy lifestyle are all secondary things to owning your own place.

Where am I going with all this? I just think it is terrible that we could be missing our present just because we don’t have our own space.  I’m tired of the word “own.” So, I started looking at things from a different perspective. “Own” can mean my own style, a place decorated with the things I like. “Own” could be a unique space I love, or a house filled with my personality. Ellen Langer, psychologist of Harvard and author of the book “Mindfulness” says, “Human beings need to live in the moment.  Living in the moment is a state of active attention, open and intentional in the present where we observe more and we judge less… where we connect with what surrounds us”.  

If the house comes, great, but if it doesn’t, it’s ok. I can focus on enjoying what I have now; in making my space beautiful for me. All of this reminds me of an apartment we were renting not too long ago.  My husband used to tell me: “this place doesn’t feel mine.”  I tried to convince him to feel comfortable there, to try to be happy because the day would come when we would get our own place.  But now that we live in another rented apartment I understand that it was not about buying a place, it was about taking the time to make it “ours” in the present instead of worrying and waiting about what we want to own in the future.  




Let Your Home Tell a Story

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We just moved into an apartment and we decided to use our “fancy” and more comfortable sofa in the family room, since that is where we spend most of our time.  Our sofa is beige and before we moved in we said no drinks or food near the area.  This rule was soon broken, starting with me because I wanted to sit there and drink my coffee and my children wanted to be able to eat snacks while watching T.V. 

It seems that sometimes we decorate our home to make it look beautiful and appealing for our guests, but we forget that it should also be comfortable and enjoyable for the people who live in it. 

When was the last time you had a candle dinner with your “expensive” silverware and the china you only take out for special occasions? Or how often do you sit in your “fancy” living room and just enjoy a hot cup of tea?  Do you listen to your favorite music when you are cooking or relaxing? Why do we seem to decorate our home for our guests, instead of enjoying it for ourselves every day? 

“Find yourself by recognizing what gives you pleasure, what makes you feel good and brings you delight. The act of separating yourself from what is phony, pretentious or trendy opens wide doors to reveal the real you.” Alexandra Stoddard

Our home is our refuge; it should reflect who we are and what we enjoy.  What good is it to have expensive furniture if we are constantly worried that our children, pets or guests are going to ruin it?  We want our home to give us peace of mind, not an additional source of stress. 

Our house doesn’t have to be big or elegant; it should be comfortable and reflect who we are. In our house we need to have certain spaces where we feel so good that all we can do is smile. Designer Joy Cho says, “Your home is your sanctuary, it should reflect the emotions you want to surround yourself with” So what emotions are you looking forward to be around in your home? 

Here are some ideas for you to enjoy your home even more: 

- Get a fresh start: Get serious about de-cluttering.  Whatever you don’t use, doesn’t add value or just takes space should go.  We feel lighter and happier when we get rid of things we don’t need.  Not only that, but it also makes it easier to keep our house organized and clean.

- Surround yourself with beautiful things: We often hear that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that is true.  We all appreciate different things and those things are the ones we should enjoy more often and have around our house.

I love candles, flowers, music, bright paintings, tribal prints and cushions; and that is what I love to see when I walk around my space.  Use the beautiful things you have, share your collections by displaying them and using them if possible. 

- Make sure you enjoy what you have: Eat at the table using your “fancy” dishes, whether you are alone or with family and friends. 

Find your comfy place to relax in your home. If you don’t have one, make one. Try to work by a window or a place where you can look away and be inspired.   Do you have a fireplace, bathtub, Jacuzzi, pool, or gym? Use it!   Remember to take advantage of the outside too; a balcony, patio and nearby park can all become an extension of your home. 

Keep exploring to find what you like to do and how you can enjoy your home even more. Remember it is your special place. Let your home tell a story… your story.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero