Christmas Gifts People Will Surely Keep and Love


We all know the saying that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but sometimes it can also be the most stressful. You know what I’m talking about– gift giving.

Let’s admit it, we all love giving and receiving gifts. The idea of unwrapping brightly adorned presents sparks the possibility of fulfilling our desires. Giving can be equally rewarding– with a pleasing anticipation of connection and acknowledged love from the receiver.

Choosing the right gift can be one of the most challenging things to do. There are so many factors to consider. From your limited budget to their personal preference, everything needs serious consideration. Coming up with creative gift ideas is somewhat an art form and just like with any other type of art, some of us aren’t good at it.

We dread receiving useless gifts, so why not ensure that the people we give gifts to won’t feel the same? If you still have no idea what gifts to give, take a deep breath and relax as we are here to spill some of our tips.

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1. A Letter

There’s something about the times we live in today that makes giving or receiving a letter something of a rarity. So go ahead and pour your heart out in words, pick a good post stamp, and send it their way.  You can send this via email or better yet, use a handmade stationary and have it mailed through the post office. Either way, it’s still gonna be huge surprise because almost no one ever does it anymore.

2. Old Books

These are the titles you’ve read and reread, the ones you impulsively bought and said will read but never actually did. For whatever reason, they’re collecting dust in your bookshelf and you just know for sure that they’re better off in someone else’s care. To make it extra special, write a personal inscription inside. (Unless of course you don’t believe in writing on books. Respect.)


3. A Cooked Meal or Baked Sweets

Invite your friend to dinner at your place. Cook up something simple yet hearty or whip something up in the oven. Everyone’s café favorites, basically. Have some drinks and let the night pass in between thoughtful conversations and impossible laughs. If you’re not much of a chef then making simple, packed lunch or treats with even just a short note is enough.

4. A Personalized Playlist

For every generation, the personalized playlist has always been a no-fail gift to give. It has taken form in tapes, CDs, and now in good old Spotify. You could customize it any way you’d like. Put in that person’s favorite songs, songs that remind you of them, or songs that you know they’d thank you for introducing. Essentially, a playlist is like a warm hug one can keep going back to, so don’t ever hesitate to give one.  


5. Time

The Christmas season is easily the busiest out of the whole year, with everyone rushing to go places. So just the act of making time and showing up for the people you love is more than enough to show them just how much you value them. Have a meal together to catch up and show you care.


You choose a gift for someone. You give that gift to them. They look in your eyes and say “thank you.” It’s a moment of love or friendship that has been banked, a bond that has been deepened.

These tips are certainly not the only ways to rethink your gifting ideas. The only real limit to our gift giving is the lack of imagination. After all, most of us celebrate the holidays as a way to share our love with each other and remember the good in our lives.


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Tidying an Entryway Using the KonMari Method

source: unsplash

source: unsplash

Whenever I move to a new country, the first thing I always set up is our entrance. Here you can see pictures of our Jakarta entrance and berlin entrance.

Entrances are very useful spaces, so much so that sometimes they become a dumping ground for the things that we think we really, really need. In other words, entrances have a tendency to get really cluttered. Another word for an entry hall is a mudroom.

A mudroom is where boots and outerwear are shed, shopping bags get dropped, and keys and coins are tossed. Coats, hats, schoolbags, umbrellas and often shoes are left out in the open, creating visual chaos – and making it hard to  find what you need to deal with or wear.

STORE IT! Where to put all the things you need to keep

I wanna show you a recent tidying we did of an entry way. Our client had a lot going on in the entrance, with several bug out bag versions, luggage and items for disposal.


The entrance also had a very large and hardworking built-in storage, that was filled to the brim. This is very common for entryways, especially if there is no specific, assigned location for your stuff. Naturally, it gets jumbled up. Does this happen to you too? Don’t worry, it happens to me too. The secret is to have an assigned location for stuff.

entryway storage


The first step is always to clear the shelves and put all the contents on your table or floor. This is the perfect chance to wipe the storage, and clean your belongings, before putting them back. By them I mean, only the items that #SparkJoy of course.

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Once the items are in a central location, where you can see them all, you will be surprised, at how much you actually have. Then we guided our client, to do the #KonMariMethod of touching each item and asking themselves, if the item truly sparks joy. If an item brings about feelings of guilt, shame or sayang (what a pity) for not having used it, then it goes to the disposal pile.

Here are the before and after photos after 3.5 hours of tidying.


home entryway declutter


Now this space is very clear. The top portion is for glass jars with their lids, the middle is for all the china - organized according to color - and the bottom is for the luggage and the newest set of bug out bags, with the backs facing the door, so it’s easy to grab.

entryway storage decluttering

One section of the storage is for pots/pans, and below are all the coolers. Just like Mari Kondo’s bag-in-a-bag, the smaller coolers go inside the bigger coolers, to save on space. The largest cooler has a medium cooler, with a small cooler inside. It is truly #SpaceSaving!

On top of the coolers are the booster seats, and air pump for the bikes.

tidying entryway storage

In this top portion of the storage, their used to be a vacuum cleaner. I don’t recommend this because it’s hard to access. The vacuum cleaner should be nearby at hand, so that it can be used regularly.

Now the space is for cooking accessories - large and small - and cheese plates with their knives.

Like most Filipino families, the turbo broiler was kept in it’s original box, which is already showing it’s age and can also attract pests. Cockroaches love feasting on boxes. After the session, you can clearly see the turbo broiler and the roasting pan, making it more accessible (easy to grab) and pleasant to use.

entrance storage tidying

We always send our client BEFORE & AFTER pics, not just to celebrate life-changing victories, but also so that when they feel, like the clutter is creeping back in, they can always refer to the photos, and arrange accordingly.

The entry way is now a bright and clear space that breathes. Please feel free to like and share, if this transformation inspires you!

*May contain affiliate links, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

tidy entry way kon mari method

Fun Yet Easy to Store Halloween Decor

I've never been one to make a huge effort for Halloween, but it’s a massive deal in our neighborhood, with a Halloween program for the kids plus the trick or treating. Boy, did I learn an expensive lesson on our first Halloween here. I had to do some last minute shopping in a posh department store because it was the nearest place I could find. After that, I swore to prepare for Halloween earlier and reduce the mom-stress.

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As the parent of a son who enjoys the festivities, I wanted to make Halloween decorating quick, easy and affordable!


  • Affordable & good value for money

  • Easy to install

  • Easy to store

  • Reusable

#MINIMALUXETIP: Go for LIGHT and STORE FLAT decor whenever possible.

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Decals are high impact yet store flat or rolled and are reusable, unlike these mouse stickers which were advertised as decals but were hard to remove and onetime-use only. It was so much fun installing them to make it look like we had a mice infestation, but I was disappointed that they weren’t reusable decals, as the Amazon listing said they would be.

Now I know to search for “window clings” instead. You can check these out instead: spider web window clings | cute clings | bat clings

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These bats and witches swirls are packed flat, then extend and swirl when hung. They were so easy to hang using either tack or by hooking onto existing drop lights. It was so much fun scattering them in our entry-way. Can you believe that this was just one pack? Please handle carefully so you can enjoy for many years to come.

It was so cheap to send via LBC shipping cart from the USA to Manila because it was flat.

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I bought two packs of this and have used them every Halloween. Even everyday items can be spooky when you drape fake spider webs on them.

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Get a soft felt pumpkin like this instead of hard, breakable ones. Wrap with silica packets in furniture wrap and stash easily for next year, without having to worry about dropping or breaking them.

I got an amazing deal on this white one from Pottery Barn and had it air shipped it via shipping cart.

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So I got this huge mobile on super sale on the Pottery Barn website last year and had it shipped by sea freight, which is why we are only using it this year. I don't mind because it was easy to stash the flat packaging in a closet. I was planning on putting it on top of our dining table (like below), but since that would require a very tall ladder, I used it for the entrance this year.

pottery barn halloween mobile

I used Tesa Ceiling Hook to hang it, so I can remove it easily after Halloween. Or I might keep it up to hang Christmas decor. The best thing about it, is that it can be removed without damaging the ceiling, and I can reuse it, for other locations or events. Here are some other alternatives for hanging: 1 | 2 | 3 (always weight your item before hanging and check the weight capacity of your hook)

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The glittery banner with a spider dangling from it is super fab over our front door and was also bought highly discounted here.

Though it will store almost flat, be warned that it sheds lotsa glitter, so it is not as easy to handle and store. A good vacuum is a must.

uhu tac

8. UHU tac is my best friend

As an career expat and perpetual renter, UHU Tac is my best friend. I am able to put up decor without damaging the surfaces of my rental AND this tack is reusable! #ZeroWaste Since I have white walls and ceilings, I used the white for most of my Halloween decor.

In fact I raved about it here. For the Philippines and other hot, humid countries, I recommend using tack only for temporary party or seasonal decor, but not for hanging items semi-permanently because the heat, humidity and earthquakes affect the tack. Things, like my bathroom clocks, fall off. Thank goodness they were cheap light ones from IKEA, and I was able to put them back up. When we used it in our bathrooms in Germany, we didn’t experience any clocks falling. I usually like placing light IKEA clocks in the bathroom of our homes, and this tack is what worked for us in Germany.


After our very first attempt to do Halloween decorations 3 years ago, I sold all the cheaply made, bulky and fragile Halloween decor. It was a loss to be sure, but I was just so relieved that I didn't have to pack it, only to discover it broken or moldy the following year. So don’t be afraid to let go to simplify your life.

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#MINIMALUXETIP: In my opinion, the BEST time to buy decor is on clearance AFTER THE HOLIDAYS. But there are also so many Thanksgiving sales right now.

Hope you got inspired by these decor ideas. If not for this year, then buy on super sale for next year - as long as they are easy to store.

Do you have any tips for stress-free Halloween decorating? I would love to hear it in the comments below!

*May contain affiliate links, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

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How to Store Shoes to Make Them Last Longer

source: hautestock

source: hautestock

Walk in closets inside or near bathrooms are quite common in Metro Manila. Is it the same way where you are from too? In my opinion this is the worst storage for shoes and bags, because the humidity will weaken the glue and materials of the shoe. Same goes for bags. If you have ever stored a shoe in a closet for more than a year, then worn it, only to experience the soles coming off, then you know what I mean. So my first tip for you is this:

Always store your shoes in a location that gets fresh air circulation. Bathroom walk-ins are not recommended, because of the humidity. - Ayessa , DeclutterMNL

Our client Amanda Griffin-Jacob, had her stuff in storage, while her vacation flat was being renovated. Once renovations were done, her shoes were unpacked from storage. The first step to tidying, using the #KonMariMethod, is always to place all the items on the floor, so you can see everything. Amanda then touched each pair to see which items still sparked joy. After this, we were left with much fewer shoes. We also checked each one to make sure that they were still in good condition, and recommended even more shoes for disposal.

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Then we looked for storage that wouldn’t be too close to the warm bathroom or windows, yet would be easy to open and air out. I recommended the shelving underneath the TV in the bedroom, so she can easily open and decide which shoes to wear, while sitting on her bed.

Then we tried different ways to organize her remaining shoes, so that

  1. She could see all her shoes at a glance. It is very important in the Kon Mari Method that you see everything, so you know what you have, and nothing is hidden underneath or behind.

  2. All the shoes fit. Initially it didn’t look like all the shoes would fit.

As you can see below, we tested different ways of storing, until we found the best way.

Before we found these gorgeous rose gold liners, we protected the surface of the cabinet with furniture wrap first.

Before we found these gorgeous rose gold liners, we protected the surface of the cabinet with furniture wrap first.

It’s important to keep the shoe bags with the shoes, so that it’s easy to find them when packing shoes for trips. We folded the shoe bags following the Kon Mari Method, and placed them in a clean box, that she already had.

It’s important to keep the shoe bags with the shoes, so that it’s easy to find them when packing shoes for trips. We folded the shoe bags following the Kon Mari Method, and placed them in a clean box, that she already had.

And then we found the shoe organizers from  MUJI . The best thing about them is that they are light, and can be stored flat when not in use.

And then we found the shoe organizers from MUJI. The best thing about them is that they are light, and can be stored flat when not in use.

For shoes that were too tall to stack in the MUJI shoe organizers, we placed them like this, so that the heel of the shoe in the back, is easy to grab.

For shoes that were too tall to stack in the MUJI shoe organizers, we placed them like this, so that the heel of the shoe in the back, is easy to grab.

I was so happy with the results of this storage. The MUJI shoe stackers really saved a lot of space, so much so that there was even room to spare.

I was so happy with the results of this storage. The MUJI shoe stackers really saved a lot of space, so much so that there was even room to spare.

TIP: Don’t forget to arrange items from Left to Right: dark to light colors, tall to short. It’s more relaxing for the eyes and lets your space breathe.

Then it’s also important to place dehumidifying tubs, to absorb humidity, and also be sure to open your closets to get some fresh air circulating. The tubs, must be emptied once all the beads turn to liquid. Do not throw the tubs, because they have refills for this. In the Philippines you can get these tubs at any hardware store like in True Value or Ace Hardware. This will keep your shoes fresh and prolong it’s life. We spend so much on shoes, so it’s important that we care for them properly.

I hope that you find this post useful. And if you do, please feel free to share it! Thank you in advance.

*May contain affiliate links, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

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Letting Go Of Heirloom Furniture

Tanya has been the caretaker to some furniture pieces, that had been with their family since they were children. They were in a home shared by the family, but was not currently in use. 

So instead of having these beautiful vintage solid Narra pieces sit in the dark, unused, she and  her family decided it was time to let go, to perhaps make space for new pieces. Before letting go of heirloom pieces, it’s important to ask the next generation, if they are willing to part with it, or if they would like to keep it themselves.


If you would like to make the most money out of your furniture, your best bet is to sell through an auction house. You can start by emailing them photos of the items.  They will then let you know if it is something that they can auction off, and how much it is valued at. Having them value your piece is FREE so it doesn't hurt to do this at all.

Once you decide to have it auctioned, please be aware that it's possible that the item will not sell, and you will still have to pay them around 2.5% of the reserve price - which is not bad considering how they professionally photograph, print a catalogue, display your items and then promote the auction. If it is sold, you then give 20% commission to the auction house. Rates may vary depending on your location, so please confirm with the auction houses in your location.


However if the items are in need of repair or refurbishing, but you have no time or energy to do it, then a preloved online estate sale is your best bet. You can do it on your own or we can do it for you, so you don't have to bother with collecting payments and coordinating pick ups and deliveries. 


When buying preloved vintage pieces online, we have to know that we are getting a bargain because these items have been used for more than 20 (vintage) or 100 (antique) years. So expect normal signs of wear from it's age and use, and the need to do a bit of restoration or refurbishing. 

We were so happy to find new homes for Tanya's family heirlooms. Buyers knew they were getting solid hardwood pieces that just needed a bit of TLC. 

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How Moving Teaches Us to Declutter

Our client Arlene was a multinational executive with a super busy schedule. So much so that she and her husband didn't have time to declutter their stuff before moving back to the Philippines after years of being expats in Singapore.

Most of the stuff that she brought home would no longer fit in the new space and life they were building, so we went over to their half-way house to evaluate, photograph and really take stock of what they had. 

image  via

image via

Part of the process is discussing every piece, to know if it is something they really want to keep because it sparks joy, or if they are ready to purge it from their lives. Each item has a story and this is so important to us, because we take 100% responsibility for the things that we dispose of in our estate sales

The most reputable local Facebook groups do not allow people to sell things that are not their own. Why? Because it is a scammers excuse to say, "I'm sorry it was my sister's / brother's / friend's item, I didn't know it was fake or damaged, etc."  This is not our style. When we sell something, we want to know it like our own, so we can answer buyers' questions fast and gain their trust. 

Now Arlene and her small family can move to to a new space, only with the things that spark joy, happy in the knowledge that their well-loved Singapore furniture and decor are with new owners, that will use and love them. 

Moving homes is the greatest decluttering teacher.
— Ayessa Bautista

When we move to a new place, it really puts things into perspective, because when you see stuff that you have been hanging on to for years, beside freshly painted walls and new furniture, you suddenly realize that it no longer fits your new space or style.  

We are happy to find new owners, who would love to refurbish your stuff and give them new life in their homes. 

How to Organize a Huge Photo Collection

source: hautestock

source: hautestock

A life well lived is also a life with tons of photographs. In today's digital age, we don't necessarily have to print individual photos (unless we want to frame them), because we can create beautiful photobooks that capture our most treasured memories. However a certain generation... ahem... still has a lot of photos from the past. Our client, the multi-hyphenate celebrity mom blogger and author Amanda Griffin Jacob, with being an international model, VJ and TV show host under her belt, certainly had lots of photos to declutter and organize.

She bravely went through all of her photos, frames and keepsakes, using the Kon Mari Method of touching each one and asking if it sparks joy. Then it was time to organize whatever was left,   so that they took up the minimum amount of space, yet still easy to reach and enjoy. 

Our objective with sentimental items is to make it easy for our clients to browse through them and delight in their memories.   


When there are too many different photo sizes, which is normal with a photo collection that spans different decades, do not hesitate to cut them to fit a more compact album. Chances are there is a lot of dead space around the subject in the photos. It will be easier to put them in albums


For photos you would like to enjoy, albums are your best bet.  It makes it easier when you label your albums so it's easy to find the photos you are looking for.

Below we used different sized MUJI PP Albums. We love them because not only are they archival for long lasting storage that doesn’t damage your photos, but they are compact and can store a lot of photos in a slim space.


But if you have a lot of photos, an archival box with tabs or acid free photo storage will do. Just make sure to store the latter in a dark cool place. 

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It's funny to think about how film is  barely used now, when they used to be such a huge part of life just a few decades ago. There are generations now, that would never have heard of film cameras. Isn't that crazy?

declutter organize film



But for those of you who still have this and plan to keep it, I find the neatest way to organize them is to: 

  1. Trim to fit into a 5x7 or 4x6 acid free photo storage using a paper trimmer

  2. Store them in a cool dark area with silica gel and dehumidifier tubs that are replaced regularly

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Film slides fit perfectly into a MUJI calling card holder. The best thing about MUJI is that they use archival acid free plastic polypropylene that is superior in clarity. Incidentally small polaroids also fit in this calling card holder. 

This material is considered archival safe as it is as close to PH neutral as technical possible with plastic and does not contain any plasticizers. - Keep Filing Archival Safety

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I hope you learned something from these simple ways to declutter and organize photos. Decluttering digital photos is a whole other story. However one thing that I have found through experience is that Photobooks are the cleanest and least cluttered way to print and enjoy our photos. Scrapbooking and printing photos to place into albums create more clutter, are quite bulky, and prone to damage from humidity.  

You can see some before and after photos of Amanda's space here

We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.
— Ralph Hattersley
archival safe photo storage

 *May contain affiliate links, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

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Embrace JOMO

"You're enjoying what you're doing in the here and now and not on social media broadcasting or seeing what everybody else is doing." - Director of trend-forecasting Ann Mack

I read this article on huffingtonpost and I am so surprised that it was written in 2014, when it is still so relevant today. So many people still feel FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out. I observed that people feel FOMO more acutely here in Asia, as compared to when I was in Europe where the pace of life is slower than a 24/7 Metropolis like Metro Manila.

This is one reason I decided not to continue with lifestyle blogging here, where celebrity bloggers dictate the newest food and lifestyle trends. I'm not into trends. I like to keep things simple and live life according to my personal needs. As someone who is bipolar and suffers from anxiety, simplifying and decluttering life has helped me have a life that is more meaningful while reducing unnecessary sources of stress, which I feel is a feat in a stress-prone city like Metro Manila. More on this in future posts. 

It echoes the movement begun by Arianna Huffington regarding the Third Metric - a movement to redefine success based on wellbeing and mindfulness - as well as a push to help your own creativity by giving yourself space to think.

It's one of the reasons I stopped posting food photos, just for the sake of posting them on social media. Instead, I'd rather enjoy the food and the company of whomever I am eating with. When I have time after, I might post it - or not. I don't want to be part of a movement that makes people feel like they are less or that they are "missing out", because they aren't traveling to a certain place, or they haven't tried a certain restaurant or trend.  

At the heart of my Decluttering journey is MINDFULNESS. When we declutter our space and lifestyle, we make space for mindful and joyful living. Simple yet better.

We can only do this with JOMO or the Joy of Missing Out.


"To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well- being, wisdom, wonder, and giving." - Arianna Huffington

I'm thinking of getting her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder*  on Kindle, because this Third Metric resonates with me. Have you read her book? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.


*May contain affiliate links, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.


Decluttering vs Organizing

People are always looking for ways to organize their things and after moving three times to three different countries in a span of six years, I got tired. It seemed no matter how organized I was, or how many organizers I had, things still got pretty cluttered. I even designed my own furniture bespoke with dividers in each drawer for crying-out-loud. That didn't matter, because I was still moving with a lot of crap, so even after hours of organizing, clutter would just recur in a few days. 


ORGANIZING: To arrange all the things you have into a system, without necessarily reducing.

DECLUTTERING: To remove unnecessary items, so you have less things to organize.

I decided to get rid of anything that I don't find TRULY BEAUTIFUL or USEFUL in my life. And when I explained this to my friends here in Manila, I kept getting told that my principles sounded like the Kon Mari Method. I was intrigued. 

Discovering The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up of Mari Kondo was indeed life-changing. I didn't get the book at first. Before buying the book, I watched some of her you tube videos first, to see if her method called to me. And after these first few videos I watched, I was hooked! 

  1. Kon Mari Method of Basic Folding
  2. Decluttered Underwear Storage
  3. How to Tidy Your Office Space
  4. Kon Mari Declutters a New York Home

We need to DECLUTTER FIRST before organizing so that the clutter doesn't just creep back in. It makes so much sense - a lightbulb moment!

But what makes the Kon Mari Method of decluttering different, is asking yourself "Does this spark joy?" It is a fantastic way to deal with the emotions our stuff inspire in us - whether we want to admit it or not. 

I used to ask myself all sorts of questions that temporarily helped me declutter:

  • Have I used this in the last year?
  • How often do I use it?
  • Should this be part of my 33 things (or some other random number)

But asking myself DOES THIS SPARK JOY? has totally simplified the process of decluttering. It's a game changer. 

I Kon Mari-ed my own closet and things, and my husband was so impressed with the difference in my closet that he also wanted to Kon Mari his own. This snap of his decluttered closet - we got rid of 1/3 of his clothes - was even featured in Mari Kondo's Instagram. I was ecstatic, of course!

Since embarking on my decluttering journey using the Kon Mari Method, I can say that it's true. Once you apply the Kon Mari Method to different categories of your life, the change is permanent - barring, of course, a shopping spree of unnecessary things. Because once you get used to having ONLY what sparks joy in your life, you will realize that we live with a lot of things that DON'T SPARK JOY. What do I mean?

  • If it makes me feel guilty for not having used it
  • If I feel bad that it was gifted to me and I don't like it
  • I realized it's not my color/cut/size
  • I've outgrown it
  • It's not my style anymore

If any of these statements are true, or if you touch something and it doesn't inspire a sudden lift in your spirits ("Spark Joy") then it must be disposed of.

We've come a long way since then, and have helped families create more mindful spaces, not just in Metro Manila but also as far as the USA, through actual and virtual decluttering consultations. 

I can't wait to share them all with you. 


*As the sole breadwinner of my family, supporting a hubby who has cancer, I am proud to be an Amazon affiliate. If you purchase through the links in this site, I may receive a small amount that helps me with purchases for my family's needs. Thank you!