By Gabrielle.

Whenever someone new visits Palma Voutiritsas’ home for the first time, they ask the very same question: “Do kids even live here?” She used to wonder if that was a compliment or an insult, but more and more she’s determined to accept their sweet appreciation and ignore the negativity. (More on that later!)

“Yes, kids live here.” she answers with a smile. “Two of them, in fact. They are incredibly happy and active and very, very messy!”

I thought you might like to see how a designer approaches Halloween and other holiday decor in a really heartfelt way. I just know you’re going to love Palma’s spirit and contagious attitude about how much your furnishings and decor matter…but not for the reasons you might be thinking. (And just wait until you hear the story of her home remodel! Hilarious.) Welcome, Palma!

Hi everyone! I’m Palma. My husband, George, and I are raising our two daughters, Milana and Isella, in a suburb of Chicago that doesn’t feel anything like a suburb. The schools are fabulous, the seasons are gorgeous — although last winter was a little long! — and our proximity to Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the world, is the greatest. Being 15 minutes away from the beach and museums and fabulous restaurants no matter what you’re craving is a true luxury. You should totally come visit.

I love our home. Sure, people ask if it always looks this way and question our lack of clutter and usually don’t believe I’m not running around screaming at this mess or that one with stain remover in one hand and a sponge in the other! But that’s not how we live. I promise.

I’ve seen a quote around Pinterest that really annoys me: Sorry my house is a mess — we’re busy making memories. Here’s another favorite: Sorry about the mess, but we LIVE here.

I always wonder what those quotes and the people who love them are implying. If you’re an organized person, are you somehow excluded from making sweet family memories? Do you have to be living amid clutter to be truly living the best, most intentional life?

I know messy people get judged for being messy, but people who live in an organized and edited way are judged harshly, too. Sometimes even more harshly! We don’t have clutter because I’ve designed and consistently maintained our home to be the kind of haven we don’t ever want to leave. But it wasn’t always this way!

My husband called me one day to tell me he bought a house. And I didn’t like the house he’d chosen. At all.

“But it has new kitchen cabinets,” my husband said.

I didn’t want to hear it. The house felt like it was full of bad energy, and I tell you this as someone who doesn’t believe in things like that! It didn’t feel right.

“Well, it’s ours,” my husband said.

While that was happening, I’d found this home online. My husband said, “Why don’t you go see it? I’ll make the appointment.”

I went to see it, called my husband about five minutes later, and told him, “I love this house. This is our home. I can feel it.”

Long story a little shorter, he told me to put an offer on it.

“But don’t you want to see it first?” I asked.

“No, I trust you.”

One week later, I brought him to the house for the first time. His exact words were, “You have got to be kidding me.” Minus a few swears.

“This is our home,” I assured him. “I can see it.”

I’m a fixer. Growing up, my father flipped houses on the side, and I was his partner from the time I was four years old. He taught me that walls were usually just suggestions, to never underestimate well-placed windows and natural sunlight, and to stay honest with materials. Fake is never the best way to go, so make sure your budget can accommodate the real stuff.

We bought this house from the original owners, and even with all the cobwebs, wood paneling, wall-to-wall orange shag carpet, and endless mess, I could feel the good energy that lived here.

I had never ever remodeled or designed an entire house. At the time, my girls were then three years old and brand new. I wonder if our family and friends thought we were certifiable for not only taking on this project, but also for setting a time frame for completion — are you ready for this? — 40 days later.

But 40 days later, we were moved in. Sleeping in our own beds and making dinner in our own kitchen. It was an incredible feeling.

My friends and clients ask, “How did you do it?” Well, part of the urgency was that at the time, we were living in a 600 square foot condo with my wonderful mother-in-law. It was a third floor walkup without a washer or a dryer. I had two little ones. Do I need to go on?

The first time I ever used a laundromat was during this time period, but that didn’t last long because I discovered there are laundry services who come to your home and pick up, wash, fold, and deliver your clothes back! Same day service, even! It was brilliant to me. It was also during this period when I found a bunch of other luxuries I never knew existed. Like grocery delivery, which saved our lives many, many nights when I was practically living at our gut.

At times, there were 14 people in the house at once. One worker testily informed me one day, “I’m not going to work here with another crew.”

“Oh, yes you are,” I told him in no uncertain terms. I had all the work planned out down to the minute, and one grumpy worker who was there to install drywall wasn’t going to tell me he wouldn’t work with the guys who had outbid him on electrical or plumbing! I had a plan, you see. And did I mention my sweet mother-in-law’s third floor, 600 square foot condo that lacked a washer and a dryer?

My husband actually found the plumber. One day, he told me I’d be meeting the guy at the house that afternoon. He also informed me in the next sentence that the plumber he had chosen had once been imprisoned for shooting someone.

Oh, how wonderful. All this with a three year old and a baby on my hip. But I was determined to turn it into our home. In 40 days.

I can tell you now that I learned a lot from this project. Mostly, that everything costs twice as much as you expect it to cost. I had a budget of $50,000, but I ended up around $120,000.

When people ask me to define my style, I can’t answer simply. You shouldn’t be able to, either. A house should be a reflection of your personality — not a category of design.

When I design for my clients, I never ask them to define their style. Instead, I ask them to show me an object that’s important to them. I ask about color. I ask them to show me objects they like and, sometimes more importantly, things they dislike. And I ask them how they dream of living.

Sometimes, people can simply give me one random object that means the world to them. One showed me a bowling pin. I didn’t even see that it was a bowling pin! I saw the variations in caramelized brown shades, the slivered texture, its gentle curves…I saw in an instant how I would design their entire home! (Someday, I always dream, I’m going to turn this unique quirk of mine into an HGTV show!)

I was raised by Italian parents. I’m first generation. Their home is a study in accumulation; they didn’t or couldn’t have anything when they were young, so they’ve compensated for that in the years ever since they arrived in America.

I went in the opposite direction.

My basic philosophy is that every purchase needs a place. If it doesn’t have a place, you should create one for it. If you can’t, it doesn’t belong in your home. Simple as that.

Whether it’s a holiday item or household furnishing or even a toy, I ask one question before I buy: “Do I have a place for this in my home?”

This philosophy saves me more money than you can imagine. Seriously, add up your Target impulse buys and “Oh! That pillow will really make the room pop! If I buy that chair. And a new end table.” People see something that makes them truly happy in aisle nine, believing that it will do the same once it’s in their possession…only to get it home and realize there’s no place for it.

That’s how clutter begins. Instant gratification. And before you know it, your home is filled with meaningless objects.

I never want to spend my money on thoughtless purchases. This means I rarely buy an object the minute I see it, and I think long and hard about something as basic as coffee cups. Will I want to drink my coffee out of these cups every day for the next few years? Will I want to serve my guests coffee from them? Will they have a place in my cupboards?

If the answer is an emphatic yes to all, only then do I buy those coffee cups. (Maybe. Let me think on it just one more day.) Try it. It totally works.

When it comes to holiday decorating, I start with a theme and color story. For Halloween and the approaching holidays, I begin outside in September. I start with one hay bale and a few pumpkins, and when October first hits, I add the spiders and Boo wreath.

I’m drawn to holiday decor that works overtime. The hay on my front porch will stay through Thanksgiving. The pumpkins will stay, too — if the squirrels haven’t destroyed them by then! — but the wreath will change on November first and the spiders will move on. (You should see what I do on December first!)

I have this brown tablecloth. That gorgeous piece of fabric has celebrated pretty much every holiday with us, and it’s only getting more beautiful with age. For my wedding registry, I asked for 50 white Crate and Barrel plates. People thought I was crazy. “Why would anyone need so many plates? In white?” Twelve years on, I’m probably down to 35, but oh! The parties and family get-togethers they’ve seen! Basics are the absolute best.

Every year, I treat myself to one new item that fits into my holiday theme and color scheme. It really feels like a treat to me, too.

Halloween is something that my kids really enjoy celebrating. I decorate to not only get them excited, but also to prepare for my favorite part of Halloween or any other holiday you can imagine: inviting others into my home to celebrate an occasion and each other.

I love inviting people into my home. And I’ve found that once you decorate for the holidays, you suddenly want to open up your home even more. It’s exciting. It becomes an event. What you surround yourself with sets up a tone and a mood for what’s to come.

And, for me, that’s the true joy of decorating for the holidays or any random Wednesday. I get to share my space with people I adore.

I truly believe your home is a reflection of what is going on in your mind. I also believe when you clean out and donate on a regular basis, you clear your mind of all the negativity and clutter. You’d be amazed how good it feels to donate something. Even just a tee.

I do it constantly. Just a constant refresh for my house and also my soul. It’s addictive and it keeps me sane. I feel like a million bucks after an hour or two of tennis or yoga, and I feel the same way when I donate!

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If an object is dated or no longer meaningful, get rid of it. If the very thought of doing that feels too painful, keep it. If not, take a photo with it and donate it to someone who will love it as if it was fresh from Horchow!

Remember: You don’t have to physically keep everything. Some of the best memories are the ones in our heads.

When I’m designing for my clients, I start and end with the meaningful pieces in their lives. Usually it’s the husband’s favorite chair, if I’m being honest! But I’m going to work meaning into the design even if it kills me.

People always look forward to staying in a hotel. Have you ever wondered why this is? I have, too. And I think we love hotels because of the luxuries we’re offered — room service, a spa three floors down, and someone coming to make your bed every morning! — but also because hotel rooms are usually cleared out, well edited spaces.

When I design a home for a client, I want the finished product to be as desirable as the loveliest resort they’ve ever visited. It should become their own personal oasis. Truly, they should never want to be anywhere else. And even if no one magically shows up every morning to clean up, it should be almost effortless to keep it looking wonderful.

So no matter if it’s Halloween or you’re just trying to get your house looking good, remember to buy less and choose well. You should have less that are of the highest quality. And when in doubt, I always choose real over fake. That goes for decor, wardrobe…and friends!

I hope my girls remember all the memories we’ve made in this home. Honestly, I hope my girls don’t remember the design of the home. Whether the couch was alabaster or steely gray. Whether the kitchen cupboards were light or dark. Were the handles crystal? Or were they brushed metal? Did we have carpet or wood floors in the playroom?

Doesn’t matter. Not to me, at least. And I sincerely hope not to them.

I hope their visions of this home’s decor are so blurry that they can’t see anything in their memories but a crystal clear parade of all the times we spent here together.

The reason I live the way I do and decorate my home the way I have is to take the focus off the decor and shine a spotlight on what’s really important.

I wish someone had told me how fast it goes. Everyone says that, and I know it’s true. Every morning when they wake up, I know they’re a bit bigger than they were the day before. I can see it. I can feel it.

So every day, I try my hardest to take in every moment and be present. I want to hear every silly little thing that comes out of their mouths. I want to notice the minute their moods shift. I want to treasure every single thing they’re going to do for the very last time. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Every year, the girls take Halloween photos in front of that black kitty at the bottom of our staircase. We started the tradition back when the kitty was bigger than they were!

I almost moved it this year. I thought it was maybe time for something else. Something different. Something new. I mean, it’s ten years old!

Well, my nine year old nearly lost it.

“No!” she wailed. “That’s where we take our picture!”

Oh, good. She gets it.

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Palma, Thank you! From your response to people who believe a well-edited home is incapable of housing incredible memories, to your comparison of your home to your favorite hotel, to your sweet story about your daughter’s love for the kitten at the bottom of the stairs, so much to think about. And, Friends, whether you own one of those messy house signs, or whether you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, I hope however you’re living is working well for you and yours!

I believe this is so right on: “You don’t have to physically keep everything. Some of the best memories are the ones in our heads.” I wonder how many people you’ve inspired today to rethink the way our homes are operating, holiday or not? Anyone off to the donation center?

Also! Just in case you wanted to see some of the before shots of Palma’s home (but after the orange shag carpeting removal!), here they are:

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.