Nicole Yu Rivera


Your room says a lot about you, and I couldn’t agree more. But when you’re decorating a room from scratch, it can be a huge challenge to stay true to yourself and not alienate yourself from your own space. Believe me—I recently experienced it for myself!

Along with my parents, I moved into a brand-new house last year. After all the architectural and construction-related decisions I made, decorating was the next big hurdle to overcome. Preparations started way before the new house was done, but the day we moved in my room was still a shell with bare walls and boxes waiting to be unpacked. I only had one piece of furniture the first night—my grandfather’s that I brought from our old house.

Sleeping in an empty room was a strange feeling, one I was determined not to experience for too long. So the day after we moved I set out to make my room much more like a home and much less of the empty shell it was. True enough, this process put me face-to-face with my personality and needs. It was as much a learning experience about myself as it was a decorating spree!

Three Main Spaces In My Bedroom

I divided my room into three main spaces, based on the three things I plan to do in my room: a bed and resting area, study space, and a vanity. I also chose a general look and feel for my furniture and decor: everything was either light wood finish, white, or a pastel shade. That helped me narrow down my choices, and made my room a lot more cohesive!

My vanity

The first area that came together was my vanity. When we had just started building the house my mom and I began looking around for furniture, but I couldn’t find a dresser I liked and could imagine in my new room. Since my mom was having a few pieces of furniture custom-made, I decided to have my dresser made as well. I knew what I wanted: a big mirror, drawers for extra storage, and a clean, white finish. Having it custom-made gave me the freedom and flexibility to get exactly what I want! Then I found this light wood chair at Home Depot (that matched the shade of my floor!) to give my vanity area some contrast. A few weeks later, I added a bright blue throw pillow to make the space cozier.

My study table
Cork board with my essentials

Once I fixed the vanity area, my study was up next. We ordered work tables with matching drawers and chairs for my room as well as our second floor den, and those were delivered soon after we moved in. As a writer, I spend a lot time at my desk so I needed a big, functional workspace. I added a cork board, all sorts of organizers, and filled the space with my essentials. I also have 6 electrical outlets to the left and right (and a ready phone connection!) which is perfect. For extra space, I installed 2 floating shelves.

Of course, as a literature grad I had a lot of books with me when we moved. I had a lot of fun arranging and decorating some of my go-to books and magazines on the floating shelves! While other people don’t like mixing work (or studies) and personal things, I feel the need to do just that. I’m a workaholic, so most of my time is spent reading, writing, and just being productive. If I don’t mix fun and personal things into my work I might go crazy! So while my floating shelves have a lot more stuff now, the sentiment is still the same—one shelf is for books, and the other for photos and touches of decor. I kept everything clean though, plain white frames and letters as decor, and cherry wood to match my floor and other wood furniture.

Floating shelves
More books

Speaking of books, of course I needed more than just floating shelves to store my books. While most of them are in storage, I keep my favorites out in my room for easy access. Reading remains my main de-stressor, and working in a stressful industry means I need to read a lot! So in my rest area, I have a small 2-level shelf. One level is for my bags and everyday utilities, and the other is for more of my go-to books. It’s at the foot of my bed, so sometimes I don’t even have to stand up to reach for a book!

Bedside table

I also have a bedside table which is simple and clean white like my vanity. It’s a lot messier now with medicine and all sorts of lotions, but when I was decorating it I made sure to make my dresser pleasing to the eye. It’s the first thing I see in the morning, and I want to wake up looking at nice things! As usual, I have more books on my night table. I also have a family photo (in the same white frame as the ones I used on the floating shelves) and a faux flower arrangement. I love the blue hydrangeas! They give my pink, lavender, and white room a pop of color, without being too loud.

It’s been almost a year since we moved in, but only a few months since I stopped decorating my space. I think my room will evolve more as time passes, so I’m never completely done with decorating! My walls are still a bit bare, especially the ones without windows. I might hang a painting in the future but I’ll have to find the right one first. My room will always be a work in progress, and I like it that way.

Up until I was 21, I lived in my grandparents’ ancestral home. It was a late 50s/60s bungalow with huge, flower-filled gardens and enough space to accommodate four generations under one roof. While I have only a few memories of my grandparents before they passed away, living in the same rooms, sitting on the same furniture, and seeing little reminders of them every day made me feel connected to them. But it was never really my own room or home—it was someone else’s.

Building A New Home

While I was in college, my parents decided to move out of the ancestral home and build a new house. It was a long and arduous process from finding a village that was safe, accessible, and had the right atmosphere, to planning the house and going through every little detail. Even I don’t remember much of the construction now!

Building the house literally from the ground up was a new experience for me and my parents, but of course designing and decorating my own room was the most personal. Up until last year I slept, studied, and lived in a room occupied by countless family members before me. When I moved into my old room as a grade school student, this meant I only had control over the color of blinds and a few decorations. The walls had just been repainted blue the year before, my furniture were all hand-me-downs from my aunt, my mother, and my grandparents, and there was very little space to be creative with the arrangement. I don’t even have any photos of my old room because believe me, it wasn’t photogenic at all.

My Very Own Room At Last

So you can imagine how excited I was to have total control over the design, decor, and overall look of my new space. I had to pick everything from the color of my bathroom tiles, to the color of my bedroom walls, down to the handles on my walk-in closet drawers. I even got to decide whether I wanted a bigger room or a bigger walk-in closet! (I chose the bigger room.)

I wasn’t fussy about most parts of my room especially the tiny details like how many light bulbs or the placement of drawers and shelves, but I did have a few requests.

I wanted a corner window, as big as possible. My old room was dark and didn’t have much light shining in because the windows were smaller, so I was dead set on having a bright and cheery room. The one challenge: the windows couldn’t be floor-length because they’d have to add a balcony, which would be useless space for me and my family. But even so, I got my wish! When I’m in my room during the day time, my room is so bright that I only need to pull the blinds halfway up to light the whole space. I wake up to a bright and cheery room every day, which definitely puts me in a better mood!

My Favorite Colors

Next, I wanted my walls to be pink and lavender. I debated against this for a while—thinking that I was 21 already, a working girl, and that maybe I should pick a more “grown-up” color scheme. But then I thought: this is the first time I get to decide on the color of my room, I should choose colors I genuinely like. I ended up choosing a very, very light shade of pink for 3 of the walls, then a soft lavender to create a striped accent on the 4th wall. Needless to say, my accent wall is now the perfect spot for IG-worthy photos.

My Bathroom Design

My last design request wasn’t aesthetic but practical. A dirty, wet bathroom is one of my biggest pet peeves. As a kid I traveled and toured a lot with a children’s choir, and I’ve seen the worst of the worst when it comes to bathrooms. I can’t stand it when water from the shower stall splashes on the toilet! So this was the one thing I had to avoid in my own bathroom, no matter what. I made sure of a few things. First, no shower curtains! I think I’m in the minority when I say that I absolutely hate shower curtains. The solution? We installed a glass shower enclosure. The second solution is something I requested for all the bathrooms in our new house: the shower door and toilet should face the same direction, and the door should not, under any circumstances, open to the toilet. I’ve seen this mistake in so many bathrooms (probably in an attempt to save space) and it causes most of the dirt and splashing water. So even if the floor plan is a bit inefficient, I think it’s worth it.

That’s it for the design part of the journey to a room of my own! It was fun to look back on the process and appreciate the little things that made my new room so much more comfortable and personal. I’ll be back for part 2, where I’ll share how I decorated my space once we moved in.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that my room gets messier as I get more stressed. Reasons include not having the time or energy to clean up after myself, falling right into bed after long days at work, or generally being a lot messier and less aware of myself when I’m stressed out. And I know this is the complete opposite of what should happen—stressful times call for more organized and orderly environments to get things done faster.

Millennials like myself will agree: old-school organization tricks don’t always fit into our lifestyles. We’re a driven generation and we like mundane things like cleaning to be quick and easy because we’re busy trying to change the world and grow  ourselves. But I also think sometimes we need to stop, take a look around us, and consider that our environment, our rooms and our homes, can help us be better and achieve our goals. Seems a bit far-reaching just for a few organization tips? Try working in a clean room and you know where to find everything you need, where you can relax without looking at a mess—trust me, your productivity will thank you.

So whether it’s your office desk, your room, or your flat, here’s how to keep your space organized:

Set Manageable Goals

Your room isn’t going to magically clean itself up in a flash. But if you’re dead-set on getting it close, take things one step at a time. Maybe start with your closet and work your way around the space, or spend a few minutes every day cleaning up whatever you can. Personally, I make sure that every month I clear my dresser of unused makeup and empty bottles because it’s the messiest part of my room. This also helps me keep track of all the stuff I own and what I need to restock!

Identify Your Essentials

What items can’t you live without? All my desks have jars for medicine and vitamins, whether it’s my office desk or the one in my room. I get sick from stress easily and I get stressed out by work a lot, so having medicine at arm’s length is so much more convenient than a medicine cabinet. Knowing your personal needs is so important when you’re arranging things and spaces. It can make your daily life so much easier because with the little inconveniences taken care of, you can focus on your big goals.

Make It a Routine

“CLAYGO” (Clean As You Go), they call it. So you’ve cleaned your space and organized your things—you need to keep them that way! When I’m really busy I get too lazy or preoccupied to even walk to the trash bin and end up leaving empty food wrappers around. Sometimes I also leave piles of clothes on the bench in my closet when I’m rushing in the morning and can’t decide what to wear. But no matter how busy and tired I am, all my trash and clothes have to be in their proper places before I step out of my room or away from my desk. Simple things like this go a long way when you’re trying to stay organized!

Invest in Smart Storage

I don’t necessarily mean downloading apps or having devices, although those do exist. I don’t mean spending an arm and a leg for modular storage systems either. Rather, explore new ways to organize your things based on your needs and what’s new. I use clear acrylic storage for my makeup because it’s so much easier to find what I need, compared to trunk cases or pouches. Also, since my cables and adapters are always a mess and I can never be bothered to wind them one by one, I dump them in medium-sized bins categorized by type/gadget. What works for most people may not be smart for you—I tried labeling my cables, I tried those separators you stick to desks, but the bins work best for me. So just know how you live and behave, and find ways to stay organized.

I hope I’ve given you ideas on how to make your spaces better and more organized! Sometimes it still proves to be a struggle for me, but I do my best. Or at least, I try to catch up. If you have any other useful tips, I’d love to hear them!

They say that to truly know a person, you have to walk a mile in their shoes. But personally, to learn more about someone I look at their homes. When you think about it, that makes sense—your home is where you are most comfortable, where you can be your most “authentic” self. It’s where you spend long periods of time, and it’s a space that provides you with all the basic necessities to survive. No matter how small or uncomfortable our houses are, we always do our best to make it more “homey,” right?