Sarah Wallace decided to submit her home for a Living With Kids tour for a pretty unique reason: she wanted to fall just as in love with her home as the ones she’s been pinning and ogling online. She felt frustrated when her gaze shifted from the clutter-free, design perfect scenes on her monitor to her own less than idyllic space, clutter-filled most days. And she didn’t enjoy that feeling at all. None of us do, right?
So she decided to put a little lipstick on her home, straighten its skirt a bit, and let it shine for us…and for her. (Full disclosure: Sarah would like you to know what it looked like just outside of the frame of most of the pictures. Piles of paper and clutter were removed from her kitchen counters, there may be dirty dishes hiding in the sink, and all the craft supplies from the dining room table were shifted to the stairs during the photo shoot! Thanks for keeping it real, Sarah!)
Friends, I hope you enjoy the dressed up version of the Wallace family home. More importantly, I hope you take away a little bit of reassurance that pictures aren’t always worth a thousand words and all our attention; sometimes, it’s all the stuff that we try to edit that tells us the most about our lives. Welcome Sarah!
Q: Please tell us all about your family.
A: Our family consists of four people and two animals: myself, my husband Joey, our sons Oscar and Archie, our dog Lucy, and our chinchilla Matthias.
My personality is an odd cross between type A planner/organizer/perfectionist and lazy couch-surfer. I have a degree in historic preservation of architecture, and currently work in the field of search engine marketing. My husband Joey shares many of my type A sensibilities, but where my brain tends to favor the creative side, he is an engineer and therefore innately logical. He also has an energy that continues to perplex me over ten years since our first meeting; he seems to be in constant motion, and he gets uncomfortable when he doesn’t have a job to do. This has led to his picking up several hobbies, including gardening and beer brewing. He’s also a fantastic cook, making me one of the luckiest women I know.
Oscar is our almost-four year old, and is an inquisitive, approval-seeking, affectionate, sensitive ball of energy. He enjoys anything that allows him to throw his body around, run, or jump, and then he surprises us by revealing apprehension at the strangest moments. Archie is our roly-poly, silly, determined, artistic, daredevil of an 18 month old. So different from his brother, but just as joyful. Lucy is our six year old mutt and our first baby, and Matthias is the old man of the house – 13 years old, we think.
Q: How did you find your current home?
A: We moved to Indianapolis in the fall of 2010. Joey had gone through the rigors of searching for and finding a job in academia – not an easy task! – and Oscar was just six months old. The move meant that both of us were leaving old jobs and starting new ones, finding a place to live in a new city with a young child, and as I was born and raised in our previous city, we were also moving away from my family. It was stressful.
We moved into an apartment at first, intending to stay there for a year as we searched for a home. I lasted about five months before my nesting instincts started craving a more permanent situation and more space. We told our realtor exactly what we wanted in a home: at least three bedrooms, space for guests and a home office, a basement, and ugly kitchens and bathrooms. We knew that we would want to make the home our own, didn’t want to pay for someone else’s renovations, and were hoping to find a home that was undervalued for aesthetic reasons.
Our realtor had a house come to mind immediately, but as it was her listing she made sure to show us plenty of other homes first. In the end her instincts were right, and we found ourselves gravitating towards the house she thought of during our first discussion. We came back to it multiple times, and I even had my mom tour it with me during one of her visits. I was hesitant because it wasn’t the style or type of house I thought I’d end up buying. It was so…traditional. I really love sprawling, open ranch houses and mid-century style, and this was a two-story 1960s colonial with walls everywhere. But it felt more like home than any other house we looked at.
We’ve done quite a few renovations since moving in! We’ve torn down a wall between the kitchen and living room, punched the doorway in the wall between the dining room and playroom, completely gutted and re-did the kitchen, and have painted nearly every wall in the house. There’s still plenty on our list of future renovations, though…
Q: What are your goals aesthetically with this home? Where do you find the most inspiration?
A: My main goals are for my home to be comfortable, functional, and beautiful, but not precious or too matchy. I’d like to have pieces and spaces that look nice, but in a way that we can use them and live in them. A lot of my inspiration comes from blogs and other online resources, although lately I’ve been tuned in more to my own sense of sentimentality and comfort.
One of the toughest things to happen this year – or ever, really – was the unexpected death of my mom last summer. It sounds cliche, but large and meaningful events like that really do change one’s perspective and priorities. I’ve started valuing things more for how they make me feel than for how they look. For example, I absolutely love the mid-century coffee table and side tables in my hearth room. They originally belonged to my grandparents, and so have a lot of sentimental value in addition to fitting in perfectly with my preferred aesthetic. We bought an adorable mid-century style sofa to go with them, and the set looked really nice.
After my mom’s passing, one of the things I brought home with me was her living room couch. It’s a supremely comfortable white Pottery Barn couch in a more traditional style that I probably wouldn’t have purchased on my own. I remembered how much she loved that couch, though, and how excited she was when she bought it. We thought about selling our older, more worn playroom couch and replacing it with my mom’s, but soon realized that the playroom couch was perfect for the playroom – that space needs something that’s worn-in (and certainly not white, like my mom’s piece). But we never used the newer mid-century couch, and it wasn’t terribly comfortable. We ended up selling it and putting my mom’s couch alongside her parent’s side and coffee tables. The styles may not match, but that room feels and looks better to me now than it ever did before.
Q: Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?
A: I do, although the portion of me that likes having control over these things is still enjoying this age…neither child is really old enough to have voiced much in the way of style preference. We moved Oscar’s bedroom furniture around recently, and allowed him to have some say in where things went. He had become afraid of a particular corner of his room, and didn’t like being right by a window while he slept, and so we all collaborated to find a better arrangement for him.
Mostly I do what I can to optimize the boys’ independence. In the playroom we use low shelving so that their toys are accessible. In their bedrooms I’ve placed books at a height where they can get to them easily (and also put them away). Both of their rooms has a chalkboard wall for fun, and I like to put things that they’ve made on display in various places.
The biggest thing we did design-wise, though, was to dedicate an entire room to being just a playroom. Their playroom used to also be the main TV room, but when you have to shush your kid to hear a news story while he’s trying to play you know that something has to change. So we took the never-used formal living room and turned it into the more grown-up TV/relaxing space. That way toys and kid-stuff can stay (mostly) contained to the large play space, and when we want to unwind after the kids go to bed we have a separate area in which to do that.
All this being said, I have about a million projects floating around in my head to make the house more kid-friendly: revamp the entry with hooks at their level; turn an old closet in the playroom into toy storage and a reading nook; hang wires with hooks in various places around the house for rotating art displays, etc.
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: Our city is extremely affordable. It was the first thing that struck me upon moving here. We’re also very fond of our neighborhood. It’s the kind of community that has neighborhood 4th of July parades, holiday parties, and fall picnics. There are always kids playing outside when it’s warm, people jogging or walking their dogs, and neighbors wave at one another when passing, regardless of whether they know one another. Although it took me a little while to get used to Indy, I’ve really come to love what the city has to offer.
The Children’s Museum is unbelievable, you won’t find a better city for sports (we’re the amateur sports capitol of the world!), and there always seems to be some kind of fair, festival, or cultural event to check out. Above all else, I’ve found the people here to be very kind and welcoming.
Q: How do you balance your life as a mom and your time for yourself?
A: I’m a hybrid: I’m a mom who’s home all day, but still employed full-time. I’m a remote employee for a regular company, and so I have a mostly normal work day. I say mostly because my commute is great and I don’t have to wear real pants. Part of having a normal work day, however, is that my kids are in full-time childcare as is required by my employer. (I should point out here that I love my employer, and this requirement really does make sense – I have busy days and am tied to my phone and computer, and if my kids were at home I wouldn’t be a good employee or a good mom.)
The major upsides to my situation are that my schedule tends to be more flexible for things like doctor’s appointments or days when my kids are home sick. Balancing is still really hard, though. It’s easy to assume that the person who’s home all day can handle things like snow days or school holidays, but having my kids at home for extended periods makes work very challenging. My husband has been great, and we work really hard to split time and ensure that both of us are able to do what we need to do.
As far as time for myself vs. time as a mom, I’d have to say that another huge benefit of working remotely is the time I have by myself at home during the day. Of course I’m busy, but the house is quiet and I’m able to take bathroom breaks without the company of tiny people. My office is its own room in the far corner of our upstairs, meaning that it’s my personal space, and can be separated and closed-off. I also do the morning drop-off for both kids, and the afternoon pick-up for Archie (Joey gets Oscar), which is a great way to delineate my work day from my family time.
When my kids come home in the evenings, and when we hang out on weekends, my husband and I are diligent about keeping one another off of our phones and email and we focus on the kids. We never have many activities scheduled, since our preference is for maintaining our routines and the little traditions that crop up – like grabbing donuts on the way to Target every Saturday morning – and just being together as a family.
Q: When does your home work best?
A: My home works best every evening, when Joey is cooking dinner and we can sit at the dining room table for snacks or coloring. Or when I have the kids going crazy in the playroom before we sit down to eat. It works perfectly as Oscar and Archie climb the bathroom stool to wash their hands, and Oscar gathers the plates we’ve put on low shelves to set the table (however grudgingly). Then while I clean up after dinner and my kids chase one another through every room on the first floor, laughing maniacally, and the dog joins the chase, and finally Joey, I just have to smile to myself about how it all comes together.
Although I will say that when the living room is bathed in the most perfect light in the early afternoon, which usually coincides with nap time, spending those few quiet moments doing anything in there – even folding laundry – feels like a treat.
Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?
A: The best thing about living with my kids is just how much fun they are. They have a huge amount of enthusiasm for everything, and want to have dance parties and build forts every day. Sometimes it’s hard to give in to fun like that when you’re tired and it’s the end of a long day, but I’ve found that if you can just let go and devote your attention to jumping, crawling, and dancing around your house with them, it’s one of the best stress relievers there is. They’ve also taught me how to loosen up. That it’s okay to have piles of paper on the counter or odds and ends stacked on the stairs because we just don’t have time to put it all away at the moment.
I’m hugely sentimental, and so I miss absolutely everything as they get older. It’s a serious problem for me. I’ll start thinking about what things will be like in a few years and find myself missing things that I’m still experiencing. I have to force myself to cut it out and be in the moment, to enjoy it while it’s still here. Lately my husband and I have been talking about how much we miss their baby words. The words that they don’t say quite right as they learn to talk. Like for Oscar ‘balloon’ was ‘boony,’ among lots of other adorable word variations. With each word he began using correctly I found myself unexpectedly mourning the loss of the baby version. Archie is starting to talk now, so my hope is that we catch more of the baby words on video.
Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom? (The good, the bad, and the not-so-cute!)
A: I hope they remember their home, childhood, and parents as being uniquely theirs. This usually translates to it all being wonderfully imperfect. I’d like for them to remember this house as being comfortable, safe, and an easy and fun place to be a kid. For them to remember their childhood as being happy, but also not without challenges. For their mom to be a person who was unconditionally loving and supportive, who never underestimated them, but who made mistakes, and knew how and when to apologize.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: That perfection and having it all together is not healthy, attainable, nor ideal. I used to think that I could try and be the mom who rolled with the punches, and knew how to handle everything. How stressful, right?! As it turns out, this type of mom isn’t very easy to relate to. I think you have to freak out every once in a while, not only for yourself, but also to reduce what I like to think of as parental isolation.
Occasionally freaking out openly about the FIFTH snow day in a row, the red lipstick now adorning your kitchen cabinets, or the diaper pail your dog tore into helps you and other parents have that oh-thank-god-it’s-not-just-me! moment. Not to mention the break you give yourself.
Sarah, I will always be a fan of keeping it as real and as beautiful as possible! Your tour was a lovely blend of both. And I really liked hearing about your interesting work set-up; working from home while wrangling little ones is so difficult, and it’s wonderful how your company supports such a workable working scenario for you.
Friends, do any of you enjoy the same work set-up? A remote employee who balances working from home with little ones? And, if so, how do you handle those mom moments that always seem to creep in when we least expect them? Hello, snow days!