By Gabrielle.

I love the way Liz describes her smallish town — “Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of.” — and her simplified approach to decorating with kids: “I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.” A space where kids can grow and become who they’re meant to be is the best decorated space we could imagine, right?

And, between us, I think she’s wrong. Her up and down staircases are pretty spectacular! Come see. Welcome, Liz!

I’m Liz, living with my family full of boys. I’m a full-time mom, and I’ve grown to love being a homemaker. I also volunteer as a horticulturist and do occasional garden design and other projects. My husband, Joe, works as a physical therapist a few blocks from our home at a skilled nursing facility. He’s subtly goofy and has always made me laugh.

We have three boys. Our oldest, Peter tends to be heavily involved in his own interests and not always agreeable. He’s a brilliant kid, and will spend hours reading, often very difficult books. He also is constantly bringing me little notes that say, “I love you Mom,” and it makes up for everything else he does. Our second son, Curtis, has a smile that melts my heart. He enjoys playing alone and has always been an amazing builder. He tends not talk a lot and keeps to himself, so I have to watch him and make sure he’s being included or he can get wild.

Henry is the youngest. He loves hugs and kisses and books. He really finds joy over the simplest things, like jumping on a tramp or seeing a bird, and it’s easy to let that rub off on me.

All of us enjoy being active. We love to go places like parks, museums, geocaching, or disc golf. If we’re at home, we are probably working on a project.

We live in a smallish town in northern Utah. The community still has an old-fashioned feel: kids wandering around unsupervised, busy public schools, and tons of mom and pop burger or ice cream joints. The streets are lined with trees, and the traffic is amazing. Turning left easily on the busiest street at rush hour is something I will never get tired of. We live within walking distance of plenty of stores, the library, and multiple parks. Many of the neighborhoods are filled with fun old houses that are all architecturally different.

There’s quite a bit to do even though it is a small town: several museums and plenty of activities at the library and fine arts center for the kids. We live near a bird refuge, hot spring, a couple of lakes, mountains, and within an hour’s drive of Salt Lake. It is a family oriented community, with plenty to keep my kids and I busy. It’s small enough that I can meet many people by frequenting the same establishment, but big enough that I can get lost a bit if I want to.

Our home was basically an impulse purchase. We bought it about three years ago. We weren’t house hunting at the time, but rather had a vague idea that it might be something we would like to do in the future.

The house was several blocks from the apartment we lived in. The owners were acquaintances of ours, and we decided to casually look at the home. The first time I saw it, I did not like it. It had these absolutely awful overgrown shrubs in front. When we walked through it, it was a complete mess inside as the owner was trying to upgrade a lot of the house and still had a lot of work to do.

The floor plan was okay except for the bedrooms; they were all separate from each other, which didn’t work well with young children.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. The size was right, the price was right and the more I thought about it, the more I started to see the potential in the home and garden. We went ahead and bought it without even looking at another house.

The next year we tried to figure out how to make the floor plan work for our family, but it didn’t ever work well so we started to think about remodeling. My husband, Joe, hated the low ceiling on the staircase the most. I came home one day to him knocking down a wall in preparation to reconfigure the staircase — without consulting me first!

The initial staircase re-design turned into a complete remodel of the lower level. We added bedrooms to better fit our family. We did almost all of the work ourselves.

After over a year of work, the inside is finally getting to the point where I’m happy with it. I wasn’t sure if I would like house projects, but I’ve grown from hating even the thought of painting a room, to finding the whole process rather addicting. Everything takes longer than I expect, but it also goes quick as long as we keep working at it. Getting it done is wonderful. It is fun living in an older home that will never run out of projects to do. It isn’t for everyone but suits my husband and me just fine.

We now all like our home. Our impulse purchase has turned into somewhere we don’t want to leave. But one worry is that we will literally outgrow the house. We have seven foot or lower ceilings in the basement and extremely tall young boys who could be hitting their heads down there before too long.

While remodeling, I was very critical of the quality of work. My husband did most of it, and I needed to trust him more instead of critiquing him. We learned that it is important to learn how to do it well. Just getting it done works, but we live in it and see our mistakes every day. It’s important to make sure the mistakes are as minimal as possible.

I’m also okay with many of the less than perfect things we did. We aren’t skilled laborers, but I enjoy looking at our work and know that we did it ourselves. It’s really a balance of trying our best, but accepting that it isn’t going to be perfect and that’s okay.

While working on the house, it was important to me to always put our children first. It was tempting to want to spend almost every weekend working on the home, but we would consciously choose to still go on vacations and day trips with the kids and take breaks to play a game with the kids. They were more willing to let us work if they knew we still had time for them, and occasionally they would love to pitch in and help with age appropriate tasks.

My kids and husband don’t care about how our house looks, as long as they have the space they need to play and relax. I’ve done more in the areas that I frequent, like the main living space and our bedroom. Other areas of the house I don’t worry about that much. I’ve always enjoyed doing things as inexpensively as I can, so I’m not too concerned when the kids end up draw all over the couch or knock over decorations.

By creating a home that I have areas where I like the style of and the way it feels, I can enjoy it even though it’s not that clean. I have to let go and be okay with the mix of hot wheels, Lego, and crumbs that are everywhere in my home no matter how much time I could spend cleaning. The good design also makes clean-up easier, and even when it’s a mess, the larger structure of the room still works.

I love home design. But at a certain point of my life, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and how my house wasn’t even close to approaching what I saw. I took a break from shows, blogs, and other inspiration out there. I started to do what worked for me and my family in my home. I created someplace that probably would never be featured in a magazine. But it worked for my children and family.

I filled it with things my family and I enjoyed and didn’t worry too much if it met any standard of design.

Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing. I made a home that my kids could litter with toys, could house lots of friends, and be the place for wrestling matches, yoga practice, and the energetic energy of three young boys.

I didn’t design anything too spectacular. But I did create a home where my kids could grow and be themselves, which is far more important.

The kids really don’t care what pictures are on the wall, or what trinkets I put on the shelves – as long as it was something they couldn’t break! The first thing my home needed was to just be functional, a place where kids could be kids, and we all had space to be ourselves.

Design for me is function first, and then beauty. It was important to create a place I like to be, and that included making it look good. After a while, I made a system for myself. I would change things as they bugged me, but stayed away from purposely looking for problems or changing things just because.

In my studies of horticulture, I learned how to observe what you have and then go off that to get what you want. It’s important to start with what you have and work from there, instead of starting from what someone else did. This is extremely true in gardening, and it transferred over to my home. I might want something really modern but I live in the home we bought, so I start there and build my vision and design off of what already exists.

Whenever I look at ideas and inspiration, I really have to abstract them instead of copy them. What I find sits in the back of my head and help me come up with my own creative ideas. I don’t try to copy one certain way of design or even a single project. I do what works for me. It’s creativity for me — not copying but kind of combining what I have with multiple ideas I see to create something new.

In order to get this state of mind, I try not to overwhelm myself with ideas. When I’m being creative, I’m not looking much at ideas online. I generally like to look for ideas either to clarify a project that is already in my head and needs a bit of refining or after I complete something and will file them away for future use.

My kids are energetic and independent. We can all be quite stubborn, so we’re butting head all the time. I really felt like I lost myself for a while. My life was no longer under my control and I felt stuck, unable to do the things I wanted to do.

What I didn’t realize is I would find myself again, and this time I would be a much deeper, better person. My interests have expanded as I’ve learned about dinosaurs, cars, disc golf, etc. I’ve gained qualities like patience and listening that eluded me when I was younger. We are all still a work in progress, but I’m learning more and more that it’s okay to be far from perfect, and I just need to keep showing up and trying again.

I’m a very task-oriented person, and the children have taught me the value of cutting back and being able to do less and enjoy it more. I might want to do another task from my list, but the kids need their mom to play with, too. My favorite game to play with my kids started when my oldest was about two. We played hug monster. I talk all in Roars and chase the kids around trying to trap them in a hug. After four years it’s still their most requested game.

My older children can work on the same project for hours at a time, like building with blocks, reading, or playing out in the sandbox. Sometimes we all get caught up in our own projects throughout the day, but we all love to read, and at the end of the day we will read books together for about a half hour before bedtime. It’s a good time to reconnect and spend time together.

The kids are brilliant, but it’s hard being a mom to strong willed children and I find I lose my temper far too often. I hope they don’t remember that as much as all the times we play together and tell each other, “I love you.” When they grow up, I want to remember this house as a place to play and create, and as a place they were loved and listened to. I want this home to be a haven for them, somewhere they can always come to relax and also learn responsibility in a non-stressful way.

My first response to thinking about doing it all over again is to let go — not care about the messes and my to-do list, but to be able to enjoy my children more. But on a deeper level, a lot of the reason I didn’t let go as much is because I wasn’t able to enjoy where I was. I was looking to find a life I enjoyed, instead of enjoying the life I’d been given.

I’m slowly learning more acceptance with my life, and learning that I can be grateful for where I am in life and enjoy it, even if it isn’t ideal. Accepting that I am not going to keep my house clean today…but I am going to spend time making bird feeders with the kids. I’m not going to stick to that routine I made…but I am going to spend time watching a praying mantis with the kids.

Enjoying something is not necessarily something that just happens. It can be learned by being present, grateful and working hard. I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.

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Love this, Liz: “I’m finding it is much easier to enjoy the life I have instead of trying to make a life I enjoy.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But somehow it’s super complicated — or perhaps we just make it complicated, yes?

And then there’s this for discussion: “Working within my limitations of budget, time, creativity, and values was hard at first. I couldn’t do anything that spectacular. When I let go of comparison and desire and did what fit within my limitations, it was freeing.” I wonder how much of our home decor is a stretch toward a life a little beyond our reach? Like, “Darn it, I’m having a white couch and white pillows and a white throw and a white rug and I don’t care if I have three babies under five…we’ll just have to eat only white food from now on! And maybe keep our black Lab puppy outside!” Hah! At a certain point, living with kids probably isn’t as much emulating a perfectly photographed life seen on the internet, and a whole lot of loving how you’re living with your kids. And as we’ve learned over the years, there are many, many, many ways to love living with your kids!

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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.