By Gabrielle.

I knew Stephanie was a champion memory keeper, and that she’d have a lot to share with us to inspire even the most “Darn it! I forgot my camera again!” of us. (Not to mention the “Oh. Another year of art projects to organize. Hooray.” crowd, right?) And of course, inspire she will. But when I read about the reason behind her love of memories, I just about melted.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s words and gorgeous home. I’m honored to have her here with us today. Welcome, Stephanie!

Hi there! I’m Stephanie and I’m beyond excited to be here sharing my home with you! When Gabrielle approached me about being a part of this series, I had to email her back to make sure she had the right person. While I would love to think of my life as daring and thrilling, it’s basically just the opposite! I’m a homebody who spends most of my days toting my two children, ages five and seven, to and from school and activities, cooking dinner, cleaning up piles and piles of legos, and doing laundry. Sound familiar?

I’m a stay at home mama with many side jobs, including, but not limited to — milk cleaner-upper, lego organizer, stuffed animal rescuer, and lullaby singer. I’ve worked in several different professional roles over the past seven years, but decided to stay at home (mostly) full time after my son was born.

Being a stay at home mom has its ups and downs, as many of you probably know. Some days I feel like I’ve got it all together and other days I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Luckily, I have a handsome and hilarious husband as my sidekick to help me make my way through this crazy life. Our home can be a little crazy with lots of laughter and maybe just a touch of chaos sprinkled in as well!

Our oldest, Anna, is the heart and soul of our family. She has the kindest heart and the most amazing passion for life. She’s slightly obsessed with mermaids and has been since about age two. At her preschool graduation, she announced that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up and that idea hasn’t changed yet. From mermaid drawings to mermaid stories, our house is covered from top to bottom. We totally thought her mermaid obsession was a passing phase, but it hasn’t seemed to fade yet.  She’s also an avid reader and goes through book after book every day. My husband and I both are avid readers, but we surely can’t keep up with her!

The baby of the family is our son, Drew. Clearly he’s five, so he’s not still a baby, but one can dream they will stay little forever, right? Drew is a character and has been making us hysterically laugh out loud since he could talk. I’m always amused that my five year old son can make me belly laugh almost every single day. He’s quick witted and a math whiz who loves dinosaurs and Star Wars. Oh, and money. He’s obsessed with dollars and quarters for some reason. He’s my little helper and is always right there if I need a hand. He pulls out the chairs when I vacuum, makes his bed every morning, and helps with the laundry. I will most definitely have a mental breakdown when he starts kindergarten in the fall.

To finish our family out, we have a hairy and playful Goldendoodle named Chase. For the most part, he’s a great dog if you ignore the pillow chewing, shedding, and dirty paws. He’s basically like a great big teddy bear to us and our kids could not love him more.

Our family lives in the capital of North Carolina. We’ve been here about four years, although I was born and raised here in the south. We moved here from the metropolis of Baltimore, Maryland, so the southern life was definitely a change of pace for us. It took about five minutes to get used to the way of life here in the south. We love the slower pace, amazing neighbors, and the overall feel of our city.

Raleigh, while it’s not hustling and bustling all the time, still can have that city feel if you want it to! The great thing is that you can easily escape that craziness and head out to the surrounding suburbs. Our quaint little neighborhood is tucked in-between North Raleigh and Wake Forest, and offers everything that our family needs.

Our streets have tree lined sidewalks for walking and bike riding, playgrounds on almost every corner, access to hiking trails, as well as a community pool. I fell in love with our neighborhood almost as soon as I pulled into the development and I’m pretty sure that the white picket fences lining the houses and porch swings were what won me over.

While we would love to live on the beach and watch the sun rise over the ocean every morning, our neighborhood is perfect for us right now. My husband and I both grew up in neighborhoods and have very fond memories of roaming through the woods, chasing fireflies, and having cookouts. We both wanted those same things for our children. We wanted them to be able to ride their bikes down the street, play basketball with the neighbors outside, and enjoy evening block parties. We wanted them to be able to be kids and have the luxury of friends close by. We have neighbors who have become like family and take care of my children like their own. I couldn’t be more grateful for our wonderful neighborhood.

My husband works in sales and travels quite a bit, so he actually wasn’t even able to come down south with me to find us a home. We had many phone calls, FaceTime conversations, and texts sent back and forth over the week I was in Raleigh looking for a house. We differ a little on what our ideal home is, so being responsible for finding a place that we BOTH would love was a little stressful to say the least.

I think the hardest part of house hunting was the disappointment of realtor images not matching the actual look and feel of a house. There were so many houses we loved online, but just didn’t fit the bill in person.

One thing we knew with our house hunting is that we didn’t want to build a house from the ground up. We had just put the finishing touches on our house in Maryland and we just didn’t have it in us to pick out tile, argue over cabinet pulls, and discuss paint colors again! We wanted a newer home with a nice aesthetic, but we decided to not get too nit-picky with the particulars.

The home we ended up purchasing was actually the very first house I saw when I was out house hunting — you gotta love that gut feeling! I knew it was the house and neighborhood for us, but my husband still insisted that the realtor and myself see all 30 other homes on our list! So, after days and days of looking and lots of pictures sent back and forth, my husband made the trip down to Raleigh and we put our offer in on our home.

The house was a new construction home and was still in the building phase, but all of the details of the house had been decided and were pretty much set in stone. We made a few changes when we signed our contract, but other than that, the house was built according to the developer’s plans. Luckily, the colors, design, and overall aesthetic of the house was right on the mark for our tastes and preferences.

After a short five months, we packed up all of our belongings and moved our family to North Carolina. More so than with any other house that we’ve owned — this is house number four for us — this house has truly become our home. Even though it was a new construction, we’ve done lots of improvements, revisions, and updates to our house to make it our own. I think there was always a fear of messing something up with our other homes, and although we talked about the things we would love to do to improve the house, we never did them. Making this house fit our family has been so amazing!

I definitely don’t consider myself stylish or a designer. Most of the time I’m second-guessing all of the details of our house, usually to the point of paralysis. I’ve spent countless hours poring over Pinterest or flipping through books searching for inspiration and ideas. And after all of that time, I usually still came up empty handed.

I think I had a lightbulb moment about two years when we decided to go with our gut and do some renovations to our home. Our master bedroom was huge — like seriously way too huge — so we added a wall and created an extra bedroom, which we use as my creative space. We added french doors and hardwood floors to our second floor hallway, painted our entire house, changed out some of the lighting, and all of a sudden it felt like OUR home. Not some builder’s house who followed a set plan. This was our house. With our ideas and design.

From there, I’ve tried throw all of the amazing inspiration on Pinterest out the window and focus on what works for our home and our family.

My personal taste is white, bright, and clean. I love clean lines and grids. I love organization and order — oh, and baskets. I’m obsessed with made beds and straightened towels. Most of my family is not, so we’ve had to compromise quite a bit in these areas.

While my house is usually pretty tidy and organized, I’ve tried to allow my kids the freedom to play and explore our house and their toys. Their favorite place to play is in my closet or the laundry room. They love to drag almost every toy or stuffed animal they have into these small spaces and let their imaginations run free. But, they also help to clean up their messes.

It feels like our house sometimes grows from the inside with all of the trinkets, toys, and stuff kids accumulate. Boxes, baskets, and bins are a saving grace for us and my sanity. They can just shove everything into a bin and call it clean. Almost everything in our house has a place and while everything may not always be where it’s supposed to be, it’s nice to know that we can pick up, organize, and get our house back in order.

Prior to this house, we had moved almost every two years so there was always some sort of sorting, purging, and organizing going on around here! Over the last four years, I’ve tried to make it a habit to clean out and purge at least once a year. Having less stuff and living a simpler life is definitely a priority for us.

I’ve tried to let each of my children’s personalities shine through in their rooms and our playroom. Art and creativity is a big must for our family and you can find drawings, paintings, and artwork in almost every room of our house. I’ve always thought it was important to give my kids time for creativity, but to also cherish the work they make. Every few months, I change out the drawings and pictures, store our favorite pieces, and then snap photos of the rest before tossing them out. Artwork can get bulky and saving every single piece isn’t really possible. Taking and printing a photo of the work is a great way to save the pieces without all of the papers!

My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.

After I had my children, I knew I wanted to find a way to record and document all of the little things of our life. I needed to write this stuff down and record these moments. I picked up my camera and soon fell in love with photography, Instagram, and the like. I love being able to pause a specific moment in time. Soon after, I stumbled across a few memory keeping blogs and decided to combine our words and photos in my own blog, photo albums, scrapbook layouts, mini books, and more. I love the creativity that comes with memory keeping, but what I love most is that I’m recording all of those details of our life that will soon fade with time.

Memory keeping doesn’t have to be tedious or complicated! You don’t need fancy supplies or products at all! My very favorite way to record our memories is through letters to my children. I keep a blank journal on my nightstand and add in stories, notes, quotes, and more when I have time. Sometimes I pair my notes with photos, but other times, it’s just words.

I’ve had so many incredible doors and opportunities opened up to me through the memory keeping community. I’ve been published in magazines, worked as a designer for several paper crafting companies, taught classes on how simple and easy memory keeping can be, attended professional conferences, and even worked part-time as a marketing coordinator. Teaching classes and sharing my passion for memory keeping is by far my favorite. I love showing people just how easy it is to get your story down on paper and there’s nothing better than being able to share your printed photos — whether you hang them on the wall, or print them in a book — with your family and friends.

I’ve made it a point to hang photos and memories throughout our home. Only a hand few of the photos in our house were taken by a professional. The rest are real-life everyday moments of our day snapped either with my iPhone or Canon camera. I began a photo collage wall when my son was turned one and have added to the collage every year since. I absolutely love having our memories visible.

The majority of my week days are spent shuffling kids around to and from school and volunteering in each of their classrooms. Add in after school activities, dinner prep, and homework and my day is pretty full.  My husband and I border on the “we want to expose our children to as many things as possible” and “let them just be kids” mentality. I whole-heartedly believe that children learn, grow, and become creative when they have time to tinker, play, and explore their environment, so we really do try to make sure they have a good mix of down time and activities.

All four of us are homebodies to the core, so if there’s an opportunity for us to just stay at home and drink coffee, we totally take it! We all love being at home, grilling out, playing in the backyard, and just hanging out together.

The past seven years my every waking thought has been about my children and their needs, but as I see them become more independent, I can tell that the days where they need me 24/7 are slowly dwindling. I feel like my role as a mother is constantly changing and what might work for me/us one year won’t cut it the next. As my children grow and mature, I’m trying to make more time for myself, both personally and creatively. I love thinking outside of the box and trying new things — whether it’s photography, sewing, memory keeping, gardening, or home projects. Being busy is a must for me, so I’m always on the lookout for something fun and exciting to occupy my time!

Above all, I want my kids to remember our home as their happy place. I want them to remember jumping on the couch, running through the backyard, and having fancy dinner night, aka tacos, at the dining room table. I want them to remember the silly stories from daddy and the bedtime tickles. I want our home to be somewhere that takes all the worries away and can heal broken hearts. I hope our home is the place where all of their friends gather for slumber parties, picnics, and after school snacks. I want our home to be the place they come back to year after year and we all reminisce about the good old days. Mostly, I want our home to be remembered as a house full of love and laughter.

Living with kids is pretty amazing. My two add so much life and spark to our house, and in the rare times that they are both gone at the same time, it’s eerily quiet. There’s lots of jumping around, laughing, fussing, and running in our home. I love to overhear them playing their crazy games together. Usually it sounds more like my daughter is directing and orchestrating the game while my son just follows her lead, but oh well… Both of my children have wild imaginations and if they aren’t outside running around they are shoved in my closet playing mermaids or dinosaurs.

I’ve said this with every age so far, but five and seven are my favorites. I love that they are old enough to have their own responsibilities and can help take care of our home. I also love that we rarely have meltdowns, but oh man do I miss nap time! Gone are the days of productive hours during those golden naps.

Before I had children, I always assumed I would be the one teaching them, but every day I’m amazed at the things they teach me. They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be. For the most part, I try to live my life with a glass-half full mentality. I’m a pretty positive and upbeat person by nature and look to fill the majority of our days with happiness and joy. Sure, I have those days where I feel like my head might explode, but for the most part, I think choosing to live a life of joy helps the flow and attitude of our home! I’m so grateful for my family who remind me everyday that happiness doesn’t come for things or stuff; it comes from being together.

I wish that someone would have told me to just throw all of the rules and expectations out the window a long time ago! There were years where I thought I needed to be doing things a certain way or tried to keep up with others. Over time, I’ve learned that there is just nothing better than being myself; and while the way I like to do things and raise my children may not work for everyone, it works for me and that’s good enough.

This life is crazy enough as it is that we don’t need to add any extra stress or expectations on ourselves! Taking more of a no expectation approach to life has shown me that’s it’s ok to be different and have crazy passions. It’s taught me to think outside of the box and push myself both personally and creatively and I truly believe that it’s helped me to grow as a mother!

Motherhood may not be the most exciting job in the world, but I sure wouldn’t trade this gig for anything! When I don’t feel in over my head with this whole motherhood role, I could swear that being a mama is my destiny.

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Thank you, Stephanie! I agree with you that there is nothing lovelier than the things our kids teach us: “They’ve taught me the joy of studying rocks and sticks and they’ve taught me how important it is to literally stop and just be.” There is great joy to be found in rocks and sticks!

And your reasons for focusing so much on memory-keeping just about did me in: “My mom passed away when I was 19 and I’ve always felt like a part of my childhood went with her. There are many details of my life I can definitely remember, but the small stuff, like what my favorite food was as a baby, or how long it took for me to sleep through the night, is gone.” I can’t seem to shake this feeling of pure regret for you; like, I wish I could somehow find the answers for you, and tell you how you loved carrots and were a champion sleeper. In any case, I’m so proud of you for being proactive about keeping your kids’ memories for them.

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.