Living With Kids – Jessica Jackson

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

A while ago, a reader requested featuring more homes in this Living With Kids series at lower price ranges. Gabrielle put out the call, and Jessica was one of the first to respond. While her husband is going to grad school, they live with their three young kids in a town home that is partially government subsidized.

Despite living on a graduate student budget, Jessica and her husband have learned to get creative with their resources — including learning woodworking so they can build their own furniture! You’ll love seeing the happy, bright home they’ve put together. Welcome, Jessica!

Living With Kids – Jessica Jackson:

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

My husband Andrew and I met in August 2010 in our Technology and Engineering Education major at university. It’s a small program, and there were about thirty of us that were together all day, every day in our various classes. I hadn’t talked to him for the first two months but I happened to be sitting next to him when we were signing up to go visit schools for observations. He offered to give me a ride because he had a car and I didn’t. That was the start of our friendship, which turned into dating from November through December.  

In January I left for a four-month study abroad program in Israel. In February 2011, my study abroad group visited Egypt (and were there during the revolution, which is another story altogether). When we pulled up to the pyramids my first thought was: it would be so fun if Andrew was here to see this, and I knew I could marry him. A few weeks later we were unofficially engaged via skype, and set a wedding date for August. Seven years later we have three amazing children — Emily, Nathan, and Laura.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

Emily is 4.5 and is full of ideas for how our days should go. She loves tactile activities of her own making and any liquid substance is fair game for impromptu creation. If she isn’t making or creating, you can find her dancing ballet on her tiptoes while listening to the nutcracker ballet, or outside in the dirt finding worms or gathering flowers.

Nathan is 2.5 and spends his day as a worker, designated by a blue apron that he dons as soon as he finishes breakfast and a little broom that he “lawns” with. He is a gentle and soft-hearted boy who is incredibly patient and focused in his play. He spends hours building cars, fire trucks, tractors, and boats out of the furniture, pillows, and blankets in our house, or on a smaller scale with duplos.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

Laura is 7.5 months and is thrilled to be in on the action. She loves sitting and laughing with us at the table or playing with her siblings on the floor. Communicating her needs is her superpower — she stared me down and emphatically babbled to me when tired or hungry, since she was about two months old. It’s something she is only getting better at. Age 7 to 8 months is when babies become super fun for me, and we are all soaking in the joy that she brings. 

Andrew is finishing up his PhD in Technology Education at Purdue University, to add to the masters he got a few years ago here as well. He is working towards being a full time professor at a university in the next year or two, with at least one post-doc happening in between now and then.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I spend my days at home with our children, doing all the cool things I learned about in college: photography, woodworking, podcasting (close to my first love, sound recording), fiddling, and lots of reading. We go outside rain or shine, since that is where we are all the happiest. I absolutely love the flexibility that comes with this season of life, before we start school for our oldest.  

We live in the wonderful town of West Lafayette, Indiana. We have been renting this two-story town home for four years now. It is government subsidized housing so our neighbors are a mixture of graduate student families, immigrants, single parents, and those with disabilities. I have loved the opportunity to become friends with so many people who are doing their best despite difficult circumstances. It has been a wonderful experience to view the world through a different lens than the typical middle-class America which my husband and I grew up in.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

The best part of our little community is the small town feel. It doesn’t matter where we go we always run into someone we know. I love that my kids have spent their early years, running around outside with friends for hours at a time, in a nostalgic inducing way. Biking in the summer, sledding in the winter, making up games, exploring nature. Noticing the ants carrying loads on the sidewalk ,or playing with potato bugs, or collecting cicadas shells together. The people here are  good and I have learned much about serving and caring for others during our time here.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

When we first moved into our home we had the bare basics for furniture, and one tiny basket of “toys” (like a plastic bottle with rice) and books for our daughter. We had just finished a summer internship with only the possessions we could fit in our tiny Honda Civic, and baby items took up half of that precious space. 

Turning this place into a home was a very slow process with a steep learning curve for me. I started out by putting sticky notes all over our walls with lists of problems to solve.  For example:

Living Room — Place for Emily’s toys; place for exercise equipment; place for musical instruments; games?; library book area; place for a few key books to read/magazines.

Baby Proofed – No fragile things low; stay open, welcoming, bright; color!

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I’ve spent the first few years solving those problems and the last few years trying to figure out our style via trial and error.

Fortunately for us, the very first semester after Andrew and I got married, we took our major’s required wood shop class together. I went from having zero woodworking skills to being the proud owner of my first child, a end table that was 10 inches too short because I cut the legs in half and didn’t realize it until it was assembled and stained! Andrew made a matching coffee table, and that planted the seed for our DIY nature.

We’ve made nearly everything in our house — shelves, my desk, the wood boxes for the kids’ storage, kid beds, a rag rug, the kids’ coat rack, laser cut signs, dolls, blocks, carved animals and peg dolls, kids’ backpacks, dress-ups, a few clothes. I’ve even made shoes for the kids, and amazing sandals for myself.  

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

My most favorite project is the armoire I just built with my four year old daughter, while my husband is super busy with grad school. It perfectly captures my style and I love that it allowed me to remember that I can do hard things on my own. Typically I come up with the project and the plans and Andrew executes while I take care of the three kids, and so this was an independence check of sorts (though I’d much rather be interdependent and let Andrew help!). Every time I look at it (which is a lot in our one room living space), I can’t help but smile. Those are the kind of things I love to fill our home with.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I think one of the most wonderful gifts of having a family on a grad school budget is that we have really fallen in love with the joy of making things. It has saved us loads of money and will probably save us a lot in the future, but even more important to me is proactive approach my kids take now when they want something.

A few days ago my 4 year old said she wanted a shoe rack in her room like the one in ours. She spent the afternoon putting her shoes on our shoe rack, drawing her design, and moving around pieces of scrap wood to figure out how they could go together. I joined her with a measuring tape and we talked through the design constraints (the size of the closet, how many shoes needed to fit, etc.), and came up with a final plan. 

My husband took the three kids to the wood shop to cut the wood, and the next day they put it together. They are learning so many life skills working through the process, with no money exchanged and a want fulfilled. Not to mention making memories with us and feeling a major sense of joy and accomplishment.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

There are moments when I start to wish we had more space, and more of the convenience that money can buy.  Then I just step back and look at a spot in our home and all that we’ve made to fill it, and the thought that I put into solving all those little problems, and I just relish in the goodness of this place and phase of our life.

We have always had all our needs and many of our wants met. I have learned how to do so many new things, from making homemade yogurt and sourdough bread, to sewing clothes, because I didn’t want to go buy something.

I love that my kids figure we can either fix or make whatever we want. Although I’m not sure how I’m going to fill my 2-year-old’s recent request to make him a working lawn mower.

If we had gone right into a full time job and home ownership, we would have lost such a beautiful period of growth and development of our family culture.  

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

Graduate school is coming to an end, but I’m in no hurry for this phase of life to end. I feel like in many ways I’m living the dream life I’ve always wanted and it is hard to leave. We don’t have much control over where we will head next or what our life will look like in the next phase.

I’m learning to switch my thinking from trying to have our life look a specific way, or have certain criteria met, to embracing all that life throws at us with curiosity and wonder. I’m in the experience-collecting business now, and I’m hoping to lead my family optimistically and joyously through the unknown.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

My mom super power would have to be problem identification, and seeking answers and solutions from God.  I know that he is helping me day in and day out in this role as a mother. He knows me and my kids better than I do and I have been so grateful for his input and guidance. It has shaped what our day-to-day life looks like.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I hope that my kids remember that we made this home ours together — I made sure everyone has a place and a space here even in our small quarters. I hope they remember how I try to have fun with them, and forget about all the times when I don’t have patience, or lose my temper because I am so completely exhausted.

My favorite thing about living with kids is seeing their personalities and ideas evolve and shape and influence our home — this is also a really hard thing because it means giving up control, and usually a mess.  I love observing them at play and creation, and I’m in awe of what they come up with. A close second is all the times I get to sit and read to them. We spend hours reading picture books, and now chapter books, throughout the day. My absolute favorite is when the two mesh together and they start incorporating what we read into their play!  

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

I will also seriously miss having a baby or child to hug and snuggle all day every day. It is a unique phase of life to have little children to love and be loved by.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that babies just need to sleep a lot for the first few months. I spent the first year of my young motherhood always holding my daughter or sitting on the floor next to her while she was awake. She is super social and between her loving to be engaged, and me trying to engage, I became a very exhausted and drained introvert. I have spent the last 4 years since trying to strike a healthy balance in my relationship with my kids.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

When it comes to being given advice and listening, that is actually something I love to do. I have a podcast, called Thriving in Motherhood, where I interview mothers about their growth on their own motherhood journeys. Every week I learn gold nuggets of wisdom from amazing women, and I’m so grateful they trust me with their stories, so I can learn from them and share with others.

The more that my interviews continue, the more I feel the power that mothers have, to lift and support each other. I think many moms go through phases of feeling isolated and discouraged (me included!), and for me, this podcast has brought a sense of community to the role.

Living With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design MomLiving With Kids - Jessica Jackson featured by popular lifestyle blogger Design Mom

—-

Thank you, Jessica!

I LOVE seeing photos of a organized, happy, DIY home. It’s so easy to see that Jessica and her husband have put a lot of love and care and intention into the pieces they have collected and built for their family.

I also really love what Jessica says about teaching herself to do things — like sewing, or making a sourdough starter, or BUILDING AN ARMOIRE — because she didn’t want to go out and spend money. I think I am definitely the kind of person who throws money at problems (even if I don’t necessarily have money to throw), because it seems easier or less of a hassle. Maybe I should take a page from Jessica’s book, and make do or, do without, or make it myself.

Are you a DIY kind of person? Do you find the time to make and build the things you need? Or are you more likely to run to Target to grab something? What’s your best tip for saving money?

 


Jessica’s blog can be found here. You can follow her on Instagram here or you can even listen to her podcast! Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

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45 thoughts on “Living With Kids – Jessica Jackson”

  1. I’m at least one of the people who wanted to see homes in a lower price range, and I appreciated Jessica sharing hers. ♥ Sometimes the half-million dollar homes are overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be catalog-perfect to be a wonderful place to live.

  2. Love, love, love, love. Our DIY, getting-on-our-feet years were hard, of course, but brought us invaluable sense of deep appreciation. I don’t know very many people who see the beauty in those times as Jessica and her family do.

  3. Thanks, Jessica, for sharing your beautiful home! It’s great to see another West Lafayette resident who appreciates music, books, nurturing little ones, design, and Design Mom!

  4. Lovely home. Thanks for your heartfelt words Jessica. What a precious skill you have nurtured to look for the good and to solve a problem with your own hands. Early childhood is a precious time and I love how you seem to savor and not overthink it.

  5. Jenny Jackson

    I am amazed at the thought and planning Jessica and Andrew have put into their home, and into their parenting. Beautiful!

  6. I really enjoyed this. I wish I were more creative, but it seems when I make something it’s a waste of my money cause I ruin it. Woodworking is cool. Let me tell you that the grad school life turns into your own kids going to college really fast. We are seeing on fb grad school friends’ kids head off to college and our oldest is going to be a junior in hs in a few weeks. It’s like we just got out of college and it’s time for this?? :0 Do we have the money? Will she get a scholarship if she keeps up her good work?? Money needs/issues don’t ever go away. Best of LUCK!!!

  7. Of all the Living with Kids posts I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot!), Jessica seems the most content with her life.

    1. She does, as they are not keeping up with the “Jones’”. If one’s basic needs of food and shelter are met, it’s up to us to add love and happiness.

  8. Jessica, thank you so much for sharing! Your comment about spending a year constantly engaging with your baby and becoming a drained introvert really resonated! Hugs from another introvert mom on the way to finding that healthy balance.

  9. Loved reading this! Our home was part of this series a few years ago when we were living in West Lafayette for grad school and I resonated sooo much with much of this interview! Especially the make it yourself or live without it perspective! 😉 Thank you for sharing (and so cool to click over to your podcast and see women featured that I grew to love during our time in WL!).

  10. This is a really sweet, wonderful post. Thank you for sharing, and I’m in awe of Jessica’s creativity. Did she make the quilts as well? They are gorgeous. I think one thing I’m curious about it her decision to stay home and live on one, grad school income. That must have been hard, but obviously the right one for their family since she exudes such joy and gratitude about this phase of life. Now I’m wishing I knew how/had time for some creative projects of my own!

    1. The decision not to work is a great point I didn’t think to mention. We have been really fortunate in our grad school experience because my husband has always had an assistantship or fellowship which means his tuition is covered and he has a monthly stipend that covers our needs. I did teach at an online charter school for a year after my daughter was a year old and I’ve also done some freelance web design and photography, so we have had spurts of a little extra income.

      The quilts were made by me, my mom, or my grandma. They are a fun detail that is very much part of our heritage – thanks for noticing!

      1. Thanks for sharing, Jess. I love that the quilts were made by so many generations! I hope someday to make a memory quilt from my daughter’s baby clothes. This is definitely an inspiration.

  11. thank you for sharing your home its a refreshing change from millionaire style show homes that 99% of us never get to live in :) – that camera would get taken and dropped by my kids if it was left on a low shelf like that :) the little blighters :)

  12. Sometimes the simpler and more humble the home, the more obvious the love and happiness. That is true here. I so appreciate seeing homes that are clean, uncluttered, and functional. The focus is not on stuff, or money, but on the people who live there, their happiness, and their bond. This home is an inspiration, and so is the young family!

  13. Love this! I always wish design and house magazines would focus more on making do and figuring out, instead of problem solving with money. So appreciated. Beautiful calm welcoming space. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Jessica! What an encouragement and inspiration you are! I too am a grad school wife/ stay at home mom. The road takes much self discipline and some worrisome moments but most days I feel like I have discovered some magical side path in life and I am so grateful. Thanks for reppin your choices in such a sweet and humble way. I wish we could swap bread recipes and sewing patterns over a cup of generic brand coffee! Much love from Knoxville, TN!

  15. How refreshing! It’s a jolting reminder of how rich and fulfilled I felt as a scrimping grad student/ newlywed, even as a decade later I feel the heat over providing my kids with perfect, optimized, expensive childhoods. It’s hard not to feel like your “needs” are growing along with your income (and your peer group’s incomes), but Jessica’s life looks simple and lovely.

    1. I appreciate your comment especially as we are about to move into a new phase of life. I need the reminder that we get to continue to choose what’s important to us and that we don’t have to compare. It can be so easy to fall into that and think our kids are missing out or need more when we see what everyone else is doing.

  16. Lovely home and outlook :)

    I absolutely love the quilts – are they little squares individually sewn on to a white backing or…?

    I’m an absolute novice but I’ve made one simple quilt for one of our boys and would like to do one for our girl and I love this style!

    1. The first one on my girls bed was an experiment done by my mom who is an experienced quilter. She literally glued the squares onto white fabric and then sewed straight lines down. It frayed, which was expected, but I prefer a more traditional look. For my son’s quilt she went the typical route and sewed squares and white rectangles together to make the quilt top.

  17. Jessica, I love your post so much. Many home tours feel aspirational in a gosh-I-feel-bad-about-myself-that-I-can’t-live-that-way kind of way, but yours is aspirational in this wonderful, encouraging, motivating I-want-to-try-that-too kind of way!

  18. Fantastic home tour! What I loved most was the fact that Jessica wasn’t talking about the “someday when we have more money/time/etc” but rather was actually loving this stage of life and wishing for it NOT to end. Refreshing! Not necessarily something I can claim to be good at, but refreshing nonetheless.

  19. Love this house, and the sentiments on parenting! The home reminds me of the first house I had with my husband. We either made, thrifted or made do. So refreshing to see a house that is loved and lived in rather than glossy perfection!!

    Jessica – have you heard of the blogger/writer/maker Soule Mama? You remind me of her. :) She lives in Maine on a farm and has 5 kids. She and her husband build much of their furniture, and the kids are also engaged in sewing, crafting, music and dancing.

  20. Those golden grad school days. We cut our teeth as home owners across the river in Lafayette, where our tiny house was perfectly affordable, during my husband’s five years at Purdue. (I had to wonder if I recognized your name from Corkboard!)

    There is a great beauty in making due and being content, a reminder I needed to hear just three years post-PhD life. We made our fair share, but I always preferred the Salvation Army store in Lafayette.

    I loved your line about “beautiful growth and development,” because it is a sweet, sweet (and difficult!) time.

    Boiler up, hammer down!

  21. My absolute favorite part is the beautiful crayon artwork above her child’s bed!! I love that you were able to see the beauty and leave it as is, even document with pictures (!) rather than scrub it away. I’m all for teaching my children to respect our home and our things, but I try to balance that with seeing things from their eyes! I smile when I see what surely was artwork in their eyes. I can learn a lot from my children! Thank you for your honesty and sharing your lovely home. You are intentional and thoughtful in creating a home that reflects your family, and I respect that. Lovely!

    1. Oh man the crayon “art”! When I talked with my kids about it they were incredibly confused about why we could hang pictures on the wall but not draw pictures on the wall. Teaching moment for me – and now writing utensils are not allowed upstairs :)

  22. I absolutely loved this. Jessica, you are so right about missing having babies to hold and snuggle. My youngest is 12 and I constantly “steal” my cousins babies at every family gathering :) Your home is very much like the townhouse my husband & I lived in for 5 years and where we welcomed our first child. It was really great. Your children will have the most beautiful memories because you sound like a truly lovely and caring mother. Keep up the good work!

  23. Such love in this house, and I so appreciate hearing about being happy in whichever season of life you are currently in. With very best wishes for Jessica and her sweet little family.

    Also, my three children write ALL OVER my walls and it drives me insane. Very good to see I am not the only one! xx

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