Living With Kids: Chelsey Woolley

There’s something special about the Woolley home. It’s definitely in a state of repair and redesign, I’m sure the exposed brick lends an added chill, and the constant sprinkling of dust from the perpetual updating must get old. But on the flip side, it’s a home where anything seems possible when the sunlight streams in. It’s a home where cuddling up together in one room creates all the warmth needed. And as for the dust, who notices such things against such a colorful backdrop? From the way Chelsey describes her six children to the way she chooses wall color and their two non-negotiable house rules, this is a tour to enjoy. I really hope you do!

My husband, Woo (not his real name, but a name that he goes by and the name that I almost always call him), likes to say that we met in the pediatrician’s office. We did have the same pediatrician, but I think that we most likely met for the first time in high school where he was friends with my little brother, and I was friends with his older sister. We didn’t start dating until I’d graduated from college, and after we kept seeing each other at things like thrift stores, gigs, and Ultimate Frisbee. We like to say that Woo’s the public face of our family — personable, often hilarious, and friendly. He works from home as a self-employed app developer. I’m a stay-at-home mom driven to read or fiddle around with the house in my spare time. I have a degree in science, but wish I’d done something much more right-brained. Soon after we married, we moved to St. Louis and started our family. Four of our children were born there, and the last two were born here in Utah.

Ruby, eight, is our resident tomboy. She can run, climb, play in the dirt, and collect bugs and rocks with the best of them. She is also extremely compassionate, generous, and social. She has many, many big ideas; right now she has lots of plans for her future involving the study and cultivation of sharks.

Herbie, seven, would love to be the oldest kid, but is making the most of being the oldest boy. He considers himself an expert on anything he’s done (even just once), or heard about (even just barely), and will unload what he knows on his little brothers. Despite trying to be an adult in every way, he definitely has a slapstick sense of humor, loves a good knock-knock joke, and still loves hugs from his mom and tickles from his dad.

Moses, five, is our sweet, sensitive middle child. He gives the most sincere, surprising compliments, has an angelic, innocent smile, and is very affectionate. He also is the kid who best understands comedic timing and the anatomy of a good joke. He would really, really like to be good all the time, but sometimes just can’t help himself when his little brother takes one of his cars, or his big sister involves him in an exciting, sneaky plan.

Linus, three, is our charmer. He has had a big, bright smile from almost the very beginning, and he’ll flash it at anyone he meets. He has a hearty, husky laugh that we hear a lot. He’s a bit of a ham, has no fear of people, and is also adorable, so I’m constantly having people tell me how cute he is. They’ll often say, “I don’t know what it is, but he is just so cute!” I, of course, don’t think there’s any mystery about it.

Penelope, 21 months, is at that first stage (of many, I’m sure) where she thinks she knows it all. She babbles seriously to us at length, expecting us to understand every word she says. She does important work around the house, like move dishes from the cupboard to the table and back again. She rushes to put something on her feet (a slipper and a big boot) and hands (a sock and a mitten) as soon as she hears the word “outside.” She usually answers no to any question – just to be safe – and then changes her answer when she realizes we’ve just offered her a cookie.

Archie, three months, is our newborn. All of our kids have been happy, content babies, but Archie has seriously been a miracle baby; well-behaved beyond my wildest dreams. He smiles and coos just occasionally, and always at me. Mostly he furrows his eyebrows in a concerned or perplexed expression, patiently putting up with our slobbery kisses and rough hugs.

Once it became clear that Woo would be able to work from home and that we’d be able to live anywhere, we quickly flirted with someplace exotic, but then decided to move back to Utah to be closer to family. We’d been away from them for awhile. We were still in St. Louis, so we began our search on the internet and were disappointed to find absolutely nothing that we liked in our price range and in a good location. After a while we decided that, really, we could probably make anything look better over time, and to concentrate on location.

We had looked at this house on and off, but Woo didn’t fly out until we were under contract for a different house in a different town. He decided to take a look at this one again on a whim. As he and the realtor walked through the house they laughed at how dumpy it was. Then later that night Woo told me he thought we should buy it.

The house is right next to a large park (with an ice rink) and the church. We have a library and a couple of restaurants down the street. There are three ski resorts, two reservoirs, and a river within 30 minutes. A couple of beaches are within biking distance. It’s on an acre of land with large trees in a quiet, old town, but also close to civilization. Those things wouldn’t change, but we knew we could change the house. So we bought it.

I had never seen the house in person until the day we moved from St. Louis and closed on the house. It had ugly siding, a sunken front porch, horrible, matted carpet in every room (even the kitchen and bathroom), wallpapered walls with large cracks in the plaster, the beautiful windows were hidden behind heavy, frilly curtains – it wasn’t hard to tell why the house hadn’t sold. But it did definitely have a feeling of being ours, and I was excited about the high ceilings, the arched doorway between the living room and dining room, the old moldings, the giant transom window in the master bedroom, the deep window sills from thick brick walls…I thought we could make it work.

Everyone seems to assume that I should be overwhelmed or exhausted with six kids, but I just don’t feel that way. I attribute it to two things.

First: an early, regular bedtime for the kids. All our kids go to bed at seven. Not only do Woo and I get plenty of time every night to recharge without them, they just behave better when they’ve had enough sleep. Second: Woo works from home and has a flexible schedule. He’ll often take all kids who can walk to the ice rink while I make dinner, or take the older kids on a bike ride to the beach while I nap with the younger ones, or load the groceries into the car while I nurse the hungry baby in the front seat.

My kids don’t seem to be old enough yet to want to be on their own in the house. Or maybe it’s just their personalities. We all just naturally hang out together. Ruby and Herbie are the only ones who sleep in their own room, and they both often ask me if they can share with somebody. We’d gladly let them if they wouldn’t stay up late talking!

I’m sure the time will come when all that will change, but I know from experience growing up with a shared room, that a small area anywhere in the house can easily be commandeered and made personal. The house is far from done, and I also don’t think that my kids will hit that stage all at once; I have some ideas for the future with that sort of thing in mind.

Of course, we have the kids pick up their messes. Even Penelope can help put Legos in the tub or books in their place, and she usually will once the older kids get going. For us, the big clean up is every night before dinner. The kids are also expected to make their beds and tidy their rooms before they come down to breakfast. I’m not going to lie, though. Any visitor who comes to the house not immediately after a clean up has got to be worried!

By some miracle, perhaps, the kids leave my glass and plants alone after only being told a couple of times. We don’t wear shoes in the house, and the kids always use the back door by the mudroom. Standing, climbing, and jumping on furniture is not allowed.

One thing we also do is fiercely protect the noise level in our home. I don’t love chaos. Our home is a place to relax, read, work on projects, eat, sleep, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun, yes. But, it is not a place to act wild and crazy and obnoxious. Kids who stampede through the house are sent outside. Kids who scream and throw tantrums are sent upstairs to their rooms until they feel better and are under control. We aren’t afraid to tell the kids that it’s time to read or work on something quiet if we feel like things are getting out of hand.

You may not think it from the amount of kids and the bright colors in our home, but visitors often comment on how quiet and peaceful it is. Part of that is probably because we live in a sleepy little town, and part of it is probably because we court it.

I don’t know that I have the kids in mind, really, when I’m decorating, but I don’t do things like put plants on the floor or breakable things at knee height anymore. I’m always envisioning things toppling over, and if I suspect it has the potential to really hurt someone, I move it.

It took me a few years and a few kids to accept that they really do sleep better in a dark, tomb-like room. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I do love a bright and cheery children’s room. But, I’ve decided that everyone getting enough sleep is more important for us, so I’ve painted the kids’ rooms navy, and made curtains out of thick fabric to shut out all the light. I look forward to having bright colors in the kids’ rooms again when they no longer feel the call to wake up with the sun.

Yes, my color scheme is bol, which is funny because my personality is almost the exact opposite. I’m the quiet, calm, reserved, introvert who would prefer that other people don’t notice me. Decorating must be the place that I go to release my inhibitions and let my hair down!

I really think that white walls and neutral rooms are beautiful, but I’ve never been able to do it. I think it’s because the first question I ask myself when deciding on a color is, “What would be fun?” and then, “What would be different?” There is a point with everything I’ve ever painted (usually after I’ve gotten just one coat on), where I think, “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” Then I force myself to just work through it.

I’m a firm believer that any color – and I mean any color – can be made to work. You may have to carefully control the other colors in the room or use large amounts of white or grey or some other neutral to give the eye rest. I like to think that, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. The colors make me happy, and Woo and the kids like them. I like to think that we live in a bright, fun, child-filled home!

I hope that my style of decorating helps my children to learn to not be afraid to march to the beat of their own drum. In whatever they eventually decide to undertake, I hope that they won’t be overly concerned with the “rules” or be frozen by indecision. I’d like them to have fun, be creative, experiment!

Also, in renovating this house, I’d like them to have memories of their parents out in the yard with the skill saw, of their Mom painting every inch of the house, of their Dad battling the dandelions every spring, and to expect that it takes time, patience, and work to get the things that they want. I hope they never give up or expect their dreams to just be handed to them.

Probably my favorite thing about the actual house is the thick brick walls. They keep the house at a comfortable temperature all by themselves for seven or eight months out of the year, and there’s just kind of a breathable feeling that we first noticed when we moved in. They also make great window sills. I’ve always loved the look of light shining through colored glass, and now I have plenty of space and child-safe places to put glass in every room. My mom and mother-in-law have also given me a lot of house plants that really thrive there, and also make the air feel fresh and clean.

Even though I admit to being overwhelmed with it at times, I’m also mostly glad that this house offers me so projects. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored with it. There’s so much we need to do, and afterwards, there’s so many fun things we could do!

Most of our indoor traditions aren’t dependent on the house we live in, but because of the location we chose, we’re able to get outside often and exercise more. I go for a run through town and past open pastures almost every day. Woo does a lot of both mountain and road biking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Woo was already pretty good, but the rest of us are learning how to ice skate. The kids are learning how to snowboard and snowshoe. I plan to teach the kids how to really swim this summer, and the older kids all learned how to ride bikes here. The kids are learning to fish and canoe. Because of the proximity of so many fun things to our house, we can do any of these things any day after school or after dinner or just on a random day.

The best part about living with my kids? Well, first off, they’re so beautiful! Their giant eyes, round cheeks, delightful plumpness in all the right places, the way their bodies move, the sound of their little voices…I’ve never done it, but I could probably sit and stare at a toddler all day, and be completely satisfied with how I’d spent the day.

Secondly, they’re just good company. The best company. So quick to smile, give hugs, say I love you, and offer sincere thanks for the basics. “Thanks for making this food, Mom.” “Thank you for getting me a drink of water, Mom.” Not to mention the cute, funny, and occasionally very insightful things that they say.

I remember in the first months I had Ruby being a bit shocked to learn what it’s really like to have someone dependent on you 24/7, but on the whole, I’m not sure that anything has been unexpected for me. I’d like to say that I expected every bit of it, and am more than happy to be living this life that I’ve always wanted for myself. They are a lot of work, but I’ve found that I do love work, for the most part and it’s never been out-of-control or above my ability to handle. Well, never for very long! I’d never want them to feel that I’m resentful of the extra work that they bring into my life, because I’m not.

I’m not sure that I miss anything yet. Maybe that’s because I still have kids at every stepping stone clear down to newborn. I sure don’t miss pregnancy! I do try to be a person that lives in the present, and I’ve tried very hard to appreciate and enjoy my kids at every stage they’ve been in. I know that it’s fleeting. Maybe that’s why I love being a mom so much!

I wish someone had told me not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered. You never know who’s in their first trimester of a pregnancy, who is dealing with depression or an autoimmune disease, who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s overworked in some other area, or who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long, long time.

It can and does happen to the best of us!

I wish someone had told me that when I see someone who doesn’t seem to have it 100% together to love first – and then try to help, if I can.


Oh, Chelsey! I had to laugh at your panic after your first coat of bold wall color: “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” At least you keep going — bravely! — and don’t fall back on safe choices. Your turquoise kitchen and hanging scale are the cutest.

Friends, are you inspired by her quiet house and early bedtime rules? Have you adopted similar sanctions in your own homes to save your sanity? Please share with the rest of us; we’re all looking for ways to make our lives more enjoyable. Especially at bedtime!

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

71 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Chelsey Woolley”

  1. What a cool family! I ♥ the exposed brick. I would love a project home with character, but I bore easily and would probably go nuts with it. Also, my family is in construction and they always tell me not to cause fixing old house problems costs more money in the long run.

  2. We are expecting our 6th kid later this year and I am so happy to see a home where peacefulness can still be be the rule!
    The bright colors are so great- I try to shoot for lots of it too.

  3. I love the hanging scale in her kitchen! I like her house rules, too. Bedtime at 7 seems like it would be hard to pull off when both parents work outside the home, but I’m always up for trying! A good night’s sleep is worth its weight in gold.

    1. I think you are right, Dee. If both of us worked, or even if Woo came home from work later and wanted to spend time with the kids, we’d never be able to do bedtime at 7. It’s not for everybody. But, neither is six kids, either :).

  4. Getting my kids to bed earlier is one of my current goals…I don’t plan on them going to bed at 7, but I am in awe of parents who can do that. Love the photos! Your home looks so peaceful and fun. Thanks for sharing with us!

    1. To tell you the truth, Alicia, we did have the kids sleep from 8-8 for a long time, but once we had to get up earlier for school, we had to shift everything an hour to regain harmony.

  5. How fun! This family lives in my home town, and I can’t wait to move back there myself. It is heaven on earth. Love her wonderful bold choices, she really has a gift with pulling all sorts of different styles together to make a cohesive and lovely home.

      1. I’d love to know what magical town this is with a river, 2 reservoirs and ski resorts so close. If it’s not too personal a question!

        1. I agree! I am most definitely interested.
          I love Chelsey’s quote, “I’d like to think we live in a fun child-filled home”

  6. We have six age 9 to 18 months and an early bedtime is essential for health, sanity, love, and world peace rolled into one.

  7. I have 4 from ages 15-9 and everyone still (for the last few years. When they were much younger it was 7 or 7:30) goes to bed at 8 pm. (It helps that the oldest has an early class) The ups and downs of a lot of teens are amplified simply because they are sleep deprived. My oldest came home from health the other day and informed me she is the only person in her class getting adequate sleep. Crazy!
    Loved the tour, lots of fun things:)

  8. Love the colors and that scale in the kitchen!
    We have 3 girls ages 13, 4 and 18 months and our rule is everyone is upstairs in bed before 8:30. Occasionally we do an “everyone to bed early night because Mommy is losing her mind” which surprisingly no one really argues with…probably because they can see that Mommy is about to lose it.

  9. Like everyone else, I love this series. Who doesn’t love to peek into another person’s lovely home?
    I have to say though, that of all of the series, this is my FAVORITE answer to the question – Please finish the sentence, I wish someone had told me:

    “I wish someone had told me not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered. You never know who’s in their first trimester of a pregnancy, who is dealing with depression or an autoimmune disease, who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s overworked in some other area, or who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long, long time.”

    So beautiful, Chelsey! Reading it sort of took my breath away. What a wonderful reminder.

      1. That was my favorite response too! I think what makes it easier to implement (because, really, we all know we shouldn’t judge others anyway) is your reason. Everyone has a story, and all of these are intensely private ones that may mean a clean house is a lower priority. Thanks for the tour of your lovely home and the peek into your life!

  10. We follow a pretty similar road. Early bedtime, quiet home. It makes a huge difference for all of us when the kids and the grown ups are well rested!

  11. aside from the fact we have the same last name, and both studied science but wish we had done something else a bit more creative, i adore your house chelsea! i’m afraid my four kids try my patience every day with their ability to break/damage/shout/run in the house – i’m going to try some of your tips and tricks!


  12. darling house! she’s put love into every corner of that house, and it’s so beautiful. and i’m so inspired by her quiet house rules…i needed that advice today after a very loud hour while i was trying to make dinner with 3 kids under foot.

  13. I always love reading about people’s house rules (among having a peek into their gorgeous homes!) My question is always – HOW?! Like my kids know that jumping/standing on the furniture is not allowed. I fight this battle daily with my 2 year old. Apparently my “stern serious, this is now allowed” voice means nothing because a cute, curly headed 2 year old just smiles and me and stands right back up on that couch.

    (Ps, I am jealous of all of you who have large families. I am begging my husband for a 3rd baby and he is not jumping on board. Says he “can’t do the newborn thing again…” I was nice and did not give him a good smack for that comment!)

    1. Don’t talk. Act. Just pick your child off the couch or sit them with you in your lap to show them how to behave on the couch. It may take lots of repetition with a stubborn child, but you’ll both feel better, if you do it that way.

  14. I love your house and your town! We tried hard to find a house there this winter but I was feeling too chicken for a major fixer-upper. Dang!
    Amen to early bedtimes-they keep our family so happy and sane.

  15. Love all of your pillows and the colors in your home!
    And especially loved this: “I wish someone had told me not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered.”

    The sense of calm and presence that I felt while reading your words is inspiring!

  16. Love the final answer – so true. I always try to challenge myself to imagine why people behave the way they do, and what might be going on in their lives that they don’t let anyone see.

    1. Sometimes I try to do that too, but I’ve made enough mistakes by now to realize, that it really could happen to anyone just on a bad day :).

  17. I love all the color in the house. I need to work up the nerve to do that as my husband would totally love it. And I love the wisdom of realizing that kids need a dark room as we’ve had to hang dark, heavy curtains in what would have been cheery bedrooms. Lastly, yes on the final answer and yes on not allowing the loud chaos. I feel that exact way . . . good to read how someone else manages it. Love this entire post really. Thanks for sharing!!

  18. Love, love, love this house and Cheltz perspective on sleep and keeping the house calm!!

    We are 2 working parents with only 2 kids, but we also have a 7pm bedtime. We started this about a year ago when our 5y0 son started kindergarten and needed the extra sleep. Now that we also have a 6m old baby, the 7pm bedtime works so very, very well. My husband and I were pleasantly surprised at how much an extra hour or so of “adult” time added to the quality of our marriage. :)

    However, I work from home a few days a week, and my husband and I work only 20 minutes from home. I’m not sure this would be workable for a parent that commutes a long long distance and don’t see the kids until the evening. I know I need to spend time with my kids every single day to feel like a complete and whole person – they just give me so much happiness!

    And, I very much appreciate the final answer. I think sometimes our tendency to judge is because as moms we have our own insecurities about trying to do everying right for our families and children. Once we let go of having everything “perfect” ourselves, give ourselves permission to make mistakes, we become better moms. And, offering help to others is a wonderful – we all need help sometimes.

  19. Love all the color, love the hanging scale! And more than that, I love the comment at the end about approaching with love first and then seeing if you can help. The world would be a better place if more of us adopted that philosophy.

  20. Wonderful!!! I am pretty sure you live in my hometown.!! I love the combination of colors and charachter. I laughed at your bedtime rules. We have the same with our five. The under 5 set goes to bed at 6:30. It’s heaven. :-). Thanks for sharing!

      1. Yep! They do! My 2 year old is so happy when she goes to bed at 6:30! If i
        let her stay up til 7:30, which is so easy to do in the summertime, she has trouble falling asleep(I hear her singing to herself for at least an hour) and she cries at bedtime and is cranky the next day. Early bedtime for her is good for everyone!

  21. Chelsey, I love all your gorgeous glass and the relaxed feel of your home. Simply beautiful, but not fussy. A perfect place for a bunch of kids.
    Also, I wanted to say that I have a Linus, too! He’ll be 8 in two weeks and I can’t believe it.
    Thanks for sharing your home.

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  26. i really like the way this house looks real and lived in and and not so much like something out of a shelter magazine! it is inviting without beeing intimidating! so lovely! thanks for sharing!

    what really surprises me is the 7pm bedtime rule for everybody. Is that something typical in the USA? Our kids would never ever go sleep at that time! My nine year old would lay awake for two hours.

    We are a German “patchwork family” with 4 kids aged 2-12 (my nine year old daughter is from my previous partner, a twelve year old girl and an eight year old boy from my husbands first marriage and a little girl we had together).
    My husbands two kids are here every other week, while my daughter spends 2 nights every week with her Dad. The two older girls share a room when everyone is here, otherwise everyone has their own.

    We ALWAYS have supper together at 7pm, that is our ritual. Straight after supper our youngest is put to bed with lights out by 7.50. The two middle are supposed to in bed by 8.15, and have reading time or cassette-listning time until 8.30, then the lights go off. The oldest girl must be in bed by 9 and then has 15 minutes to read. None of the kids goes to sleep right away. I´d say they all lay awake in the dark for about 30-55 minutes.

    From Monday-Friday our alarm goes at 6.40 in the morning, and while my husbands kids are really great at getting up for school, my daughter is always sleepy and cranky in the mornings. But putting her to bed earlier has proven to not be helpful. She just lays awake and keeps getting up or calling for us.

    On Fridays the kids are allowed to stay up one hour longer, and we play a game together. On Saturdays we always watch a TV show or movie and they all get to stay up until it is over, which is sometimes not before 11pm. Only the little one keeps her bedtime. I don´t however let them sleep in too long on Sudays, as I want them to be tired enough to fall asleep at night. I find the tricky bit is when they loose their sleeping routine due to weekends or long vacations.

    I´d be really interested on an artice about bedtimes! Their seem to be big differences not only between countries but also bewteen families!

    1. Cornelia
      My children are much older-20,19,17,16. Our bedtime when they were young was 8:00. Then they would climb out of bed with their footed pajamas and run around upstairs. Of course I would go up and put them back in their beds. It was frustrating but funny now. When I was young we went to bed around 7:30 and sometimes 7:00 if Mom was frazzled. My children were awake sometimes until 9:30. They are 4 boys with lots of energy and loved to visit each other in the evening even if I had them run laps around the large backyard and a bath, bedtime snack of milk and maybe a cookie and storytime. Now it is just fond memories. Do whatever works for you and your family as each family is unique.

  27. Thank you for your gorgeous story and how you explain your children…. they sound unique and delightful…. just like your house…enjoy! I too have always been clear about the 7pm bed time…. it is just perfect for any busy household… then we all get the required rest! My children are very good at being quiet in the morning so they can enjoy all the delights of a sleeping mummy…

  28. ..thanx for your wonderful story!
    I can’t tell any about “having Kids”, I always wanted a big family,
    it wasn’t to be! well, Iam married and I got a stepson (21), his girlfriend
    got a 3 year old son, Timo..he only stop talking when he is at sleep and he thinks we understand all he is telling us..he is so cute!
    guess you don’t need anything else when you have lots of kids, coz family gives all you need for living..
    I don’t know if I can ask any in here, well, I just do!

    ..I really love your house, special the kitchen! did you painted the cupboards yourself? ..if you did, could you please tell me what paint
    you used.. thanx for your answer.. ..I appreciate

    ..thanx again..for sharing your life and your home!
    bye..from germany.. Mjal

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