Today’s home tour feels like just what we need — a bright a beautiful home, and a mother who has a personality that feels just as bright and beautiful. Meet Jessie. She and her family live outside Washington D.C. in a petite 1000 square ft home. With two toddlers it would be easy for that space to feel crowded and messy but Jessie does a great job of keeping things minimal, open and inviting. She might just inspire you to spend some time cleaning out your closets and getting rid of things you don’t love anymore. Welcome, Jessie!
Hello! We are the Pierce family! My name is Jessie, my husband is Steve, and we have two unbelievably sweet boys, Cohen (who just turned 4) and Rory (18 months). Steve and I met when we were immature 18-year-olds (we often tease each other about who was more immature at the time) in college. All these years later, I still can’t believe we somehow met in a sea of 5,000-7,000 kids one night during Freshman Orientation!
For us, those college years will always be “the good old days” of very little responsibility, all the freedom in the world, and the beginning of our relationship together.
After we graduated from college, we packed up our (very few) belongings and moved to Washington, D.C., so Steve could chase his dream of working in national politics. The first day of our cross-country drive was certainly one of the most formative days of our relationship.
Nothing could have prepared me for 12 hours of driving farther and farther away from the state I had called home my entire life, only to arrive at a very rundown motel in Lincoln, Nebraska.
It was a hard night for me, for both of us, but Steve with his unwavering optimism was the strength we both needed. On that most difficult of nights, our longest-running Pierce family mantra was born: “We can do hard things.”
Steve has bounced around to a few different jobs since then, but he currently works for Priorities USA — the largest Super PAC that advocates for Democratic candidates and issues — as the Director of Battleground State Communications.
I am the lucky one who gets to hang out with our two boys all day and soak in their adorable (yet polar opposite) personalities. Cohen is our resident extrovert with the brightest smile that lights up his whole face. We joke that his body is so large (for his age) only to house his even bigger personality. He loves cars, trucks, trains, and could talk your ear off about Disney/Pixar’s Cars movies all day long.
Rory is the calmest and sweetest weighted blanket you will ever meet. The kid loves to cuddle, eat blueberries and has the deepest belly laugh he reserves only for his big brother. He recently started talking and always sweetly says “tank you” whenever you give him anything. I’m pretty sure he’s as close to perfect as it gets.
Together they are the cutest duo who love to wrestle, dance in the kitchen (“Alexa! Play ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’”) and see who can make the biggest splashes in the bathtub. (By the way, it’s Rory).
We live just across the river from Washington, D.C. in Alexandria, Virginia, in a small neighborhood (just 3 streets!) that’s in the process of undergoing some big changes. It consists entirely of virtually identical 1,024-square-foot rowhomes that were built in the 1940s to house railroad workers at nearby Potomac Yard, less than a mile away.
In the decades since, Potomac Yard has transformed from one of the most active railyards on the East Coast to its current state as a giant strip mall that is home to countless Big Box stores (and the most valuable parking lots in the United States) — but it is slated to be redeveloped as a dense, mixed-use, master-plan development with millions of square feet of residential, office, and retail space and a brand new Metro station over the next decade or so.
All of this change has been accelerated even further by last year’s announcement that Amazon would be building their second headquarters just down the road in Crystal City — a massive investment that will bring 25,000 jobs to the area, as well as a new innovation-focused satellite campus for Virginia Tech that will be built right in Potomac Yard.
Needless to say, the neighborhood has changed a lot already in the five years we’ve lived here. All that development activity so close by has made this little pocket of Alexandria a hot commodity — so we’re seeing lots of older properties get bought up by investors, completely re-done, and sold again, primarily to younger families.
This has made the market pretty insane: properties are often on the market for only one day, getting upwards of a dozen offers, with most including escalation addendums, many in all-cash, the whole nine yards. It’s nuts.
As a result, I find our neighbors love living here as much as we do because people don’t just happen to buy in this neighborhood — oftentimes they have actively offered on each house that has become available for months on end until they eventually get one.
After all, that’s what happened to us! We initially submitted an offer on a home on the next street over but our offer wasn’t accepted. We were very sad at the time, but I remember feeling like something better was coming for us, and that’s exactly what happened. Our home now is in such a great location in the neighborhood, backing up to a giant green space, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
There’s so much I love about where we live, but the best part is definitely that we are a quick 15-minute drive across the 14th Street bridge from the National Mall, which never stops being cool. I feel so lucky to be raising my boys going to all the Smithsonian museums, scootering around the monuments, and running around the grass that stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln. What we sacrifice in square footage, we make up for in location.
We bought our place in 2015 before things got too crazy. We were extremely fortunate to have found out about this particular unit before it even hit the market, since our realtor just happened to be driving through the neighborhood and saw a sign being put up in the yard. There was a cleaning crew in the house, so she just walked right in (bold move, I know!) and called us to come over immediately and walk through it. The owner actually ended up coming home while we were there and we talked to him for a bit.
Turns out, his wife and family had already moved out of state and he was charged with selling the house before he could join them — so he was very motivated to sell. We made him a full-price offer of $350K that night and had it accepted before the property even listed. (Five years later, we could probably sell our home for roughly $200K more than what we paid in about a day. Like I said, it’s a hot market!)
That probably makes it sounds like the process was super easy, but there was actually a lot of thought that went into it! We actively searched for 6-8 months before we zeroed in on our exact neighborhood. Our (again, very bold) realtor gave us good advice: make a list of all the neighborhoods we possibly wanted to live in, and then drive through them on Sunday afternoons to get a feel for them, even if there were no current listings. We did just that. Every Sunday for about 3 months, we drove around different neighborhoods. It was exhausting but so worth it, because after seeing so many different neighborhoods, we knew this one was for us.
When we bought our house, it wasn’t in horrible shape, but it also wasn’t great. The layout was cramped, a lot of the stuff was original from the 1940s, and anything that wasn’t had been carelessly and cheaply “renovated.” (Plus, the kitchen was painted robin egg blue. I’m not joking.) So a few days after we closed, we began renovations on our home. (Fun fact: It was the same day I found out I was pregnant with Cohen!)
The buying process can seem overwhelming to first-time homebuyers like us, but I quickly found out that it’s nothing compared to renovating. At least with the buying process, there are lots of laws in place to keep everything regulated and standardized throughout — but then they just hand you the keys and you are on your own!
I know it’s not uncommon to have a bad experience with a contractor, but we really did our homework and found a wonderful guy to work with. What started as a “We would love to add some recessed lights and knock down the wall between the dining room and the kitchen” project quickly turned into a full-scale remodel. We took it down to the bones and rebuilt it from there. It was no small job, but somehow our contractor got 80 percent of it done before we moved in just six short weeks later. (However, they were still installing windows on the day we moved our belongings in and it was raining outside, so that was a little stressful!)
I like to say that remodeling is like being pregnant and having a baby: it’s really hard at the time, but then as time passes your memory fades and slowly it becomes not that bad and worth doing again because it was kind of fun, right? Now that we’re five years down the road, I think I’ve finally entered the “it wasn’t so bad, I definitely want to do it again” phase.
My feelings about living in a small space depend on the time of the year. In the spring, summer and fall, our home feels small, but totally manageable. We’ve got a bunch of parks and other fun activities nearby, so we can easily get out of the house and stretch our legs if we start feeling claustrophobic.
But by the time February rolls around and winter seems to be dragging on and it’s always too cold to go outside, our home feels smaller and smaller with each passing day and I start wondering how much longer we can really live here.
The hardest part about small space living is not having dedicated spaces for each function. In our home, our main floor is just one big open space that basically functions as a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room all at once. So the living room becomes the playroom during the day when the kids are awake, our dining room table acts as a laundry room on laundry days, and our tiny utility closet by the back door acts as a weird combo garage and office. (No joke: our printer sits on a mounted shelf right next to our water heater!)
I’m sure the day will come when we move somewhere with more space, but for now I’m really trying to enjoy the wonderful home we have and not wish away the time we are spending here.
I love a lot of things about small space living, but the top of the list is definitely how intentional I’m forced to be about everything that enters our home. From food (a small pantry means we need to actually use everything in there) to kids toys and clothes and everything in between. I love that I can confidently say that every item in our home is used often and adds value to our lives. We just don’t have space for anything that doesn’t.
Sure, it feels like I am constantly playing a life-sized game of Tetris in our house to make it all work in the most efficient way possible, but my Type A personality loves the constant organizing and reorganizing, so it works for me! (And yes, Steve thinks I’m absolutely insane sometimes.)
I have two tips for keeping the clutter out of your life — whether you live in a small space or not. First, start by going through and taking inventory of everything you have, then pare it down to the stuff you really use. Be honest with yourself! If you find yourself saying some variation of “Oh, I might need this someday so I should keep it just in case,” you’re probably doing it wrong. Trust me: eliminating unnecessary clutter is such a freeing, clarifying process! Owning and being surrounded with less stuff leaves more room in your life (physically and metaphorically) to live and breathe.
One example: A few years ago, after my first pregnancy, I pulled everything out of my closet and only put the pieces back in that I wore regularly. I was surprised when almost everything I put back in my closet was either gray, cream or some shade of blue. So now when I am shopping for myself, I primarily only buy things in those three colors.
This might seem limiting, but it has made my life so much easier. I now know myself well enough to know that I’m not actually going to wear other colors. No matter how much I want to think I will branch out, I don’t and I won’t. This was a-ha moment for me, and I would never have had it if I hadn’t cleaned out my clutter and honestly taken stock of what I was wearing in the first place.
But now that your closets and cupboards are hopefully feeling comfortable and not bulging, remember this: that is not a cue to go out and buy more to fill that vacated space!
Over the last decade since we were newlyweds living in a 475-square-foot apartment, I have trained myself to ask the same question any time I buy anything that is not consumable: “Where will I put this?” If I don’t have a good answer for this question, then I don’t buy it — OR if I still really want it to come inside my home, then something else has to go out to make room.
This might seem complicated and exhausting, but forming this habit has given me so much more control as I try to navigate the culture of constant over-consumption that we all live in.
Our home definitely has a feeling of calm and peace if you were to walk inside, although inside I’m likely stressing about everything I need to get done.
Again, I am definitely a “Type A,” get-it-all-done personality, so I have found that by creating a minimally designed home with lots of neutral colors, I am surrounded by the peace I need to balance between a) getting everything done, and b) being in a state of mental stillness so I can be present for my family.
I also think music can do a lot for energy in a home. Steve and I love music, so we have a playlist for everything: for calm afternoons, for the high-energy dinnertime dance parties, and even a 1990s and 2000s throwback playlist for when we are cleaning up and doing things around the house at night after the kids go to bed. If I’ve learned anything in parenting, it’s that turning on an upbeat song can change everyone’s mood in a split second. This happens frequently in our home around 4pm when we are all just trying to make it to dinner time.
As a mom, I am really good at planning ahead. Most often, it looks like keeping up with what is going on in our community and being aware of the fun activities for kids, but other times it looks like planning a week’s worth of healthy meals.
Most often it’s packing the diaper bag and being prepared for a wide array of things we might need during an outing. I’m always planning ahead to arrange playdates with friends or trying to come up with new and creative ways for my kids to play at home while also keeping up on what needs to be taken care of around the house and planning accordingly.
In fact, most nights before he falls asleep, Cohen asks me: “Mom, what are we doing tomorrow?!” Because he knows me well enough to know that I have our days planned ahead. I’d like to think I’m raising a future generation of planners!
Above all else, I hope my children always feel loved, safe and supported by me and Steve. I know demonstrating this will look different during various stages in their lives, but for now it looks like sitting next to them on the ground — not on a couch or chair nearby (and yes, this does matter) — and playing alongside them.
I have realized that when I actively play with them, it completely changes the dynamic in our home. My kids are happier throughout the day, they play better together when I’m not in the room, they are more willing to help when I ask for it, and they go to bed better at night. It’s magic!
So you would think that now that I’ve learned the magic of how to have a happy home it would be something I do every single day, right? Wrong! As any parent knows (especially any stay-at-home mom), some days it’s just so hard. On those days, sitting on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through social media seems so much easier and much less exhausting. Gosh, I pray my kids don’t remember the amount of time I’ve spent on my phone during their waking hours. It’s honestly embarrassing!
Steve and I had seven married years of slow, relaxing Saturday mornings before we had kids, and I loved every single one of them and will forever cherish that time we had together. However, even back then, I always dreamed of and longed for the mornings we would spend with our (hopefully!) future kids making pancakes and scrambled eggs in our pajamas and bed head.
I can honestly say the reality has far exceeded my dreams and nothing makes me happier than slow mornings with my kids, where we make a delicious breakfast while there are toys and well-rested little boys running around at my feet.
My other favorite thing about living with my kids has been learning to notice and really appreciate the ordinary, everyday moments. I am reminded time and time again that my kids don’t need elaborate adventures to feel loved and cared for. More often than not, when I tuck Cohen in for bed at night and ask him the best part of his day, it is the small and simple moments — like powder sugar sprinkled on his pancakes during breakfast, visiting a new park in the afternoon or skipping quiet time to read books together while little brother naps — that stick with him.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) to find happiness in the present. I think so often so many of us wish away the wonderful life right in front of us, hoping for better days ahead. We say things like “I’ll be happier when….” or “things will be easier when….” instead of purposefully finding that happiness and satisfaction in our current situations.
This isn’t to say we can’t hope and dream about the future, but it’s about being happy in the present, so we will then be able to be happy in that future moment as well.
I’m certainly guilty of this. After so many years of renting quirky apartments and longing to have kids, I often found myself saying, “Life will be so much easier when we buy a house” and “I’ll be so much happier when we finally have kids,” and I (sadly) believed those words! Then, one day during our renovation when I was pregnant with Cohen, my mindset shifted in an instant.
I had just had a long meeting with our contractor at our house and I was sitting out front in my car trying to process all the information I’d just received, the decisions we had to make, and just the stress of it all. I was overwhelmed, terribly morning sick, and felt really sad and lonely.
I remember in that moment being so confused, because for so many years I had wished for both a house and a kid, and here I had both happening at the same time, so why was I so sad? I felt so ungrateful and so embarrassed — like there must be something wrong with me.
But it was in this moment of self-reflection (and a lot of tears) that a lightbulb went off and I realized that if I can’t be happy in my present state, nothing in my future will ever make me happier.
Over the past five years, I often think back to that moment in my car when I find myself wishing away today for tomorrow. (Because, let’s be honest, it’s fun and really easy to do!) And I try to remind myself about the importance of being present and happy in the here and now.
Wow. Thank you, Jessie.
More and more I love the idea of small space living. It seems to make so much sense financially, environmentally, and socially for a lot of people. And Jessie makes it look so easy. Honestly it is so true that when we have extra space we tend to fill it up, and I love that Jessie is really forced to take stock of what works and what doesn’t and get rid of (or not buy) anything that doesn’t fit. She makes it look so appealing.
I also really related to being present in your current life and finding happiness there. When things are tough with colicky newborns, or stubborn toddlers, or emotional pre-teens and teenagers it seems so easy to wish for a different phase of life. But every season comes with its own challenges and rewards. It is so wise to try and appreciate your life as it stands right now.
What kind of things do you do to keep yourself in the moment? Are there things you didn’t appreciate in the moment that your kids have outgrown and you now find yourself missing? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Large Square Frames in the Living Room
Glider – good for Jessie who’s 5’4″ and Steve who is 6’3″
Magnet Wall DIY in the hallway