I’m pleased to introduce you all today to Steph Brubaker, a mom, an etsy shop owner, and a big tech employee who lives in Seattle with her family. Stephanie rents her home and she’s done a really lovely job of making the home feel bright and personal and warm (which I know can sometimes feel extra challenging in a rental). You’ll really love seeing all the huge windows that let in bright sunlight to bounce off the soft white walls. It’s truly charming. Welcome, Steph!
I live in a delightfully quirky 75-year-old home, with 3 of my 4 children, here in Seattle, Washington (my oldest just began college out of state). Recently, we’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time together in this very space, while the kids participate in 100% remote schooling and I work from home.
During the day, I work for the home sector of a large retail/tech company, but in the evening, I like to spend time on passion projects, including a little etsy shop that offers specialty gift packaging for all types of treats and dessert. Years ago, I blogged fairly frequently over at Stephmodo, but my current cadence is more like a few times a year. In some ways, that time feels like a lifetime ago. I have to remind myself there is a time and season for everything!
When we moved to Seattle ten years ago, we chose Magnolia, based on recommendations from friends and how we felt when we visited this part of Seattle. I distinctly remember feeling at home when spending time in Discovery Park during visits to the area. To this day, it is still my favorite place to spend time outside, both on my own and with my children. There are cool beaches to hike to (my favorite has a rope swing!), and lots of driftwood for a solid fort (especially fun when my children were younger). There is even a lighthouse — which I still can’t get over. The homes and households all look different here and I love that unique quality. Our neighbors are wonderful too, which I’ve learned is not something to be taken for granted. Last, we aren’t too far away from downtown, the ferry terminals, or our favorite ice cream shops in Ballard, so it feels like a win-win.
You asked if I’d share things I don’t love as well, and two things came to mind. First, I wish the cost of living were lower here in Seattle. Second, it’s no secret that our weather often leaves much to be desired (I’ve lost a handful of friends to sunnier climates). But, if there is anything the forecast has taught me, it’s to never take a sunny day for granted; particularly if it falls anytime between October and June! My heart swells when I feel the warmth of the sun. Ultimately though, it all goes back to focusing on what I do have here, and not what I don’t have. I find that if I practice this type of mindset, I am more satisfied with my situation overall.
We moved into this home a little over 3 years ago. It was the first home I shared with just my children, so there were a lot of changes to navigate at the time. Finding a rental home was a bit tricky, but thankfully some friends knew someone who knew someone who was looking for a good tenant. It was an absolute miracle and I am still grateful to this day that it all worked out.
The upside to renting is that you have more flexibility, don’t have to stress about replacing expensive things like furnaces and don’t feel pressure to spend every weekend working on house projects. The downside is that you are essentially paying someone else’s mortgage and have to ask for permission to paint the kitchen cabinets. And sometimes they say no even if said cabinets are begging for a facelift.
A few things I did to make our rental home feel like “our” home have included decorating the way I wanted to decorate. What this meant for me was deciding exactly how to allocate my limited home furnishings budget and how many rooms were going to have pink accents. I replaced as many light fixtures as possible (Craigslist really came through here!).
We also took the time to paint as many walls and surfaces as possible in ways that felt cheerful; for my space that meant all white. With the help of my sister and my friends, I repainted the entire home in SW Pure White. While I look forward to more colorful walls again at some point, for now the brightness of the white walls offsets the darker days so nicely. Honestly, it’s been a game changer. And lastly, I treat the home like I own it. This mentality makes it feel like a home versus a temporary housing situation.
If you’re experiencing a life transition of any kind, I would recommend not replacing everything in order to achieve an entirely “clean slate”. As tempting as it was, I found it more budget-friendly to work with what I already had, and then fill in the blanks with some new things here and there. It’s amazing how a new art print, area rug or secondhand sideboard can change the overall look of a space. You’ll save a lot of money and stress if you take this approach and be better prepared to make bigger purchases down the road.
Regarding what to do if your landlord doesn’t allow you to paint or hang things on the walls, I would recommend the following. First, find out if your landlord is opposed to new paint, or if they simply don’t want to deal with the time commitment, financial implications or the burden of choosing a paint color. My experience has taught me that most landlords are willing to allow you to paint the walls if you present your ideas ahead of time, offer to perform the labor yourself, and are transparent about the paint color/s you plan to use. As a last resort, I would cover up undesirable paint colors with temporary wallpaper and use 3M hooks and adhesive to hang pictures if nails were also off limits. Making a house feel like a home does require personalization, and thankfully creative solutions exist for most scenarios.
This has been such an interesting time in that we are all going through this pandemic together. We all have modified work situations, school situations, social situations, and even spiritual practices. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine going back to a life that doesn’t involve pajamas 24/7. If I ever don a pair of jeans, I feel like I am dressing up, which feels like a total paradox compared to my previous life! We definitely miss “normal life”, but I [not so] secretly love the extra time with my kids, since they split their time between two households. Our house doesn’t feel like a home to me unless we are all together.
One of the first things I did when daily life moved entirely into the home 8 months ago, was to make sure everyone had cozy slippers, ample pajama pants and a fleece blanket. Pennies per use by now! That being said, I’m glad we enjoy our living space so much, as we spend a lot of time together in it. Sure, our home is a lot messier these days, because we rarely leave it (these images were taken pre-COVID). But, this doesn’t really bother me anymore. As we all know, there are far more important things to focus on right now and those things don’t include what our kids’ rooms look like. All the ambiguity we are all experiencing is just a stage. I am hopeful life won’t always feel like this.
I totally agree that our world and society will change as a result of this experience. I honestly don’t know if we will ever be the same again! While I cherish the extra time with my children right now, I know we are all anxious to feel like life is “normal” again. I realized the other day how much I missed being able to see a smile from a stranger passing by on the sidewalk, or a smile from the woman ringing up my groceries. It’s a seemingly little thing, but when you add up all those moments of friendliness, you realize how important they are.
I also look forward to expanded social gathering with friends and family, in-person church services, movies in theaters and even my commute to work. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but indeed I miss my commute. I also think my kids will appreciate their in-person educational experience like they never have before. Although Fall of 2021 does seem so far away…
We moved into this home during a challenging time of life; but, as time has gone on, we’ve filled it with many happy memories. And I hope it’s those memories they ultimately remember! I hope they remember all the times we played games in the dining room together (Settlers of Catan, 5 Crowns, Monopoly), and hosted “movie” nights (Great British Baking Show, Avatar, Legend of Korra), and indoor picnic dinners. I hope they remember the friendly neighborhood cat, Sylvester, and how he always tried to sneak into our kitchen when I made tuna melts for dinner. I hope they remember all the yummy treats I made for them (in an oven as old as I am). And last, I hope they remember that I did my best to make this rental house feel like a home for them. For all of us. I love the energy my children bring to our home. When they are not here, it doesn’t feel the same and I miss them terribly.
When my children were younger, I wish someone had told me to take 3 minutes—every single day—to record something parenting-related in a journal or online app (like Day One). And I’m not just talking about the special outings or trips (which I am admittedly better at documenting), but the more everyday details too. Like, what their favorite food was when they were 3, and what they loved about their kindergarten teacher, and what they wanted to be when they grew up, when they were only 6. At the time, I was probably more inclined to snag an extra few minutes of much-needed sleep over journaling of any kind (even the five minute kind). But, what I wouldn’t give right now to have all those moments back. When they say time flies, they mean it.
Thank you so much, Steph. I know that sometimes starting over in life can feel really tricky and complicated and it looks like Steph and her family have really landed on their feet. I love the idea of really leaning into the pandemic times and getting everyone lots of cozy clothes to stay warm and comfy together. Sort of crazy that we started all this in the spring in the US and now we are entering into fall and winter and it is still going.
I also really loved hearing from a renter. Renting can make so much sense for so many families in different situations. Gone are the days of buying a home in your 30s and spending your whole life there. I think most families go through a lot of these kinds of transitions and renting makes some of those so much easier. It can give a families a lot of flexibility.
Are you a home owner or renter? Do you think that will change anytime soon, or do you like the method you’ve got right now? What have you loved about one style or the other?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.