Do you ever just want to go through your house and purge all the excess stuff. Like maybe if there weren’t 50 Barbies in your kid’s room, you wouldn’t have to help pick up that many Barbies every day? I absolutely love “things,” but today’s Living With Kids home tour reminds me how much I also love the absence of things.
Meet Ashley and her beautiful home in Saratoga Springs, Utah. She has got minimalism down to a science and it shows in her crisp white walls and thoughtful decor choices. Plus she has some really smart things to say about going through tough times and the things that really matter. Welcome, Ashley!
Thank you so much for having me! My name is Ashley and I live with my husband, James, and our three kids: our son Ronan, who’s 7, our daughter Nora, who’s 5 ½, and our daughter Evalyn, who is 2. My husband and I met in 2008 at church, but we were also going to school at the same college. We started dating in January 2009 and after just a couple weeks of dating, we knew we were in it for the long haul. People thought we were a little crazy, and maybe we were, but we were married that August and we’re so ridiculously happy together to this day — we just wish we had found each other sooner.
To say our home is lively is a major understatement. Our kids have big imaginations and endless stores of energy; in fact, I’m pretty sure they siphon mine! Our son has always been fascinated with figuring out how things work and he loves anything with an engine. He loves to draw different construction scenes filled with excavators and bulldozers. And he loves everything to do with the fire and police departments.
Our middle child loves princesses and dressing up, but she also loves playing outside and getting dirty. She’s a girly girl with a tomboy edge. She enjoys being creative too and will spend hours painting and coloring.
Our youngest is a very busy little toddler! She’s our most mischievous child by far. She loves to get into things and tries to be independent. She adores her siblings and is always trying to keep up with them and do the things they do. At the end of the day, though, she’s a mama’s girl and loves to be snuggled.
James is the Digital Marketing Manager of a small manufacturing company in Salt Lake City. His job keeps him very busy, but he loves what he does and the people he works with. They’ve created such a wonderful work culture at the company.
In his spare time he does woodworking. His dad has done woodworking for years and has tons of tools and equipment. In high school, James took shop classes and built a roll top desk with matching bookcases. We actually have two sets of the bookcases he built in high school in our living room now. He also built our dining table and I love it so much. In the last few years, he’s gotten into pen making and woodturning. I love seeing how excited he gets finding exotic woods and making them into beautiful works of art.
I feel fortunate to be a stay at home mom. I do have my Associates degree in Accounting, but it’s been years since I graduated, and I currently don’t have plans to do anything with it, unfortunately. I would like to go back to school when my kids are older, although I’m not sure what I would like to study. Good thing I have time to figure that out!
I love to read and am always open to recommendations of books to read. I recently joined a book club in our neighborhood and am currently reading Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. I checked it out from the library two days ago and haven’t been able to put it down. I love to be creative as well and our home is a great canvas for that. I’ve dabbled in oil painting and recently took a watercolor class, which was so much fun. I also love photography — mainly taking pictures of my kids. My favorites are the candid shots. I feel like it’s in those pictures you get a real sense of life and it truly captures the memories of that moment.
We live in Saratoga Springs, Utah. It’s about 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City, which is great because we crave a more quiet and simple, but we can easily drive up and be downtown if we get a craving to go places. We want our kids to grow up playing outside and using their imaginations, just like we did, so for us, suburban living is what works best.
Our neighborhood is currently under development and is a combination of single family homes and townhomes. Some of the single family homes are on bigger lots, 10-11,000 square feet in size, and then the others are on very small lots, 0.08 acre to be exact, and that’s what we have. It’s what we could afford and even though our yard is small, we’re very happy to have a place of our own. I don’t know about the market in other states, but in Utah, housing prices vary greatly depending on what city you live in. It’s crazy how much the amount goes up or down just by crossing a city boundary.
That’s why we live where we do. In fact, just after we started the build of our house, our builder opened another development in Lehi, a city that shares boundary lines with Saratoga Springs. The development is only a few miles away from us, but the smallest house in that neighborhood was smaller than our house and going for $60,000 more! Our home is 4 bedrooms, 2 ½ bathrooms, with an unfinished basement and the overall square footage is just over 3100, and we paid $279,000. We couldn’t have bought an older house for less than that and since January of last year, the base sale price on our model has increased by almost $60,000.
So budget really determined where we bought but we do love it here. Our neighborhood is very outgoing and people are always planning activities. Our neighbor put together an Easter egg hunt and picnic last month, and even though it was cold and windy that day, there was a huge turnout and we all had a ton of fun.
One thing my husband and I both share an interest in is food, and we prefer to go to locally owned places that are unique and offer something you can’t get anywhere else. My absolute favorite restaurant is Guru’s Cafe. I started going there in college and then introduced my husband to it and thankfully he loves it too. They have the best sweet potato fries, hands down. But they’re in downtown Provo — about a half an hour away — which is probably for the best honestly, otherwise I would eat there way too often!
Another amazing place that’s actually just around the corner from Guru’s is Rockwell Ice Cream. Everything there is made from scratch and they have some unique flavors, like the Honey Comb, which is vanilla ice cream with honeycomb candy mixed in.
Splash pads are a big thing here, which is terrific when you have little kids and not enough arms to hold them all in the pool. Even though our kids are older, they’re pretty timid around the pool, but they love being able to splash and play at the splash pad. A new one opened last summer about ten minutes from us, and it’s huge. I think we’ll be there a lot this summer.
One thing we enjoy doing on a hot summer day is going up to the top of one of the canyons nearby and enjoying the much cooler mountain air. Another thing we love doing in the summer is fishing and there are a lot of places around Utah Lake to take the kids. We mostly catch catfish and it’s fun to see who can catch the most and how big they are. We’re really careful with them and always release them back into the water.
My parents came to visit for Christmas in 2016 and one thing they enjoy doing, and I remember us doing a lot growing up, is going to see model homes. My parents live in Florida and the houses there are constructed very differently than they are here. In Florida, because they get hurricanes, the houses are built out of cinder blocks, while in Utah, they’re built out of wood. Plus, the styles are different as well.
Anyway, we took them around to the various new developments in north Utah county and we ended up out here. The model home is actually the same floor plan we built and when we walked through it, we really liked it and felt like it was a good fit for our family. At that time, we were living at my in-laws’ house while they were serving a mission for our church down in Peru, but they were going to be coming home that next September. So we needed a place to go. We signed a contract for the construction of our home on January 2nd and closed on our house on June 21st.
Our builder was really great to work with and made the whole process as painless as possible. Since the community was planned to look a specific way, the city had given them certain permits, and the builder designed the exteriors of each house. We got to design the interior and because I know what I do and don’t like, it was actually a lot of fun and very easy for me to make decisions.
My husband couldn’t care less as long as nothing is blatantly weird, so he mostly trusted my vision for our house. He was really great about giving me his opinion when I asked for it, which I did on everything because it’s his house too, but he ultimately agreed with the things I liked and we ended up with a home we both love and feel proud of.
Building a house is so much fun. We got to start with a hole in the ground and then watch it go from just dirt to our home. The kids loved it too and would ask us every week to go see the house. We all got excited to see the progress, big or small. And by the end of the build process, we had this emotional attachment to our house and it really felt like it was a part of our family. This is our first house and I’m so grateful we got to have such an amazing experience with it from the very beginning. I hope we get to stay here for a long time.
I do not like having a lot of stuff. I prefer to have one thing that is multifunctional rather than a lot of things that only perform one function each. So yes, I am anti-clutter, big time. Going through our stuff and donating what we don’t need always feels so good to me! I’m the kind of person that needs visual clarity to have mental clarity, so I’m always picking things up and trying to keep our house clean. I hate the saying happy wife happy life, but unfortunately for me, it’s so true! And when our home is clean, we’re all a lot happier.
It’s taken me several years to really learn my style, but now that I know what I love, I embrace it. I love clean lines. Mid century modern furniture is my favorite. I also love vintage rugs and handmade items because they add character. My design philosophy is if I have to bring an item into my home, then I want it to look good too. For example, our broom has a pretty wooden handle. It’s something that I need and I use regularly and I want it to look good at the same time. I also prefer a clean and simple esthetic, so I incorporate a lot of neutrals. I love using different textures to add interest.
I religiously follow a few favorite designers; I read their blogs and follow them on Instagram and Pinterest. I’ve learned so much from them over the years and they’re really how I’ve honed in on my own style. I love a good modern twist on a design classic or something that uses natural materials in a modern and classic way, in home design and fashion. I feel like that’s the sweet spot that always gets me swooning and a major reason why I love that my husband does woodworking. He can build me just about anything I want! Right now I’m working on the design of new nightstands for us that he will then build. I’m so excited!
My favorite piece is our dresser. My grandma bought it when she was 16, in 1959. It’s a genuine mid century modern piece and I am head over heels for it. Not only is it beautiful and well made, it is a family heirloom. It’s also the first piece of real furniture that we acquired as a married couple. After my grandpa passed away, my grandma was downsizing and asked us if it was something that we would like to have. Knowing that this piece had so much history behind it, the thought of being able to keep it in the family and possibly one day hand it down to our kids was something I couldn’t pass up.
On April 1, 2012, my husband woke up feeling very sick. At first we thought it was food poisoning, but as the day went on, he got worse and worse. Eventually, he couldn’t keep water down and I was afraid of him becoming dehydrated, so I took him to Instacare. At first they thought it was just the flu, because it was really bad at that time and everyone had it, but as the doctor examined him, she found that his abdomen was very tender. She sent him for an X-ray and when it came back clear, she was even more concerned and sent us to the emergency room. There they ran tests and after they got those results, the doctor came in and told me that James was being admitted to the intensive care unit with pancreatitis.
I had never heard of this before and was absolutely stunned that he had gone from feeling perfectly fine the night before to being taken to the ICU less than 24 hours later. I was 22 weeks pregnant with Nora and Ronan was only 16 months old at the time. We were fortunate enough to be living with my in-laws during this time and they were so great at adjusting their schedules to help with Ronan while I spent the majority of my time with James at the hospital. We had just moved back from Hawaii a few months prior. after James graduated from BYU-H, and our plan was to stay with them until he found a job and we could move out.
When he got sick, he’d been at his new job for 2 weeks and we had an apartment lined up for June 1st. But all of that changed and he soon was let go from work and we were no longer able to move.
On April 3rd, after being in the hospital not quite two full days, the doctor in charge of his case came in and sat down with us. He told us that James’ condition was the worst he had ever seen and that James only had about an 11% chance of surviving. With pancreatitis, all that can be done is to treat the symptoms, try to make the patient comfortable, and hope the pancreas heals quickly. The doctors told us that pancreatitis is a disease typically related to alcoholism, and because James is not a drinker, it took awhile for them to figure out what the cause was.
Eventually, we learned that James has a rare genetic condition called hypertriglyceridemia. It’s a condition where the body is unable to break down triglycerides the way it’s supposed to. The excess triglycerides begin to block the vessels within the pancreas, causing activated enzymes to be released and remain inside the pancreas, which then causes severe tissue damage. This then results in inflammation and the pancreas begins pulling fluid around itself as an act of self-preservation and other organs to begin to shut down.
James spent a total of three and a half months in four different hospitals, unable to eat food for most of that time. He underwent three surgeries, each more invasive than the last, and countless procedures, all while becoming extremely malnourished and emaciated. He finally came home for good a week before our daughter was born.
James has since made a miraculous recovery, one we prayed for but weren’t certain was possible. He now takes medication to control his triglycerides. Unfortunately though, due to the trauma his pancreas endured, it is no longer functioning and he is now a diabetic, so in addition to the pancreatic enzymes he has to take before meals, he also has to give himself insulin injections and take a medication that helps his cells to better absorb the insulin. This is all so minor compared to how things could have been. April 1st is a hard day for me, but I’m so grateful that he’s here. Every year I’m grateful that we get to celebrate his birthday with him.
This trial was very long and grueling, but we witnessed many miracles during that time as well. Because of friends we had made in Hawaii that were from various countries, and people who knew our parents and siblings, we literally had people from all over the world praying for us and we could feel their prayers carrying us. People would ask me how I remained so calm through all of this — which let’s be honest, I broke down several times — but I couldn’t have gotten through it on my own.
We are better people because of this trial. We have learned that life may not go along with your plans, no matter how good and wonderful they are. We’ve learned how to let go of things and what society says we should have, and we’ve learned how to be happy with less. We’ve learned to rely on our faith and stay positive. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect at it, because believe me, we are absolutely not perfect at it! We still struggle at times, but our priorities have undergone a major shift and we can’t deny the things that we have learned and seen happen firsthand.
Is there anything that I would change? Yes, there are things that I think I could do without. I get sick at the smell of hospitals. For a couple years after this happened, I struggled with severe flashbacks and was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. However, we can both honestly say that we would go back and do it all again exactly as it happened because we gained so much more than what we lost.
If you are going through a tough time yourself, find a way to cope, even when you’re in the midst of it and feel like you can’t possibly focus on anything else. I spent a lot of time sitting in the hospital with James while he slept and one thing I did to take my mind off of it all was I started binge-watching shows on Netflix. It sounds weird, I know, but it was a huge help. Being able to just sit back and zone out for a little while, not having to think about things, became a way for me to escape.
We are both very active in our church, and prayer became a constant for me. I was praying many, many times a day and anytime I would break down and lose my cool, the only way I could calm down was through prayer. I really came to learn that our Heavenly Father knows us and loves us and He hears us.
This was a situation that none of my friends and most of my family couldn’t understand — to have a spouse so sick when you’re so young. My grandma understood; she had been taking care of my grandpa who had had Parkinson’s for 10 years, but she was the only person I knew who understood what I was feeling. Through prayer, I also could feel that God understood what I was feeling and it helped me to not feel alone. Feeling like no one understands your pain is extremely isolating.
My parents live in Florida, but they called and texted me every day. Because we were living with my husband’s parents at this time, they became an invaluable source of help. They took care of our son when I couldn’t and because I knew he was being well cared for, his well being was one less thing for me to stress about. It also made our time together that much sweeter, not only because we missed each other, but also because he was still happy and healthy.
I hope my kids remember the excitement we all felt while building a new home and finally moving into it. I hope they don’t remember the stress the process caused their parents! I hope they’ll remember all the firsts — hosting Thanksgiving, waking up to snow on Christmas, and all the new and exciting moments we shared together as a family in our first home. I hope they’ll remember it as a place where they felt safe and free to be themselves.
I hope they’ll look back at all the time we spend together as a family, whether it’s here at home or out and about, and appreciate the fact that we made time specifically for them, regardless of how busy we were. I do hope that they’ll forget that I was a clean freak and maybe instead they’ll remember I tried to maintain a clean and healthy home for their benefit.
My absolute favorite thing about being a parent is seeing the world through my kids’ eyes, especially their perspectives. Sometimes they say the most profound things and it’s amazing to me how a lot of the time, I learn from them. I love how they make the littlest things seem more magical, whether it’s going for a walk outside or reading a book together. Holidays especially are the most fun; pretty much all of our traditions are around creating happy moments with, and lasting memories for, our kids.
As a parent, it’s incredible to watch these tiny babies grow and see their personalities emerge. It’s fun to kind of guess what they’ll be like and then see how right or wrong we were as they develop more and more. I love how even though they make everyday life so much more difficult, they still make it so much better. Also, life is never boring! There’s always someone around to keep me company.
It’s rare that I get time to myself to just sit and enjoy the quiet. I think that’s the biggest thing I miss. That’s actually what motivates me to go to the gym every day: uninterrupted alone time!
I wish someone had told me, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and that I had actually listened! For the first couple years of our marriage, we lived in Hawaii and our son was born while we were there. James would encourage me to take Ronan to the beach as he got older and loved being outside, but I hated the fact that he would eat the sand! It’s so ridiculous to me now, but I let that get in the way of taking my son and enjoying the beach with him. Looking back now, it’s a big regret that I have. Even though he wouldn’t have remembered it, those are memories I missed out on with him.
When we take them on fun outings, getting everyone ready and out the door can become a huge ordeal in and of itself. Then we’ll be out and they’ll throw fits and we’ll look at each other and wonder if it was even worth it. But when they randomly bring up the fun things we did that they remember from those times, it helps me realize that it really was worth all the pain and frustration. I’m also realizing that it’s ok to have a mess and that things don’t have to be perfect for them to be wonderful. Overall, I’m trying to be better at letting them be kids without worrying so much about the little stuff that, in the grand scheme of things, just isn’t important.
Thank you, Ashley! What a truly beautiful home and such an amazing perspective about dealing with tough, unexpected challenges. I wonder if the minimalism is linked to the knowledge that life can be unexpectedly short and that the things that matter are not things at all— they are the people we surround ourselves with. The people we love and the people who we care for in the best and the worst of times.
It really ties right into what Ashley said about not sweating the small stuff. And that example of not wanting to spend the day at the beach is such a perfect example. How many of us would love to be able to sit on a sunny beach in Hawaii and read a book while the kids played — and possibly ate a little bit of sand?) But we let the little messes prevent us from enjoying the bigger picture. That reminder is such a great one — sometimes the best adventures in life require us to get a little bit messy.
Pendant light in dining room
Plant pot (by sink)
You can follow Ashley on Instagram here (and she took all these lovely photos herself.) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.