A while ago, a reader requested featuring more homes in this 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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.