How to let your home evolve and let it reflect who you really are

How to let your home evolve and let it reflect who you really are

When the sun streams through our back doors, it lights the walls up like honey. Shadows fall on one side of the walls and the oak floorboards, scratched and scuffed but so loved, glow like honey. I love our home like this. And yet, there has been something that has been bothering me lately - a cloud of weariness but I couldn't figure out why or from where it was floating in. Everyone who comes into our home compliments it and yet to me, it's been feeling flat.

And then it struck me. The unease I'd been feeling towards some of our possessions is because there are parts of our home that don't truly express the people my husband and I have grown into being. And I have grown so much in the last year.

For so long now, I have been on my own learning journey - living with less in my wardrobe, teaching the children values that go beyond wanting material things, understanding what I want from Our Story Time, setting boundaries in my life for the very first time, boundaries that enable me to live the life I want without the feeling of obligation or pressure that has plagued me endlessly. I have discovered my voice and am no longer afraid of saying no, but have also learnt to say so with kindness and grace. I have built up a quiet confidence, after feeling like I had no much more to give. I have changed, and my husband has changed too in such a wholehearted way, and our surroundings don't always reflect the people we are now. It's starting to feel like we're finding ourselves, and the older we get, the easier it might be. I guess we're growing up.

But as I look around me at home, it doesn't always reflect this inner calm, the quiet confidence I talk of. If I'm honest, sometimes the brightness makes my head hurt a little. Some people might think it doesn't matter, but it does. I am a fierce homebird; there is nowhere else I'd rather be. So if it doesn't match up to the way I feel inside, the way our family sees the world and where we place our values, then something isn't quite right. It matters to me that our home reflects a certain state of love, calm and thoughtfulness.

A love letter to the summertime: seven things I love about summer

A love letter to the summertime: seven things I love about summer

There's something about the light at this time of year. The way it's so bright and blinding and yet misty all at the same time, the way it diffuses through the city air like cake sprinkles. The way it spreads over the pavements, changing even deadbeat tarmac into something glistening. Most of all, I love the way it hazes down through dancing leaves, pitter-pattering sunlight playing patterns on the ground. On our morning walks, my baby sits bolt upright in his buggy, sticking his little hands out, trying to grasp sunlight in his tiny palms as if it's honey dripping from a spoon, shrieking as it dances around him. These are the bits of summer that already feel like photos, like memories, in my head. 

I never used to be a summer person - I always thought autumn was my favourite season (and chances are I may well say that again in a few months time). I have spent years dreading summer, never knowing what to wear, hating the way concealer slid right off my skin. I hated those tube journeys into work, hated coming home crumpled and parched. But it's different now. My summers are more about playtime in the park or picnics on the lawn than hot, stuffy commutes. And I could not be happier, or feel luckier, about it.

But that said, this time last year, summer was an uncomfortable time. I was eight months pregnant, sick and swollen. We had planned a complete new garden layout, the idea being it would all be ready by the start of the summer holidays so the boys could play while I rested my pregnant self in the cool indoors, but naturally it didn't work out that way (the gardeners were still happily working in the garden the same day I came home from hospital with a new baby in my arms). So last year, we had no summer; not really. We were stifled, stuck indoors. I'd planned our home to be ready for our new baby; instead, it was covered in grimy dust blown in from the building work and landscaping going on outside. We took a holiday to escape; I was sick the whole time. It was, in short, a miserable summer, until one hot summer's night in August, the sky indigo with the threat of rain, when Jude was finally born.

How to make time for your own creativity and not feel guilty for it (especially when you've got little children)

How to make time for your own creativity and not feel guilty for it (especially when you've got little children)

I am writing this as a little reminder to myself, because it's everything I need to hear right now and I'm guessing it's something some of you will want to hear too. I'm writing this so that maybe together we can feel renewed, inspired and committed to putting ourselves first even if it's just for a tiny moment or two. We are deserving of it.

Sometimes I feel so guilty for making time for myself as a mother whether it's to do something creatively productive or simply for me. This week, I finally had my first haircut in over a year since my youngest was born - something I was wildly excited about even though I had barely half a centimetre taken off. It wasn't about the hair, of course. It was about a tube journey, alone, to read. About an uninterrupted few hours with a good book and green tea while someone nice made me feel good about my appearance. About not having to give anyone else any attention. 

Although my husband plays no part in this guilt, although he absolutely waves me out the door on these rare occasions that I go out alone to do something entirely for myself, I still find myself asking him if he's sure it's okay for me to go. It's not because he can't look after the children himself. It's not because I need his permission in any antiquated way. It's so that I can quieten the unreasonable and unrealistic voice in my head that tells me that I should be with my kids all the time, that I'm selfish for not being there for their every single waking moment. So that's why I ask my husband if it's okay if I go do something. And I need him to say yes, so that I don't have to feel as guilty as I do about simply taking some time for me.

So imagine the guilt that's involved when you have a creative sideline, simply a pursuit or a passion or a fire inside you, that you just want to explore. It seems so indulgent to take time out and prioritise this sort of creative pursuit when you've also got little ones to take care of. Take writing this long read, for instance. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know I've been housebound looking after a poorly ones with chicken pox. But I still wanted to write this. Is that wrong of me? I did write some of it with him and his little brother wroung - while they were napping or when they'd both perked up enough to play together. And yet a small part of me still feels guilty for spending my time on this while they've been unwell (my desk is in the family room, so it's not as if I've left them).

I've realised though, that if you take guilt out of it, it's really all just about time. With enough time, I can do both - be with the children and do the things you want to do for yourself. 

How I became a writer (and maybe how you can too)

How I became a writer (and maybe how you can too)

When I started Our Story Time eight months ago, I kept avoiding writing my blog for as long as I could. I had told my coach that my past career as an author and journalist was behind me; that I was drawing a line and starting afresh. "I'm not the person I used to be," I remember telling her. "It's not about writing."

And yet, truly, it is so much about the writing. Starting my blog here and writing these weekly long reads has become one of my favourite parts of Our Story Time - even more so than the joy in discovering something rare and wonderful for the shop. For me, it feels like each week I can talk to you through my long reads. It feels like I'm getting to know you. Like you're getting to know me. It feels like a real connection, a real spark, something special happening in this big deep sea of vastness and the unknown. That's what happens when you speak your truth with words. You reach out, empathise, connect, form friendships with strangers from far-off lands.

I haven't really told you all that much about my being a writer, my relationship with writing. It's a huge part of me. I make reference to it here and there, but I have always tended to shy away from talking about it. It's a bit like having a beautiful dress that you're too scared to wear. Instead of putting it on, you just look at it, marvel at it, from time to time. Then you fold it up carefully and put it back in a box on a shelf in a cupboard somewhere. You tell yourself you don't deserve something so beautiful. You have nowhere to wear it too anyway. Yes, it's a bit like that - writing and me. 

From time to time, people respond to my Instagram captions; they ask if I'm a writer, they tell me I express myself beautifully. And it fills my heart with joy, more so than likes and follows. Because that's what means the most to me. Honest-to-god, hands-down. Writing feels most natural to me and when people respond to it; well, it's thrilling.

How to figure out what you love doing the most

How to figure out what you love doing the most

My youngest little boy is nine-months-old now. He is still my baby, oh but my goodness he is, but he is also bittersweetly long out of that curled-up newborn phase. As he embraces the world on unsteady legs, dazzling strangers everywhere with milky smiles, fluffy blonde hair and sweet gazes from his chocolatey eyes, so too do I feel ready to re-embrace my direction. I have come far with Our Story Time, but I also feel like I'm at a crossroads with which direction I'm going to take next, how to move my journey along. I feel a real need to focus myself not just with Our Story Time, but inside of me. So lately I've been asking myself: what do I care about the most? What do I love the most?

I'll start this by saying - I'm not talking about caring and loving my family, my husband and children. They are fiercely a part of me and I don't even need to question that. No; what I am talking about is asking myself what I care about the most for me. I'm asking myself what my purpose is separate from motherhood. It may sound selfish to do this, but I don't think it is - it's so important to take time out and figure out your very own essence which is independent of the people you love so dearly. Motherhood doesn't define me alone, I know I won't be alone in feeling this. But I also know firsthand that it's easy to lose sight of you, the real you, the heart and soul of you, while you're raising little people whose needs are still so dependent on you.

While all of this has been in my head, I came across the Japanese notion of Ikagai, a concept of how you live, through Beth Kirby. She writes that Ikagai is translated as: "a reason for being. When doing what you love and what you’re good at meet what the world needs and what they’re willing to pay you for, you’ve found your one thing." When I read this, it felt like the sun turned a little brighter towards me in the sky. It made total sense that this is what I have needed to find.


How to stay grounded when your world is spinning too fast

How to stay grounded when your world is spinning too fast

Last week, it was half-term in our household as it was for so many of you. We day-tripped, picnicking amongst the daisies. We escaped London and watched geese from a boat ride along the most beautiful stretch of the River Thames out in Berkshire, the sunlight dappling across the water. My boys sat in the stern, all golden and sun-kissed and smelling sweet like the ice cream they'd just eaten, little adventurers mesmerised by the thrill of being on the water.

Another day, we rode a tractor, petted horses, made pizzas in the shape of guinea pigs. We watched the thunderstorms from under the skylight, covering our ears with the palms of our hands, wide-eyed as only a four and (nearly) three-year-old can be. We grazed one knee, bumped one elbow, spun a little too fast on the playground roundabout in the park. We played cricket, baked a chocolate cake, watched movies and read books repeatedly on consecutive rainy afternoons. 

It sounds idyllic, and truly, we had such a carefree week. It is always such a delight to not have the pressure of time bearing down on us. But I was, and still am, exhausted. It's not just because of the school holidays (I genuinely love the freedom the holidays bring and having the boys home) but because I took on far too much. A story that will be so familiar to so many of us juggling motherhood with work, always so much to do. 

From shopaholic to minimalist: how meeting my soul mate simplified my life

From shopaholic to minimalist: how meeting my soul mate simplified my life

The day I arrived in Paris as a Masters student in European politics, I got locked out of my tiny studio apartment in Le Marais.

I had stepped off the Eurostar that morning and had confidently gone out to stock my tiny fridge but when I returned, I couldn't find a way back in. The heavy door that was once the entrance to my landlady's servants quarters simply wouldn't budge and my petite landlady, with her cropped elfin hair and her panoramic sweeping views over the entire city, was nowhere to be found and wasn't answering her phone.

So I did what any twenty-something would do. I went shopping.

By the time I returned, so too had my landlady. She let me in and I spent my first night in Paris eating pasta pesto from a breakfast bowl, my new purchase - a simple navy blue dress which felt like silk but probably wasn't - hanging from a hook atop the one, tall, slim window in my tiny room.

I didn't realise at the time, but this was how my obsession with clothes began.

How to style open shelves

How to style open shelves

What do you think of when you look at this image above of my open shelves? I hope that above and beyond the look of it, beyond the objects, you recognise the feel of it. That this is a calm, light lived-in space, nothing too cluttered or chaotic. Laid-back. That it feels like a home. That's the feeling that I've wanted to create. 

I love open shelves, and I love the quiet act of curating them, of thinking through how I want to feel when I look at them, and then how I want them to look, searching for the pieces that will bring them to life and add a meaning to that particular room in that particular home. In our previous home we replaced wall units and old-fashioned free-standing bookcases with open shelves and I was amazed by the sense of full-height openness this one act created. Suddenly an uninspired and mundane kitchen space that blocked off unbelievably high ceilings became a dramatic open-plan room that flaunted its best features, felt alive, energetic and vigorous.