How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

There's a magical moment that comes every day, around 7pm, when all my children are in bed and I step down the hallway, alone for the first time since morning, and tread lightly down the stairs so as not to stir any little boys that are not yet in a deep sleep. I pass into our lounge and there I sit in silence, waiting to make sure they are asleep, listening for shuffles and mumbles and those little sighs. While I wait, evening shadows pass like clouds over the wall and the sky shifts across the skylight, the light softer and gentler now. 

The last thing I want to do in this magical moment is be on my hands and knees, picking up building blocks and tidying toys away. And so in a roundabout way, I don't, because I've taken steps to keep that at bay.

After years of neglecting my own well-being for the sake of bylines and deadlines, I have come to value clarity and calmness and being kinder to myself. This is what I want our home to feel like - calm, uncluttered, loving and warm - and I try to infuse these feelings into our home because as a family, an immediate sense of calm grounds us and helps us be kinder to each other too.


Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

Simple holidays and tips for finding somewhere lovely to stay

When I was little, holidays with my parents were full on, jam-packed and whirlwind. We did all the touristy stuff, where ever we were, walking across big cities, spending hours inside museums and stopping outside every monument for photographs. While I'm so grateful to them for all we saw and did, I wouldn't describe the holidays I remember as restful. We'd be woken up first thing, dressed and ready to fill our plates at breakfast buffets that started with the sun, and then we'd be out the door, all day on our feet. Not for us holiday lie-ins. Not for us lazy beach vacations of doing nothing.

The places we stayed in, hotels and apartments, were simply sidebars, incidental practicalities. Just beds for the night. There was no need for them to be pretty - though they had to be clean and tidy - because we would hardly be there at all. Besides, holidays were (still are) expensive as a family of five. I know that now too.

These were the eighties and the nineties. The days when a travel agent would point at tiny pictures of hotels in brochures for customers to choose from. You hardly had the option of selecting your preferred holiday accommodation based on its interior style. I get why my parents prioritised holidays as being about places to visit and see and take in the noise and culture of a place and not about the accommodation. I guess that's just what most people did, and still do, even though it's so much easier to find so many different kinds of places to stay in now.

Later, as a young 20-something journalist, I used to get invited on press trips. Sometimes, I was put up in suites bigger than my first flat, suites that took up entire floors of whichever luxury hotel I had been sent to. I had never, ever stayed in hotels like this before, where people offered me whatever I wanted to eat, where I had a sauna in the middle of my room or a huge four poster bed or a direct lift straight down to the swimming pool. I'd arrive and text photos to my mother followed by exclamation marks. I couldn't believe my luck. Although now I look back with cynicism at the wasteful way in which this world used to work, at the time I felt dizzy, a little like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada. But once the gloss had worn off, I realised how I really didn't like staying in these big, showy places at all. I'm not really a hotel or resort-kind-of-girl. I find them claustrophobic, unreal, stark and not at all cosy or restful. 

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.

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.

How to fall in love with your home (when it feels like it's not working for you)

How to fall in love with your home (when it feels like it's not working for you)

There was a moment earlier this week when the clouds shifted and dipped in the sky and all at once, sunlight broke through all of the windows, like a mermaid's dive piercing an endless ocean.

I was sat on my love seat sofa holding my baby at the time, my hair tickling his little face to make him laugh, and even though my gaze was lowered towards him, I felt something change. For a few moments, with the sun high in the sky, the walls and the floors glowed like honey and I looked up. All of a sudden, with my baby on my knee I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time. I felt overwhelmingly in love with our home. Sunlight slanting through the skylight, bouncing through the backdoors. The shadows of moving clouds gently passing over the walls like a soft hand brushing a forehead. The feeling of warmth.

It felt like, well, home. It felt so good to be here.

I hadn't felt this way for a long time