Families in Small Homes: Jules from Pancakes & French Fries

As part of the Families in Small Home Series I asked Jules from Pancakes & French Fries to tell us about her reasons for simplifying and her William Morris Project. While Jules and her family don’t technically live in a small home, she’s done a lot of simplifying and pairing down. Lots to learn from her journey. Enjoy and thanks again Jules.

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose.

Tell us a bit about the William Morris Project. I know you started it after helping a friend go through her parents possessions.

I did. My friend’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her mom heard the news and took to her bed. She stopped eating and drinking, and about 10 days later she passed away. Two weeks after that, my friend’s father died. June of 2011 was a nightmare. Going through her parents’ belongings was unbelievably disturbing. I remember standing in front of her mother’s vanity table and looking at the makeup, perfume, daily vitamin. It was all so normal! I felt like that character in a movie that stumbles into a city where everyone has suddenly left. I looked at her makeup and thought that if someone were to go through my makeup drawer, they would wonder why a girl who never wears makeup has two different green eyeshadows and 12 lip glosses in various shades of plum.

I decided right then that if anyone were to go through my possessions, they would touch each one without wondering what the heck I was thinking. “Oh, look! She loved these shoes.” “Do you remember how long it took her to find this perfume tray?” “She bought the fox lamp because her oldest son’s favorite movie was Fantastic Mr. Fox. It reminded her of him.”

My goal is for everything in our home to have a memory, and if not a memory, at least a purpose. (Sometimes a lemon reamer is just a lemon reamer.) I have no desire to be a minimalist, but it goes part and parcel with creating an intentional home. It’s hard to consider yourself thoughtful when you have a drawer full of old t-shirts! 


Has this ongoing project to ‘have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful’ changed how you shop/consume/buy things?

Absolutely. Limitations can be freeing, and so is knowing where everything goes in your home. I can see a pretty candle on a store shelf and want to buy it, but I know the cabinet where I store candles can only hold two, at most. Back goes the candle on the shelf.

You are a fan of Simplicity Parenting (me too!) and purge toys without input from your sons. Have you had any regrets over toys you donated? Do you see this style of decluttering for your children changing as they get older?

I have zero regrets. If I regret anything, it’s that I didn’t purge more and that I didn’t donate the toys immediately. I saved them for a mythical garage sale we were “going to have.” I finally admitted to myself a couple of weeks ago that we will never have a garage sale.

I imagine (hope) that as they get older, the boys will have fewer unreasonable attachments to broken toys and stuffed animals they ignored until they hit the donate pile. I once made the mistake of going to Goodwill for a drop off after I picked them up from school. They saw, through a white trash bag, mind you, a red and black buffalo check shirt with fleece lining. It was a great shirt that they both wore until they couldn’t wear it any longer. It was two sizes too small and they hadn’t worn it in over a year, but they cried as if I was giving away the family dog. 

They’ll also have fewer, but more expensive toys as they get older. iPods, iPads, Kindles–those are all items that contain data, and I’m not so crazy that’d I’d toss out an entire book and music library for the sake of more shelf space.

Finally, I would love to know more about your choice to leave your law career. What was the biggest factor for changing jobs? Yes, I consider home manager/blogger/everything else you do a job choice :)

I wrote about that at length here, but the short of it is that I was a research attorney for a family and criminal law practice. I was in the office on a Saturday preparing an argument for a man to have more visitation with his children–he only wanted it to reduce his support payments–when it hit me that I was taking time away from my son to win more time for a man who treated his children like pawns in a game of chess. I guess that means the biggest factor for changing jobs was cognitive dissonance. Or, to put it in internet speak, “What is seen…cannot be unseen.”

Name three things that make you happy.

A good book.

My family.

Chocolate ice cream with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups mixed in.

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  • I love this post and the idea of an ‘intentional home’!
    I’m also a huge fan of Simplicity Parenting, Jules, if you haven’t already read ‘Hold on to your kids’ I think you would love it, it’s right up there for me along side Simplicity Parenting.
    We’ve just moved into a tiny home and the amount of purging I have been doing over the past two years has been incredible, from my ‘stuff’ to my husband’s and the children’s. I can honestly say, we haven’t missed a thing which has been sent out of this house. We downsized from a 1000 sq ft home to a 540 sq ft home. The children are happy with a small selection of toys, somewhere cosy to sit and read covered with blankets and time spent connecting with me about their school day.
    And Jules, I got my degree, trained to be a primary school teacher but I’ve chosen to stay home full time with my children even though they’re both a school now. I want to be able to drop them off and be with them the minute they get out of school! It feels like a good balance for them and for me.

  • Jules, this is such a wonderful peek inside your intentional life and home. Thanks for sharing it, Rachel!

    I had never put a name to it, but simplicity parenting is the philosophy in our home too. I was once interviewed by a man who asked me how I felt about decluttering my kids toys behind their back. As in, don’t I feel like the biggest jerk-mum ever? And it took me a moment to realise – I felt completely fine with that. In fact, what is our job if not to provide limitations and guidance to our kids while they’re too young to do so themselves?

    Love it! x

  • Thank you so much, mamaUK and Brooke. :) I’m going to check out that “Hold Onto Your Kids” book. You’re right–it does sound right up my alley.

    Thank you, Rachel, for the opportunity to be on your blog. It’s one of my favorites, as you know.

  • I love your blog and the series on families in small homes. I would really love to read about other families that are on the large size (4+ kids) living in small homes. I’d really like to see how others do it. We are a family of 7 (5 kids ages 16, 15, 4, 2, and 1) and have a 1100 sq. ft. house (3 BR/2BA). We have the 3 toddlers in one small room and the two teens in the other. I purge, purge, purge, and do not keep anything that is just clutter or we don’t use. I am constantly purging our possessions and love thinking of ways to save space or make better use of space. I’d love to get ideas from others who have several children and also live in a small house.

    • Thanks, Melissa. I will put the word and have a search for bigger families in smaller homes. I am from a family of 7 (6 kids, one parent) and we lived in a 4 bedroom home. Over the years my mom rearranged rooms to suit ages and such. When there was 4 of us under the age of 6 or 7 I think we all shared one room!

  • so much of this resonates with me. like you, i purge my son’s toys/books as need be. that need is usually lack of use, broken, etc. some of them i’ll put in a trunk to see if he asks for them, and about 4 months later I’ll give them to the local tip shop. what is truly lovely is how much he does with so little.

    i do get a fair amount of. . . criticism. . . for some of our choices with our son, but he is so vibrant and happy and everything is working, so i don’t really take it on board. :) and, you know, when those who have more complain about the mess, i just smile smugly to myself. lol

  • Great post! I’m working toward a more intentional, more minimalist home as well. It’s been really hard, partly because I have so MANY things that have memories attached to them. Most of my furniture is hand-me-down from grandparents. I’ve been trying to let it go and my attitude toward it all has been changing. I live in a home that’s far bigger than my family needs. I wish we could move. We have too much space to store stuff, which makes it really hard to get rid of things that we don’t really need but that still have some use or some sentimental value, since we do have room for it. I try to trick my mind into believing we’re moving or something, but it doesn’t work very well. :)

    I do have a question about purging kid toys. Several commenters mentioned purging behind kids’ backs. I don’t have a problem with it, but at what age should you stop? My kids are older (11, 9, and 7). I purge the 9 and 7 year old’s stuff occasionally, but it seems a bit intrusive with the older kid. When they were little, I had no problem making them choose 5 toys and boxing up the rest. But I don’t think I can do that as they get older. Can I? Without scarring them for life and making them into hoarders because their mom took away their toys? LOL!

  • I love this post. The thought of having a reason for keeping “stuff” is rather freeing. The “memory” or “purpose” is just what I needed to hear as I tackle junk drawers and closets. Thank you.

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