Our Story

Modern Minimalism by Elle Penner

What first drew me to minimalism wasn’t Marie Kondo’s addictive Netflix series (but seriously, how good is it?!), or the kind-of-annoying capsule wardrobe craze that went viral on Pinterest. My interest in minimalism started as a coping mechanism.

Rewind to 2016.

My husband, Rob, and I were new parents with well-paying jobs living in a two-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with our newborn son, Noah. Before becoming a mom, this life suited us. We enjoyed each other, our work, our friends, and all that beautiful San Francisco had to offer.
Motherhood changed me though.

I went back to work when Noah was four months old, only to find my “dream job” as the lead dietitian for a big health app suddenly felt overwhelming, and oddly unsatisfying.

Four months later, when Noah was eight months old, I lost my dad to cancer. And two weeks after that, Noah spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia after he became very sick while we were traveling in Ireland.

Somewhere amidst the emotional turbulence of that summer, I decided I had had enough.

Enough of the hustle to and from work every day, the constant feelings of inadequacy in my professional and personal life, the crazy amount of money we were paying a nanny so I could go to a job I no longer loved.

So we left San Francisco.

That summer we bought a beautiful, new home way up in Bend, Oregon and moved within two months.

2017 was spent settling into our new surroundings, starting my freelance business, and growing our sweet little family. We welcomed our daughter, Inès, into the world that October, one year after moving to Bend.

Life was good. Chaotic — as one might imagine with a newborn and nearly two-year-old — but good, and to our surprise, there were very few things we missed about the busy city-life we once lived.

Then came 2018, a year that challenged us as parents, as professionals, and as partners.

Just two weeks into the new year, both Noah and Inès were hospitalized with a severe respiratory infection called RSV. Between the two of them, we spent 19 days in the hospital, six of which Inès spent in the NICU on CPAP while receiving pumped breast milk through a feeding tube.

Noah made a quick recovery after his seven days in the hospital, but that infection left our daughter, who was just 12 weeks old at the time, with chronic inflammation in her lungs. On top of her chronic ear infections, it made for a tough year for us all.

As a family, we also weathered two additional hospitalizations for respiratory distress, two cases of the flu, E. Coli H7 O17, 12 ear infections, two ear tube surgeries, a broken ankle and more nebulizer treatments than we could count. We accumulated over $100,000 in medical claims between January and July. Even with health insurance, that number became so overwhelming I stopped keeping track.

2018 was a humbling lesson in parenthood.

In life, really. But it gave us a new perspective on parenting and made us even more thankful.

Thankful for each other, and our family and friends who were there to help us. Thankful for amazing doctors and nurses, and for health insurance. Thankful for flexible jobs and understanding clients that allowed us to be together when we needed to be. Thankful our kids needed oxygen, and not chemo. Thankful that all of our health setbacks were temporary, and fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.

We know not all parents are so lucky. 

Amidst the chaos of that year, I found peace in simplifying.

I guess you could say I found minimalism. Or maybe minimalism found me.

Either way, when life was most overwhelming — days when nothing was in my control — simplifying became my grounding force.

First I simplified my wardrobe. Then the toys. And after they toys I tackled our books. I swear toys and books are like dust bunnies. They come out of nowhere and just. don’t. stop.

Once our surroundings started to feel more zen, I started to simplify the nonphysical things like our schedules, and most importantly, my expectations.

Simplifying gave me the control I desperately needed, but it also taught me how to let go.

Not just of stuff, but of expectations and the desire to control what I so obviously could not.

Simplifying has showed me that by having less, I actually have more. More ease in getting dressed every morning. More mental and physical energy to devote to our family. More open space to enjoy at home. More content and creative kiddos. Even more joy and presence in parenting.

Minimalism brings awareness to what adds value to our lives, and helps us let go of what doesn’t.

Here at Modern Minimalism, we share our solutions for living simpler, uncluttered lives, as well as our practical, family-centered approach to minimalism with kids.

What works for our little family may or may not suit yours, but please feel free to take (and share!) whatever helps you live a simpler, fuller life.

Thank you for being here and letting us share our journey.

About Elle

Hi! I’m Elle Penner. Originally an East Coaster, I now live in beautiful Bend, Oregon with my husband and two kiddos, Inès (1) and Noah (3). Professionally speaking I am a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition from UNC-Chapel Hill and started my nutrition career as the lead dietitian for MyFitnessPal.

After leaving MyFitnessPal back in 2016, I started my own freelance business and now work with a variety of clients, from consulting for health startups to creating mouthwatering food and nutrition content for various brands and media outlets.

Most days you can find me working somewhere in the house. I’m either hovered over my computer in my favorite spot, cooking up a delicious new recipe in the kitchen, taking food photos in our staircase landing or shooting recipe videos in the master bathroom. Every day looks a little bit different! Most weeks I work Monday through Thursday, the rest of the week is family time!

Three things I’m most known for include my homemade sourdough, my first blog, and simplifying — particularly when it comes to clutter, calendars, and family meals. I am passionate about teaching other parents how they can embrace minimalism with kids and find joy and presence in raising tiny humans.

When I’m not working or toddler-wrangling, I enjoy sweaty, morning workouts, a neighborhood walk/jog with my earbuds and a podcast, afternoon dates with the hubs, and creating content for this little blog. If I could stay awake past 9pm I’d probably get back into crocheting, and maybe even read a book!

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  • Dear Elle
    I am inspired by your story. I too am a dietitian in the uk and drawn to minimalism as a coping strategy as part of my trauma healing.
    I’m following your capsule wardrobe information and it’s giving me permission to invest in this essential self care.
    I’m looking forward to following you more.
    Best wishes

  • Thank you SO much! My 3 and 4 year olds NEED some reorganizing and decluttering in their toy room! This Mom is sick of cleaning up the endless amounts of toys. Time for less is more and a less cluttered look in the room. I love the look of these cabinets as it hides the toys but allows for compartmentalization inside. Score!

    • Hi Heather! So glad you found it helpful. Those cabinets are from IKEA — it’s the Småstad bench and box. The black knobs and leather pulls are also IKEA but purchased separately. 🤗

  • I believe fate brought me here.
    Well honestly, it was the doom scrolling,.late at night when my toddler, doggies, and husband are all tucked into bed and it’s the only time I can think.
    I started researching capsule wardrobes and here I am.
    Really excited to start my own journey

  • Hello! I was so delighted to find your web site at the top of the list when I typed in “minimalist challenge!” I’m an RD as well (am now using my knowledge to teach FCS to middle-schoolers, but still keep my license and registration). Such a small world! In any case, I’m striving for a minimalist lifestyle and am doing the Wool& 100-day dress challenge currently, which has inspired me to downsize not only my wardrobe, but other areas of my life as well. Thanks so much for the info and encouragement!

    • Too funny! Sounds like we have a lot in common already. 😂 So glad you found me, and thanks for saying hi. Good luck with the challenge! 🥰

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story and for the encouragement and inspiration! I was feeling very overwhelmed looking at the chaos around me, and I then I found your page. I downloaded the kids’ capsule wardrobe and I can’t wait to find peace in simplifying! I’m excited to start my decluttering journey to enjoy life and motherhood more.

  • Elle. Your story touches me because it sounds a whole lot like mine. We also dealt with 5 hospitalizations in 6 months between a newborn and 2 year old (adenoid surgery for my 2 year old and she stopped breathing during surgery, my newborn being born with central apnea at full term which I discovered when I found her choking at 2 days old after Jesus gave her the strength to scream out somehow in her travel crib and then rushed her to the ER- thankfully a speed bump my husband flew over got the phlegm out so she could breathe, RSV when my little apnea baby was just 2 months old- so 2 things keeping her from being able to breathe, and that cursed E. coli landed my 2 year old back in the hospital for week…) Do you know how they treat apnea? With pure caffeine. You can imagine what that does to a newborn’s body..but it reminded her to breathe and that was the priority. So she was in pain for 5 months and my kitchen counters were no longer used for cooking because all of the medicine took over the counter space. My dietary restrictions since I was solely breastfeeding didn’t leave much for me to eat as it was. I took so much out of my diet hoping my baby would feel better but she still screamed in pain most days and nights.

    All of this took place in Mexico City where I have lived for 8 years with my husband, but we are very far from the help and support of family. My church became my family and only God knows how I got through those 6 months without sleep under constant stress worrying I could lose a child at any moment. Night nurses…alarms…screaming children from pain I couldn’t fix…a worst nightmare come to life for a mother. But here we are. It changes you and I’m inspired to see what you have done with the experience. I started a Mom group at my church as a result because I had such a need for it back then and now that the seas have calmed, I want to be there for other moms who are suffering alone. I don’t want anyone to be alone through any of what I went through! We’re expecting our third girl now and praying this one breathes well without any complications- ever!

    I found you because I was looking for a bolognese recipe and normally I never read blogs, but something about yours spoke to me and made me click on your story. I’m glad I did.

    • Brooke, thank you for sharing your story with me. You have been through so much in such a short period of time. My heart breaks to hear all you’ve endured but you are one strong, admirable mama. Being away from family when the kids are so sick has been hard for us too. How nice that you’ve created a community for yourself and other moms in need of support! Wishing you all the best with this pregnancy and only healthy babies from here on out. Please do keep in touch. And I hope you enjoyed the bolognese! 🙂