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.
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.
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!