A mother’s story

Having kids is messy. Everyone knows that.

When my first was born, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of mess. My mind was a complete mess, but my ‘outside’ life didn’t appear to have changed too much. She had a bed, a play mat, a baby bath, a changing table. ‘This is ok’, I thought, ‘maybe my whole life doesn’t completely have to change’. She was 2 weeks old.

Fast forward 2 years, my second baby had just arrived. We’d moved apartment two times in 2 years, the first time for extra space for our daughter, the second time for an extra room for our son.

My space had transformed around me. We forfeited our larger room and en suite bathroom for an extra bedroom. My dream of a walk in wardrobe was further away than ever! We chose to lose our outdoor terrace to gain more indoor space. This made sense, but our ability to have friends round for dinner felt impossible: noise travelled (would we wake the kids?). Our entertaining space, the living room, was over-run by toddler and baby stuff: a stuffed dog on wheels, playdough, a talking cat, lego bricks, half a wooden cabbage.. You name it, you could find it.

To be honest, the thought of entertaining was the last thing on my mind. I was brain dead from tiredness, overwhelmed by the clutter. But it would have been nice to have had the option.

I felt like my identity was in tatters. My home was no longer my home. My space no longer mine to enjoy.

But this is what having kids is about, right? That’s what we’re told. Read any online blog, parents magazine, visit any friends apartment. Kids take over your life. We adore them, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

But what if there was another way?

I’ve always loved spaces, I work in marketing, and space — virtual or real — is my poster child.

Without realising it, I set about making my space work for me. Not the old me. The new me. It gave me clarity and purpose during a challenging time. The arrival of a new baby turns your life upside down. But, I felt like organising my space gave me back some sense of control during the weeks and months when day and night blurred into one long, never ending endurance run. Some days and weeks I didn’t have the energy to do anything, but when I did, I loved it.

My husband despaired with the quantity of Ikea bags that collected, the number of drill holes in our rented apartment walls (“don’t worry” I said, “they are easily fixed when we move out!”). Bit by bit, the space began to take shape.

The living room became a grown up space: a relaxing area, a dining area, and a kids area. The kitchen, which lacked any type of storage, and no facilities other than a gas hob (this is Hong Kong!) when we moved in, transformed: I purchased a second hand oven, had it fitted inside an affordable Ikea floor to ceiling unit that also incorporated our microwave and cupboards for storage. I made sure it could easily be removed when we moved out, but after our landlord saw it he asked if we would leave it behind.

I found a local builder who I asked to construct a sliding door to separate our living room from the corridor which the bedrooms came off. This provided not just a buffer for noise, but the feeling of separation of living and sleeping space.

When we close that door in the evenings, when the clutter of the day has been tucked away in newly created storage spaces, it doesn’t feel like we don’t have kids (my daughter’s ‘home cooked’ chopping vegetables sit proudly in the pan on her wooden kitchen hob, her artwork from playschool on her notice board, my son’s stuffed dog on wheels by the wall), but it feels like we have a home that works for all of us. It is a space that recognises all of our identities, all of our needs.

This has been profoundly important for me. My apartment has become a visual representation of the key channels of my life. My kids are without any doubt my heart channel, but I’ve realised it is also vital to retain and nurture my other core channels: myself, and my husband, so that we can all live and grow together.

Our space continues to evolve as our needs do: my daughter moving out of her cot bed into a ‘big girls bed’ led to changes in her bedroom. Making sure she couldn’t access anything that could be dangerous when unsupervised was key, but so was ensuring she felt happy and safe in her new ‘independent’ environment. A invaluable bonus of this for all of us has been her sleeping well!

My returning to work, freelance this time, has led to my need for space where I can work, think, take calls. I don’t always do this in our apartment, but there are times when I need to, and it’s amazing how even the smallest, most uninspiring spaces can be ‘enticed’ to work.

My son is almost walking, which will bring with it new challenges, but I’m confident that we have the ability to make our space work, for all of us.