If this year has taught me anything, it’s both the power of sharing and the importance of honesty — which can sometimes seem like two opposing forces. While authenticity has become a buzzword of sorts, real, genuine rawness is undeniably something we all want to see more of. Life is not always butterflies, rainbows, and perfectly poised photos, it’s more often than not comprised of hitting the snooze button, running errands, keeping up with email and crashing on a comfy couch watching guilty-pleasure TV shows. All of this real-life stuff is exactly what inspired me to launch a new column, Comfort Zone.
Comfort Zone will profile everyday people from all walks of life in the most comfortable space within their home, paired with a short dialogue exploring those things that make us uncomfortable. Touching on the more raw aspects of life, Comfort Zone will be a great way to get to know the real person behind their work, home and online presence in a lighthearted and meaningful way. Today, I’m thrilled to kick off the column with Sarah Hart, who was brave and kind enough to be the first to share some insight into her life as a mother of four young boys and what home — namely her family living room in Montclair, NJ — means to her. –Sabrina
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a stay-at-home mom of four boys ages six and under living in Montclair, NJ. I have a degree in social work, but I’ve always wished I would have pursued one of my more creative passions like design, photography or cooking. I’m still able to exercise my creativity and spend my days putting all three of those passions to good use, though, despite having to fold five loads of laundry, pack lunches and change diapers. I’m a chronic re-arranger and never feel as though a room is “finished,” so design is always on my mind.
My snap-happy finger documents our daily happenings on my iPhone so we can reminisce, laugh and cry about those images years from now. Cooking for a family of six is no easy task, especially when children can be picky about what they eat, so I’m always testing new recipes or coming up with new ways to get the boys excited about what they’re eating.
Image above: “While I can appreciate color and patterns in other peoples’ homes, in my home I prefer a neutral color palette,” Sarah says. “Our living room is filled with greys, whites and browns, and while some might find that to be a pretty boring color palette, I find it incredibly calming. My life can be quite chaotic at times, so my home has to be a serene place for me to unwind and feel comfortable.”
What does your living room mean to you?
It’s the heart of our home, so for me, it represents family. It’s where we gather to read books, cuddle on the couch, watch a movie or play games. It’s where first teeth are lost and where chins are bumped on the coffee table. It’s where morning lattes are sipped while playing the role of referee. It’s where I find popcorn under the couch and quarters in the seat cushions. It’s where my husband and I reconnect after a busy day of school drops-offs, dinner prep, homework help, meetings and an exhausting commute. It’s filled with the sounds of giggles and rowdy boys. It’s our comfort zone, and there’s no place we’d rather be.
What makes it so comfortable (physically and personally)?
While I do want the living room to be visually pleasing, I don’t want it to feel stuffy. It’s a place where you can sit with your feet up without worrying about ruining the coffee table and place your drink down without having to use a coaster.
It’s a fairly large room for an older craftsman home, so it’s the perfect gathering spot for us. There’s plenty of space to spread out toys without tripping over them or feeling like they’ve taken over the room. Speaking of toys, finding furniture that can hide them is key when you have children in the home. The sideboard in our living not only serves as a stand for our TV, but it also hides games, puzzles and toys. That means I can relax at night after the boys have gone to bed in an adult space without having all their toys staring at me.
There’s also plenty of seating for our large family — our sofa easily seats four of us, and the two club chairs are a super comfy recent addition to the room — so we all have a spot for movie nights. I’ve always believed that less is more, so I try to not clutter tabletops with lots of extra things, especially things little hands would be tempted to play with.
What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?
I’ve always been a people-pleaser, so the thought of conflict makes me want to run and hide under my covers. I would rather give the woman in front of me in the check-out line at the grocery store $5 than see her argue with the cashier about an item she thought was on sale, or I would happily eat something I didn’t order at a restaurant rather than tell the waiter about the mistake for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.
Only recently have I realized that my feelings are just as important as the next guy’s, so I’ve been making a concerted effort to shed some of my people-pleasing skin by standing up for myself more often and saying no. Something which I’ve learned can be quite freeing and empowering, albeit often sweat-inducing.
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?
As silly as this may sound, deciding to share my visual diary on social media and essentially inviting criticism or negativity into my life was a huge thing for me because I’ve always worried (probably a little too much) about what others thought of me and I get my feelings hurt easily. I just love taking pictures and hopefully inspiring others, and I never expected to receive such warm, positive feedback or develop friendships with people I otherwise would have never met.
What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?
There’s no time like the present. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow and should live each day to the fullest, and this is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. It’s instilled in us at a young age that we need to plan for the future — for college, a career, a family — rather than just living in the moment and appreciating it for what it is. Each Sunday night I fill up the big chalkboard hanging on the wall next to our kitchen with appointments and other obligations for the upcoming week and think about how much I can’t wait for the next weekend, rather than appreciating the beauty a busy Tuesday may offer.
I think we all could benefit from stopping to smell the roses a little more often because time flies, and having kids only makes this fact more painfully clear. One day you’re changing their dirty diapers and feeding them pureed foods, and in the blink of an eye they’re singing Taylor Swift in the backseat of the van and calling you “mom” instead of “mama.” I don’t want to miss a minute of this beautiful life and need to be more present in each and every moment.
How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?
I wish I could say I spend hours practicing yoga or meditation, but my favorite thing to do to unwind is to spend time in the kitchen with a glass of wine and music, thinking about nothing but the ingredients in front of me. The sound of my knife on the cutting board, the sizzle of a hot pan and the smell of something braising away in the oven just do it for me. I guess you could say cooking is my therapy, or, at the very least, my version of sun salutations.
Also, I learned after having kids that silence is golden, so sometimes I will just sit on the couch and veg out in the peace and quiet. Sometimes five minutes does the trick, sometimes it’s an hour. It’s the only time I’m really able to just sit without a million things running through my mind or my name being called by four boys at once. An informal meditation, if you will.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?
I experience burnout as a mother all the time, but not usually creatively, which is probably because I don’t have as much time to dedicate to my creative outlets as I would like. Funny enough, those outlets are what help me get through my mama burnout.
What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?
What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
What’s for dinner?