Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone: Alison Little

by Sabrina Smelko


If I still believed everything I did when I was growing up, I’d be living in the countryside, completely alone, and working as the owner of a pet motel (oh, and my only friend would be an imaginary horse). One of the most beautiful things about life is that we change, often for the better. Although, admittedly, sometimes we alter our perception or view of things in a way that’s not bad, nor good. As the adage goes, life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

For Alison Little, happiness is found in the company you keep and the time you spend with family — although she didn’t always see things exactly that way. Growing up, and even a handful of years ago, her focus was on a career as a nurse. She saw herself working outside of the home, but when Alison’s first son was born, her priorities completely shifted. Since then, the only time she’s spent at a hospital or doctor’s office has been when she gave birth to her now four children, or when they’ve been due for a check-up — and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Fulfillment, for her, comes from weekend-morning pancakes, making crafts, and sharing dinner and a laugh with her family and friends from the dining room in her North Carolina home. Despite having a living room filled with comfortable couches a few feet away, the dining table is the heart of her home — and although it may just seem like a piece of furniture to others, to Alison, it’s a symbol and reminder of love. Today, Alison is chatting with us about motherhood, growth, anxiety, and how her ideas have changed about what having an impact on the world means.  –Sabrina 

Photography by Joni Warren

Tell us about yourself.

I am a wife and stay-at-home mom of four young children, including a set of two-year-old twins. I spend my days cleaning and coloring, wiping noses and tears, folding laundry and doing dishes while consuming lots of coffee. My days, and life in general, are so different than I imagined, but I honestly wouldn’t change it.

Even though I wanted to be a mother, I always pictured myself working outside the home. I graduated in the summer of 2007 with a Nursing degree, and our oldest son was born that September. I never worked a day as a nurse. Once he came along, my priorities just shifted. Life has a way of surprising us, don’t you think? It often gives us something that we didn’t realize we really wanted.

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What does home and this space mean to you?

We spend a lot of time at home, so it has always been important to me that our space be cozy and welcoming. I want it to be pretty, of course, but I also want it to be comfortable. I want my children to be able to be children, to run and play and enjoy our home. I want our friends and family to walk through the door and feel loved and know that they are always welcome. Our dining room is the room I love the most. It holds so many happy memories; Saturday morning pancake breakfasts, family holiday gatherings, coloring and craft projects, Sunday evening dinner with friends, Saturday night card games, and countless conversations and laughs over cups of coffee.

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What makes it so comfortable?

Whenever we have friends and family over, we tend to spend most of our time around the dining rom table. Our living room is full of comfortable furniture, but we rarely leave the dining room. The conversation seems to flow freely and naturally when we are facing each other around that table. I recently said that I would never get rid of it, because whenever I look over and see our table, I don’t just see a place where we eat. I see my kids gathered around coloring, I see laughter and even some tears, more conversations than I can count, and daily cups of coffee with my husband before he leaves for work. I know it’s just a piece of furniture, but to me it’s so much more.

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What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?

I think of myself as an introverted extrovert. I love being around people, as long as it’s people I know and feel comfortable with. New encounters and large groups of people make me feel anxious. I often worry too much about what people think of me, and I leave almost every new encounter thinking, “oh dear, I just shared way too much about myself.” It must be my coping mechanism, sharing too much when I’m in a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable.

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Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?

Honestly, this interview is a departure from my comfort zone. It’s scary to put yourself out there and answer questions that are so personal and thought-provoking. I can’t help but think, “what if they hate my answers? What if they think I’m silly, or selfish, or they misunderstand something I’m trying to say?”

I believe that stepping out of our comfort zone helps us to learn and grow, and my hope is that some of my answers make people feel less alone. I hope the result is that people read these words and say, “Yes! I feel that way, too!”

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What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?

My husband and I love to travel and enjoy the outdoors. If I were given an extended amount of alone time, I would travel to some of the places on my “to-see” list: Ireland, Glacier National Park, and Alaska.

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What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?

That we all have something to offer. I used to think our life was only important — that we were only validated — if we had done something great or overcome something terrible. I thought we had to have some great story to tell. My contributions to this world aren’t life-changing, but they are still important. Wiping tears, loving on my kids, offering a listening ear, and opening my home to people who need a safe place to land, that’s what I have to offer. In the whole scheme of things it’s small, and may even seem insignificant to some, but it’s no less noble than what anyone else has to offer.

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How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?

When I have a few moments to myself, I can usually be found snuggled up under my favorite quilt with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) and a good book. I also love to go and browse antique and thrift stores. I keep a running list of items I would love to find, and I really enjoy the hunt.

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Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?

I don’t know a mother who hasn’t experienced burnout. Whether we stay home, or work outside the home, or do some combination of both, motherhood is hard. It’s challenging and exhausting, and you often feel drained and like you are doing it all wrong. I have said more times than I can count, “I can’t do this anymore.” I tend to be a bit dramatic when I’m feeling burned out. But it is also wonderful and fulfilling, and every now and then you catch a glimpse of your kids showing love to one another and it makes the hard parts fade away (at least for that moment).

A few years ago I learned to sew, and although I have always been interested in home design, it has become a bit of a passion over the last couple of years. I want our home to be comfortable to live in, but also pretty to look at. I love to find unique and creative ways to design and spruce up our space. Finding the time to be creative and indulge those passions definitely helps me to recharge and stay inspired, and being in a home that I love seems to make the chaos more manageable.

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What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?

This question makes me think of how my kids will ask what I want for Christmas, and I always answer, “I want you to love each other and always get along, and I want peace on earth.” It’s something we know will never happen, but we can hope for anyways.

What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?

Why can’t we all just get along?!

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  • I love this. I am a working mom of one, my husband is a stay at home dad, and I feel pulled in every direction. I understand and relate to the introverted extrovert in you, I am much the same. Just want to say this was a great read during my coffee break. Thank you! Loving the new content.

  • this is wonderful and so relatable. motherhood burnout is real! i can’t even imagine with four kids. #superhero

  • My two girls are excited about the snow. One has gloves the other don’t, one likes mittens and the other hates them…during the hunt for other items the little one tracked red mud on my favorite gray chevron rug!!! I’ve been interrupted several times and I just want to sit, and type! Loved your blog!! Very peaceful and warming. Love your clean look and style. Your simplicity is amazing with a large family! Congrats! Cheers to ☕️#3 and a good glass?at night!

  • I love this article idea. I feel like there’s so much I relate to here. I’m pregnant with our first child, and my husband is planning to stay at home with our child when I head back to work. Part of me wishes the roles were reversed, but I know he’s going to be a terrific parent, and my job is steadier and has good benefits.

  • Such an encouraging post and just what I needed to hear. I always thought the same about validation and wanting/needing to do something great. You’ve given me food for thought, and I think I’ll look differently at my life and what I have to offer now in this time and moment.

  • Alison, thank you for sharing. The things that you had to say… I needed to hear them today.

  • Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed – i find it rewarding and comforting to read women, who have found great purpose and reward in working and their ‘carreer’, writing about their fulfillment of having children and looking after them, of building and maintaining that nest that is the backdrop to their growing up. In particular if their accounts equally allow space for the realities of burn-out and the many little daily struggles. I can strongly relate to all of this. Personally i’m still a little surprised how much peace & fulfillment if find in our family life & the funny but often tiring preoccupations of under 5s. Yet I know part of this is due to the fact that i’ve had a good education and have been able to maintain many interests beyond home&hearth (and most importantly a career path to eventually return too – if I wish). As much as I love it now, I wouldn’t know if i’d be at ease with being a stay-at-home-mama if that was my only choice. Having options and open perspectives for the long run have proven crucial.

    PS: BEAUTIFUL clutterfree home by the way – great ceramics too! Wish my kids would stop loving all that plastic s***t ;o)

  • I love reading about women who have started their own businesses and have amazing careers (I have three daughters and enjoy reading about the many things women do these days). But I can’t say I relate to them. I am a SAHM mother, and, like Allison, spend my days doing laundry and reading stories to my kids. Thanks for featuring someone whose path is a bit different from others usually highlighted on here. Success can come in many forms, and I love that we can all cheer each other on in our different paths and callings. Well done, DS.

  • I also stayed home to raise my three kids. I turned 60 last year and reflect on those years often. I think we would have been great friends.
    Enjoy your kids it goes fast.

  • Alison I love this! What a great way to capture your great qualities. As a mom that works outside of the home I agree that we all often struggle with burnout. What I have learned is that to love my family well I have to make sure they are taken care of. Additionally, I need to find ways to take care of myself.

  • Thank you for sharing, Alison, and THANK YOU, Design Sponge, for interviewing a stay-at-home mom. I worked in a career outside the home before kids and have since stayed home. It is a job too often dismissed by the professional world, but where would anyone be without at least a few of us SAHMs? You’re doing a great job, Alison.