How To Edit Your Favorite Photos

A guest post from Jessie Martin

Editing your photos can make a seemingly mediocre picture really come to life. It can be the most satisfying part of taking pictures, but it can also be the most frustrating. Editing definitely takes a little bit of practice, but because of the impact that editing can have on a photo, it’s something worth investing a little time.

However, before you start trying to edit your photos, you should take some time to learn how to take a good photo. If you don’t have a basic understanding of how to use your phone or your DSLR or you don’t understand how to use light, editing will be a nightmare.

Editing is used to ENHANCE a photo, not fix it. No amount of editing can truly ‘fix’ a photo if it’s too dark, too bright, out of focus etc. 


I would recommend going back to the beginning of this series & taking my free photography course for mamas if you want to learn some of the basics:


Below are some examples of both unedited phone photos and DSLR photos, followed by the edited versions:


In this post I am going to cover editing using your phone and free editing apps. However, if you have a DSLR or you really want to up your editing game, I highly recommend Lightroom for your computer.

Free Tools for Editing

My favorite free tools for editing on my phone are the VSCO app, Lightroom app, and Snapseed app. Each of these have their own strengths and weaknesses + they all have a few different features that aren’t offered by the rest. I almost always find that I use at least two of the apps in combination to edit my photos.



VSCO is the simplest of all the editing apps. The free version comes with several ‘presets’ or ‘filters,’ which are basically just pre-made edits that you can apply to your photos with one tap. You can apply the filter and call it good, or you can edit the photo further. Most photos are going to need a little more editing than what a filter is going to provide though, so I suggest editing every photo further. The better you are at taking pictures, the less editing your pictures will need.



The free Lightroom app is a really great tool. It has a feature where you can adjust each color within your photo individually, which is a game changer.



Snapseed has a 'Heal' function which both free versions of VSCO and Lightroom lack. It allows you to clone out blemishes or unwanted parts of your image.


Editing Tips:

When it comes to editing your photos, it’s important to remember that the goal is to enhance the image and make it look as natural and life-like as possible. Try to have a light hand while making adjustments.

When I go to edit my photos, the very first thing I do, regardless of which app I’m in, is adjust the brightness (aka exposure) of the image. I typically need to increase the brightness.


In the example below, increasing the brightness made a huge difference & really made the image pop:


The next thing I focus on is the ‘temperature’ or ‘white balance.’ Sometimes when you take a picture, the image will look a little too blue or a little too orange. To fix this, you need to adjust the temperature. The goal is to adjust the temperature just enough to make the image looks as natural as possible (or fit your personal taste).


In the examples below, the first image is too blue, but the second image is too warm. To fix this I adjusted the temperature in the third image to be more neutral:


From here, I assess my photo and try to see what else it might need.

Many times I need to straighten my photos or crop them to be more visually pleasing. I always take a look at the skin tones of the people within the photo and make sure they look natural. If they look too orange or too washed out, I use the Lightroom app to adjust the orange and yellow colors in my image (if you’d like to watch a tutorial on this, I have a Lightroom app tutorial saved to my highlights on Instagram

At this point in the editing process, I assess the photo and decide if it needs anything else or if any part of the photo needs additional enhancements.

To simplify and recap, these are the steps I suggest taking with each photo:

  1. Assess the brightness of the image. Is it too dark or too bright? Edit accordingly.
  2. Assess the temperature of the image. Is it too blue or too orange? Edit accordingly.
  3. Is the photo straight? Does it need to be cropped?
  4. Assess the skin tones within the image. Are they too orange or too washed out? Edit accordingly.
  5. Make whatever additional adjustments you think the photo needs and/or add your personal touch/style to the image. For example, some people like to fade their images and add grain to create a film look etc. 


Suggestions + Tools to Simplify the learning process

Editing can feel overwhelming, but I promise that if you set aside a few minutes to play around with each app, it won’t seem so daunting.

Start with VSCO. Download the app and pull a practice photo into it. Play around with all of the settings and sliders. After you have an understanding of VSCO, move to Lightroom, then Snapseed.

To help you learn what all of the buttons and sliders do within each app, I’ve created a free cheat sheet that explains all of the functions and what they do to your photos. You can download it HERE

I taught myself how to edit by both trial and error and watching youtube videos! I think it’s really helpful to watch other people edit. Youtube is a great place - just type in something like, “VSCO editing tutorials.” If you like the way I edit my photos or you want to learn more, I frequently do video editing tutorials in my Instagram stories. I have several saved in my highlights.


Thank you!

I have appreciated so much the opportunity Allie has given me to share my heart and love of photography with you, her sweet audience. I know you all are a loyal bunch and love her to pieces and I’ve been honored to hang out with you this month during the photography series. I hope you know that I am an open book and am always happy to answer questions and chat further. You can email me any time at or come say hi over on Instagram (@hellojessiemartin).


My heart truly is for you, mama. Although I love sharing my passion for photography, I believe it is so much more than a hobby or creative outlet. Taking pictures of our families can be something we make into a burden or a mundane task with little meaning, but it can be so much more! These pictures can be an exclamation of thankfulness and gratitude, a reminder of all of the blessings we have. We as mamas have the privilege of documenting our families’ stories and I truly believe this endeavour has worth and value.


If you’re hoping to up your photography game, I’ve created a FREE 5 day course just for you, mama! You can enroll for free today!


Mom-Tog in Five

Five Days to Better Mom Photography, Even if You Don't Have a Fancy Camera

I don't care if you have a crazy expensive camera or a hand-me-down smart phone - you have everything you need to create pictures you're proud of & tell your family's story.

    We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Powered By ConvertKit

    *This post may contain affiliate links.*


    Hi, I’m Jessie!
    I am a wife + mama and self-taught photographer. Im passionate about empowering fellow moms to to see how incredible their everyday is and to take beautiful pictures of their kids (regardless of what camera they use). I teach moms how to apply the same techniques I use as a professional photographer to their own personal photography. 

    - Jessie

    I love new friends! Come say hi over on Instagram (@hellojessiemartin)!





    How To Take Better Smartphone Photos

    A guest post from Jessie Martin

    It’s easy to get discouraged if you feel that you don’t have the best camera to take your pictures. Maybe you have an old iPhone or a hand-me down camera and you feel like it’s holding you back. If you are feeling like this, I have some encouragement for you:

    YOU are the one in control of the pictures that your camera takes. You are the conductor and the creator.

    Even the best camera in the world can’t take a good picture if you don’t know how to use it. Your camera or smartphone is just a tool. If you don’t know how to use that tool correctly, it won’t matter how expensive or up to date it is, your photos won’t turn out the way you hope.

    When Allie and I first met, she shared with me that she takes almost all of her pictures with her iPhone. Her and Brian own really great equipment for their business, but she prefers her iPhone over any of the fancy cameras. She also shared that the photos she has hanging on her walls are primarily ones she’s taken with her smartphone.

    GUYS. That says so much about smartphone cameras. Allie has access to a fancy camera and she knows how to use it, yet she prefers and chooses the simplicity of her iPhone.

    I’ve spent a lot of time trying to master my smartphone camera even though I love my DSLR. I don’t always have my fancy camera with me, so I want to be fluent with both of my cameras in order to take pictures of my son whenever and wherever.

    I’ve got 10 tips to help you take better pictures with your smartphone:


    1. Turn off the flash

    Lighting will make or break your pictures - especially if you’re using a smartphone. If you take pictures with artificial light, like lamps or ceiling lights, it will cause an unnatural yellow/orange tint. Use natural light as often as you can to avoid the yellow discoloration. Take advantage of windows and doors. By using natural light you alleviate the need for flash and can turn it off.

    Although I always advocate for natural lighting, I truly believe, “moments always win.” Don’t skip taking a photo just because natural light isn’t available. Just keep it in mind and use it when you can.



    2. Use two hands for stabilization

    Using two hands will help stabilize your phone and decrease blur in your photos. It’s helpful to alleviate as much blur on your end as you can, because if your kiddo is anything like mine, they definitely won’t be holding still for you.





    3. Use the volume buttons to release the shutter

    When your camera app is open on your phone, the volume buttons can be used to release the camera’s shutter and take the photo. This can reduce blur and allows you to stabilize your phone better. If you have an iPhone with the apple earbuds (they’re called EarPods), you can use those volume buttons to release the shutter as well.




    4. Tap the screen to hold and lock focus on your subject

    Tap the area you want to focus on and hold down. This will lock the camera’s focus on your subject and your image will be more clear. You may need to do it a few times if you’re subject is a fast-moving toddler.






    5. Tap the area you want to expose for

    Before you take the picture, tap the area on your screen you want to make brighter.









    6. Use the exposure meter to brighten or darken your image

    When you tap and hold on the area of focus (as described in #5) a little sun icon will appear. You can drag your finger up or down on the screen to increase or decrease the brightness and then snap the photo.






    7. Set HDR to Auto

    The HDR setting is a feature that takes multiple shots and then combines them into one final high quality image. This is great for a stationary object, but if your subject is a wiggly kid, the image will be blurry. Set your phone to HDR auto so it will turn on and off at the appropriate times.





    8. Don’t use the ‘selfie’ camera

    The selfie camera on your smartphone is actually a lower quality lens than the outward facing lens. Always use the outward facing lens on the back of your phone to take pictures. This will help your pictures have sharper focus and be more clear.





    9. Consider taking burst shots of moving subjects

    When photographing a moving subject, hold down the shutter button (or volume button) for a few seconds. This will take burst shots (multiple pictures in a row at a really fast pace) and increase your chances of getting an in-focus photo. Another option is to tap the shutter button as quickly as you can over and over again. This will capture several pictures and increase the chances of capturing a non-blurry one. Go in afterwards and delete the duplicates from your phone.



    10. Don’t Zoom

    When you zoom, you lose photo quality and your image will not be as clear. Instead, try taking a few steps closer to your subject.

    All of these tips have really helped improve my smartphone photography and I hope you learned something new and feel more confident when you pull out your phone for pictures!




    If you’re hoping to up your photography game, I’ve created a FREE 5 day course just for you, mama! You can enroll for free today!

    Mom-Tog in Five

    Five Days to Better Mom Photography, Even if You Don't Have a Fancy Camera

    I don't care if you have a crazy expensive camera or a hand-me-down smart phone - you have everything you need to create pictures you're proud of & tell your family's story.

      We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Powered By ConvertKit


      *This post may contain affiliate links.*


      Hi, I’m Jessie!
      I am a wife + mama and self-taught photographer. Im passionate about empowering fellow moms to to see how incredible their everyday is and to take beautiful pictures of their kids (regardless of what camera they use). I teach moms how to apply the same techniques I use as a professional photographer to their own personal photography. 

      - Jessie

      I love new friends! Come say hi over on Instagram (@hellojessiemartin)!





      10 Reasons Your Photos Aren't Turning Out The Way You Want Them To

      A guest post from Jessie Martin

      Pictures provide us with a way to revisit a single moment in time and relive it over and over again. They allow us to remember the small details that we never want to forget and provide us with the opportunity to document our children’s childhood. They give us physical reminders of who we are, where we’ve come from, and what’s important.

      Unfortunately, taking pictures can actually be super challenging and discouraging when our photos aren’t turning out the way we envision.

      I remember a few years back scrolling instagram and wondering how in the world all of these non-photographer mamas were creating such amazing pictures with only their smartphones.

      I realized pretty quickly that those mamas had been very intentional and had invested some time to learn HOW to take better photos.

      Good pictures aren’t just going to happen. Even the most expensive camera isn’t going to magically take great pictures. I believe if you’re willing to be intentional and put in a little bit of time, you can learn to take incredible photos of your family and make photography a natural part of your everyday life.

      Below are 10 reasons why your photos may not be turning out the way you hope and how to improve in those areas:


      1. You aren’t seeing the magic in your everyday

      Sometimes, when we’re knee deep in diapers and sleep deprivation, we can lose sight of how incredible these days actually are. We can’t help but put our heads down and push through – constantly looking towards the next season, thinking it will be easier and better. Taking pictures can do something to you, though. It can cause you to dig deep. To slow down. It can cause you to see.

      Let photography help you slow down. Let it help you see the magic of your everyday. Think of the things your kids do that make your heart burst. Think of the everyday family routines you never want to end. These things are the magic of your everyday. The little details. The seemingly ordinary moments that make up your days and eventually your years.

      If you want to know how and why I see the magic in my everyday, you can read my ‘Why,’ from week one. 

      Pick a day and make a list of all the things you are thankful for. Don’t just include broad things like “family.” Get specific. What things throughout your day are you really truly thankful for that maybe tend to go unnoticed? These are the things that you should be taking pictures of.


      2. You’re letting the thought of taking pictures overwhelm you, and in turn, you aren’t taking any


      Taking pictures doesn’t have to be some huge unrealistic time commitment. Photography can be incorporated throughout your day in a natural, unburdened way with a few simple habits.

      1. Keep your phone memory uncluttered so that you always have enough storage to take pictures when the time comes. Back up your photos often and then delete them off your phone. Google Photos is an amazing tool – It offers a ton of free storage and after you use it once, you can set it to automatically back up your photos for you. Allie actually did an interview in my photo course for moms where she shared that Google Photos is her go-to as well!

      2. Keep your phone (or your camera) somewhere nearby and easily accessible. This will probably already be your habit if your phone is your main camera, but keeping it close, or in a central location, will alleviate missing photo opportunities. I keep my camera hanging by the door with a clean memory card and a fully charged battery at all times so that I can quickly grab it if I notice a photo opportunity.

      3. Start picking 2-3 things each week that you want to document about your family. An example may be that you really want to take a picture of the way your baby looks when they’re asleep. When a good opportunity arises during the week, take the picture. That’s it. That was like 2.5 seconds of being intentional, planning a photo, and taking the picture.



      3. You don’t know how to use your phone or your camera to its full potential

      The basic difference between a phone camera and a DSLR camera is the amount of control you have over the settings.

      A smartphone camera gives you less control over the settings but significantly simplifies the  process. Most smartphones have pretty incredible built-in settings and features that make the photo capabilities rival that of many DSLRs. The trick is knowing how to use the camera you have to its full potential.

      There is a saying among photographers –

      The camera doesn’t make the photographer, the photographer makes the photographer.

      You could have the most expensive camera on the market, but if you don’t know how to use it or how to use the light around you, your pictures will be awful. On the flip side, if you understand basic photography techniques, you can make beautiful images with just your phone camera.

      I had the chance to talk to Allie about the photos she has displayed in her home. She shared that all but ONE of the photos she has hanging in her home are iPhone pictures! She and Brian own a fancy camera, but her go-to is her smartphone because it’s simple and she’s taken the time to learn how to use it.

      Don’t feel sorry for yourself because you don’t have a $3000 camera. Change your mindset. Be intentional and learn how to use the camera you do have. Become an expert at taking pictures with the gear you have available to you and I promise you’ll be ecstatic with your photos.


      4. You aren’t being creative with the way you take your photos

      ‘Composition,’ is the way you arrange your photo. It’s being intentional and thoughtful with the way you take your picture and where your subject is in the frame. Composition isn’t just for professional photographers - it’s an easy way for anyone to take better photos.

      Easy Composition Tricks


      Always make sure your photos are straight. Pick a vertical or horizontal line within the image and use it as a guide. It’s much easier to do this before you take the picture, but if you forget, you can always correct this when you edit.

      Think of ways to make your photos more creative. Get closer or further away from your subject. Take pictures at your subjects eye level. Take pictures from above or below. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and take pictures from various angles and heights.


      5. You don’t understand light or how to use it

      Lighting is one of the most important elements of taking a great picture. It can make or break your photos, so it’s important to understand it.

      There are different types of light depending on the time of day. The most well-known is during the evening when the sun is just starting to go down. This is called “Golden Hour,” because the sun is casting a golden glow onto everything. This is one of the prettiest types of lighting.

      The easiest type of lighting to use as a beginner, and especially if you’re using your smartphone, is “even” light. Get out of the sunlight and take your photo in the shade where the light falls evenly across your subject. This alleviates having to worry about angles or the sun causing weird shadows on your subject.

      Once you feel like you’ve mastered the easy light, move on to more challenging lighting situations.



      My Number One Lighting Hack:

      Artificial light casts a yellow glow onto everything and causes photos to look unnatural. One of the easiest ways to transform your photos is to turn off all of the artificial lights and open the curtains to let natural light in.


      6. You aren’t editing your photos

      The ability to edit your photos gives you so much creative freedom. A good edit can transform a photo and bring out so much life to an otherwise uninteresting picture. Editing is a skill. It takes a while to get a good eye for it. Practice makes perfect!

      My favorite editing apps are VSCO, Lightroom, and Snapseed. Go download one or all of these and play around with them. If you’re new to editing apps, start with VSCO and play around with the free filters and adjustments.

      Everyone edits differently, but I personally try to edit as true to life as possible.

      My goal as I edit is to enhance the photo, but to do so honestly.

      If you ever need editing help, I frequently do editing tutorials over on Instagram! I also created an editing cheat sheet that explains all of the actions in VSCO and Lightroom and what they do to your photo. You can get it for free HERE.



      7. You aren’t in any of your pictures

      I am a big promoter of getting into pictures with your kids.

      I know how easy it is to feel self-conscious in photos. I know it’s much easier to hide behind the camera and be the one taking the pictures.

      Don’t let insecurities get in the way of taking pictures with your kids.

      Because of Allie and her heart for encouraging self-care for us mamas, I took the time to invest in myself in a few simple areas and it has helped my confidence SO much. I took her advice and invested a little bit of time and money into a wardrobe that I love. I also took some time to learn how to do my makeup and created a five minute makeup routine for myself. Those two things alone have boosted my confidence SO much. When I am dressed and ready for the day, I feel confident and am so much more willing to jump into pictures with my son.  


      The more confident you feel, the more likely you’ll be willing to get in front of the camera.

      Because we don’t always have someone else to take pictures for us, there are a few simple things you can do to take those pictures yourself. I suggest investing in an inexpensive tripod and shutter remote. These two tools simplify the process SO much and make it possible to get into pictures with your kids whenever you want!

      Smartphone Shutter Remote + Tripod

      DSLR Shutter Remote (Canon + Nikon)

      DSLR Tripod


      8. You haven’t developed a consistent photography style

      Have you ever been scrolling Instagram, seen a photo, and without looking at the name you know exactly who took the picture? This is because this person has developed their own personal photography ‘style.’

      Allie is a great example of someone who has a consistent photography style. Anytime her photos pop up on my instagram feed I know they’re hers before I ever see her name. Her instagram stories are also a great example because they always have a similar look and feel to them.

      Start a Pinterest board with photos, colors, and tones that stand out to you. Take note of the way you decorate your home or the colors you choose to wear. These things can tell you a lot about your ‘style’ and will help you develop an honest photography style that is true to who you are. You can see my Inspiration board HERE as an example.

      It takes time to develop your own style and there is a lot of trial and error. Don’t be discouraged if you try something for a few weeks and then decide you don’t really care for it anymore. You’ll find yourself continually tweaking and improving upon your style. You’ll continue to get better and feel more confident in your ability to create.



      9. You focus too much on posing or staging your photos which leads to frustrated kiddos


      Every kid is going to be different and their age needs to be considered. My biggest tip for taking pictures of your kids is to make it as easy going and simple as possible. Letting your kids just be themselves will allow you to capture their true personalities. If you let them be, you will be able to capture so many of their different emotions and their true personalities.

      Because my camera is always easily accessible, if I see something picture worthy or the lighting is really beautiful, I can grab it real quick and snap a few pictures.

      Try to limit yourself to just a few minutes and then put your phone or camera away.

      For babies, I don’t recommend trying to pose them in any specific way. Try placing a few toys in a spot that is getting good light. Let your baby do their own thing with their toys and take pictures while they play. When I do this with my son, I usually walk away with several pictures that I LOVE. While he plays I’ll occasionally make him giggle by singing a funny song or making a silly noise. For the majority of the time though, I try to just leave him alone and take pictures as he plays.

      A common issue with little kids is getting them to hold still long enough to get an in-focus picture. Try putting them in something that contains them a little more, like their highchair or the bathtub. One of my favorite places is our kitchen sink! I have taken some of my favorite photos while my son is playing during a sink bath.

      For older kids, you can make a game out of taking pictures. Another great trick is to let them do something that is usually against the rules, like jumping on the bed. When you do ask them to pose or do something specific, just be quick and don’t make them take pictures with you for too long.


      10. You don’t know when to put the camera down

      When my son was born, I was terrified that I was going to miss an opportunity to capture a moment with him. He was growing so quickly and changing everyday. I was terrified that I was going to miss something or forget something. I read this quote by Ann Voskamp and I have been so thankful for these words, because I think it has saved me so much mom-guilt.

      “All the moments a mother never captured on film – isn’t perhaps a failing, but a relaxing into fully being in that moment. They say that you can tell as much about a life by the photographs that weren’t taken as those that were. There doesn’t have to be fear of missing. Moments don’t need to be captured as much as they need to be enjoyed. There’s ridiculous freedom and glory in courage like this.”

      Be encouraged mama. Pick up your camera and capture your babies.

      Be intentional and practice taking good photos so that the time you do use your camera is worthwhile. Spend the rest of your time living in the moments with your family.

      Don’t ever be afraid to put your camera down and just plain love on your babies. You won’t ever regret being fully immersed in moments with them.


      If you’re hoping to up your photography game, I’ve created a FREE 5 day course just for you, mama! You can enroll for free today!

      Mom-Tog in Five

      Five Days to Better Mom Photography, Even if You Don't Have a Fancy Camera

      I don't care if you have a crazy expensive camera or a hand-me-down smart phone - you have everything you need to create pictures you're proud of & tell your family's story.

        We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

        Powered By ConvertKit


        *This post may contain affiliate links.*


        Hi, I’m Jessie!
        I am a wife + mama and self-taught photographer. Im passionate about empowering fellow moms to to see how incredible their everyday is and to take beautiful pictures of their kids (regardless of what camera they use). I teach moms how to apply the same techniques I use as a professional photographer to their own personal photography. 

        - Jessie

        I love new friends! Come say hi over on Instagram (@hellojessiemartin)!





        How Losing Our Baby Changed My Life, My Motherhood, and My Lens

        A guest post from Jessie Martin

        I sat there alone, sobbing, in a disgusting park bathroom. I held my camera on my knees because there was nowhere clean to set it down.

        I hated my camera a little. It didn’t matter if it got ruined now anyways. I was having a miscarriage, what was the point? It seemed pretty stupid, actually.

        There weren’t going to be any announcement pictures or ‘bump-dates’ to document. No birth pictures or newborn photographs to take.

        Eventually, I had to get up, do my best to clean up, and walk outside. I explained to the teenage girl waiting for me that I was going to need to reschedule our photography session.

        I called my husband and he came to drive me home. I crawled in the car, threw my camera in the back, and we went home to finish miscarrying and grieving in private.

        But really, a miscarriage isn’t finished when the bleeding stops. It isn’t finished when what would have been week 20 comes and goes and there’s no gender reveal. And it doesn’t end on your due date when there’s no baby to bring home from the hospital.

        Miscarriage is devastating and it feels like it will never end.

        Like many women, one of the main reasons I bought my camera was because my husband and I had decided to start trying for a baby. I wanted to get good so I could document my pregnancy and take pictures of our future kid.

        After our loss we experienced month after month of negative pregnancy tests.

        I felt angry and creatively unfulfilled, but I had a lot of unexpected extra time on my hands, so I decided to keep practicing.

        I ate up anything I could about photography. I kept taking pictures of whatever or whoever would give me the chance.

        I knew one day I would have a baby of my own and I wasn’t going to miss or take one freaking detail for granted.

        We don’t always get a straightforward answer as to why bad things happen or why we have to go through certain trials. But one thing I do know is that there are always glimmers of hope, grace, and growth in every hardship.

        My takeaway from our miscarriage and fertility issues, among other things like my brother’s childhood cancer and my job as a nurse,  is that I want to live an intentional life & take nothing for granted.

        I want to strive to be thankful every single day and enjoy all of the little things, because really, they’re the big things.


        Around the time of our miscarriage, we made the decision to boldly live our lives and follow our dreams.

        We saved every penny we could and eventually sold everything we owned, packed into a rental minivan and moved 1000 miles away. We bought some land and spent the entire summer of 2016 building our home ourselves.


        On April 30th, 2017, two years after our loss, I took my first picture of our brand new rainbow baby.

        My heart exploded and my eyes filled with tears. Every picture I had ever taken was in preparation for this.

        For him.


        This is what that creative part of my heart was made for.


        I didn’t hire anyone to come take newborn pictures. I took them myself. And I love them – they’re beautiful.

        Every day since my son was born I’ve taken pictures of him and of our family and I cherish every single one.

        They’re good, too. They aren’t blurry, grainy pictures. Whether I use my phone camera or my expensive DSLR camera, they’re images I’m proud of.

        As I write this, I’m gearing up for our precious baby number 2 and I’ve started my own business where I help moms learn to document their days and tell their families’ stories.





        How Photography Can Impact Your Motherhood

        Because I thought I may never get to have babies, I am so much more in tune to the everyday magic that is motherhood + childhood. Because I don’t know what God’s plan is or how many kids we’ll be able to have in the future, I soak up every second of every minute of every day I have with our son.

        Photography is a way that we as moms can intentionally look at our everyday lives and say “I see you. I see these blessings, I see these days and these moments, and I am thankful for them, even the hard ones.”

        Because of our story, I know what pictures I want to take. I know how important the details are and how precious this time is. I have the utmost appreciation for the mundane because it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Our everyday is my dream life.


        The act of taking a picture causes us to slow down, to see and take the time to truly be grateful. It keeps our priorities straight and gives us perspective on what’s important.

        My heart is for you to have images of your everyday that you take yourself, with whatever camera you have available to you, whether it’s an old iPhone or an expensive DSLR camera.


        I want you to see the beauty in your everyday, to live with intention and purpose.

        I want to empower you take images that you are in love with, that have value, and that tell your family’s story.

        No one else is going to take these pictures for you. No one else knows what little details you cherish most or which moments are most precious to you.



        When I first bought my camera, I had no idea what I was doing. I spent hours googling and YouTubing how to take a good picture. I taught myself everything I could and I continue to learn and seek out how to be better at taking pictures. I had no idea when I started that anyone can learn to take a good picture, even if they don’t have a fancy camera. All of the same techniques apply.

        If you love taking pictures of your kids but you don’t know how to take quality pictures or how tell a story with your images, I want to help!

        I’ve created a free photography course just for moms to help you get started!

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          Hi, I’m Jessie!
          I am a wife + mama and self-taught photographer. Im passionate about empowering fellow moms to to see how incredible their everyday is and to take beautiful pictures of their kids (regardless of what camera they use). I teach moms how to apply the same techniques I use as a professional photographer to their own personal photography. 

          - Jessie

          I love new friends! Come say hi over on Instagram (@hellojessiemartin)!

          Three Lessons I Learned the Hard Way as a Minimalist Mama


          A guest post from Lisa Avellan of Simple & Soul

          Minimalism isn’t about the stuff we get rid of; it’s about the life we uncover.  That lesson came hard and fast in my minimalist journey.

          In fact, minimalism swept up my old life with such a fury that I hardly had a chance to properly welcome the new me – you know, with a bottle of wine and a pedicure.  It was more like a pressure wash of the soul, as if to test the resilience of my resolve to take back my motherhood.

          Everything I thought motherhood would be had faded behind the constant to-dos and the overwhelming pressure to lose the weight, wear the brands, play the part, volunteer and participate, play-dates and socialization… I couldn’t get comfortable in the role of my lifetime as Mom.

          I stepped into minimalism expecting more time and energy to spend with my kids and husband and what I got was an overhaul of my identity – my soul came alive. 

          My soul awoke to all the ways it hadn’t been living fully, and it pushed me into a series of reboots and refreshes and power downs and restarts. And thank God it did because now I know what minimalism is really about.

          There was a lot of stuff we decluttered and donated, and we were free of the excess, clutter, and overwhelm in our home.  But I also found freedom from living in that place of expectation and comparison and performance.  It was hard, really hard – still is sometimes – but these three have been the most grounding and liberating experiences minimalism has given me:

          3 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

          1.     I am only this moment.

          When I detached my worth from the things I owned and my need for validation from out there I had to sit with my soul in its rawest moments. Exposed and tender, I battled guilt for having abandoned it for so many years and shame for having believed I wasn’t worth more than the things I owned or activities I planned.

          It was in this process that I learned I can’t be anything other than what I am in this moment.  I spent most of my moments either in shame or regret of the past or in worry and preparation for the future.  I was missing the life happening in front of me, the only moments I could do anything with.

          I can only be this moment, this breath God has given me. I began asking questions like who am I in this moment? What can I bring to this present that will matter in the next?

          Every moment is a possibility for the soul.   That means this moment – any moment – is sacred space to become fully present; aware of the opportunity for something really amazing.

          2.     I become whole by emptying myself.

          I had to learn what whole meant for me. Before minimalism it meant fitting in, receiving validation from others, and being self-sufficient. Simplifying showed me those beliefs were the cracks where my joy and purpose leaked out.

          The more I emptied drawers and cupboards and toy bins I felt renewed, filled up with a whole spirit of simply becoming myself.  It turned out, the security I’d been searching for by buying and doing and comparing was within me the whole time. It was buried underneath all the things I filled my home and life with.

          The joy of surrender – ceasing to resist the spirit within me – was the key to becoming the mother I hoped I could be.  The pouring out was filling the cracks with light.  Not only was I able to be present and available for my girls, I was confident that the light-filled cracks mapped the way to the center of my best self.

          3.     I am not perfect.

          I didn’t realize it, but I was striving for perfection as a mother.  I was determined to spare my girls the struggles that burned inside of me.  I’d never say a negative word about my body out loud, but my internal voice body shamed me constantly. I’d plan the perfect birthday party and justify the cost later. I’d always be happy and willing to help but inside I was depressed and introverted out.  I determined I’d never show my vulnerabilities to my girl, for fear they’d adopt them for themselves.

          Perfectionism was killing me. Inside, I hated my body, I spent money we didn’t have, and I couldn’t admit that I needed space and quiet to recharge.  But I thought I had to be perfect to give my kids the mother they deserve.

          Minimalism taught me to embrace my imperfections, to find the lessons in them. I stopped being afraid to fail and stepped into not getting everything right so that I can get right on grace.

          Getting rid of the things is a tool to recover what’s been inside all along. The life we hope for isn’t out there waiting for us to do enough or be enough to have it, its right there – under that list of to-do’s and weight of expectations.

          It’s in the moments we least expect, when we open ourselves to experience the now, the present, and the perfect imperfections of becoming minimalist mamas.

          Packing Your Diaper Bag the Minimalist Way

          A guest post from Kelsey Van Kirk of Simply, Life On Purpose

          Something that can feel really intimidating and challenging to do is practice minimalism as a mama with a kid (or four!) in tow.

          When it’s our job every day to show up and be responsible for small people who haven’t yet learned how to care for and fend for themselves, it’s easy to go overboard thinking we need to do and have #allthethings in order to keep it together as a mom.

          Case in point: the overstuffed diaper bag!

          I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a poor mom hunched over, lugging a ginormous diaper bag filled to overflowing with who knows what, while carrying a baby carrier and grasping her toddler’s hand as she simply tries to make it into the store for some groceries.

          Poor, sweet mama - I just want to run up, take that diaper bag off her shoulder, give her a big ‘ol hug and tell her she doesn’t need to carry all this weight around with her through motherhood!

          This overwhelmed, overburdened picture of motherhood has become the commonplace expectation for many women - and ladies, it needs to stop!

          We think that, because we are moms, we have to live up to Mary Poppins-level standards by being prepared for everything and ready to handle any possible calamity with a sweet smile and snappy song.

          (Random side note: can we all take a deep breath and remember ourselves that Mary Poppins wasn’t even a mom!!)

          We’ve grown to believe that being “supermom” is the standard of expectation….and anything less would mean that we are less.

          And so, we pack in more and take on more, trying desperately to be more for our kids and our families.

          That is, until the weight breaks us and we completely fall apart (which is NOT what abundant motherhood is all about, friend!)

          So, back to the point...diaper bags. How does one approach packing a diaper bag with a “less is more” perspective, so you’re prepared with what you’ll need, without being overburdened by anything unnecessary?

          I’d say the answer is by following these three guiding principles:

          1. Pack only what you’ll need and use

          This, in my mind, is kind of what minimalism is all about….tuning in and being mindful to only give space in your life to the things that are necessary, useful and loved.

          Take a few moments to mindfully consider what you actually need anytime you go out with baby in tow.

          Better yet, maybe think about it like this: if you were stranded somewhere without your diaper bag, what are the things you’d be seriously missing?

          Make a quick little list of the staples you want to keep in your diaper bag at all times, that way getting out the door with your kiddo(s) isn’t a bigger ordeal than it has to be.

          2. Don’t let fear or worry drive your decision-making

          Something I’ve found as a mother myself, and in observing other mamas, is that too often we allow our decision-making in motherhood to be driven by fear and worry.

          We want what’s best for our kids (and honestly, for ourselves too) and the idea of being in scary, uncomfortable or inconvenient situations isn’t pleasant.

          So, we’ll often go overboard trying to avoid any possible unpleasantness by over preparing and overpacking….you know, just in case.

          Friend, let me ask you how many times those “just in case” moments actually happen?

          Let me ask you something else: have you proven yourself capable of making it through those “just in case” moments, relatively unscathed?

          Here is the truth: you will never be able to predict and foresee the future, so stop trying!

          Being mindful and prepared is one of the hallmarks of purposeful motherhood, and I highly recommend it.

          Just don’t let fear and worry steal your peace and make you do crazy things….like pack enough stuff in your diaper bag to last you a full 2-week vacation!

          3. Learn to let go

          We don’t live in a perfect world. Your kids aren’t perfect, you aren’t perfect, and your diaper bag won’t always be 100% perfectly what you need every time.

          The sooner you can learn to let go of the things you can’t control, and be okay with showing up and doing your best, and can trust in your ability to do hard things and push through challenges when they arise…..the happier and lighter you’ll feel as you continue to journey through motherhood.

          It’s time to dump that back-breaking diaper bag out, and let it all gooooooo!

          Diaper Bag Essentials for the Minimalist Mama

          Now, since I know that the reason you clicked on this post is because you really just want someone to tell you what to put in your dang diaper bag, I’ve got you covered ;)

          Here’s a quick checklist of things I recommend packing to make sure all your bases are covered without being excessive.

          • Keys, wallet & phone

          • Small toiletry bag for mom (chapstick, hand sanitizer, female “supplies”)

          • Diapers & wipes

          • Changing pad

          • Outfit for baby in a large ziplock bag (to put soiled clothes in)

          • Burp cloth

          • Nursing cover (if breastfeeding)

          • Bottle with water & ziplock with formula (if formula feeding)

          • Snack for baby (if solid feeding)

          • Water bottle & snack for mom (snack bars or trail mix are great)

          • Pacifier (if you use them)

          That’s it! Of course every mama, baby and family are different, but this is a good checklist of the basics that will see you through on an everyday basis while running errands and taking care of business with your little ones in tow.

          What about you? Are there any diaper bag essentials you love and swear by that didn’t make the list? Share with us in the comments below!


          To help you get started on your journey with purposeful simplicity, click here to download my FREE Simplicity Starter Kit, a workbook and resource guide designed to help you simplify your life today so you can experience more peace, purpose and joy every day.

          Kelsey Van Kirk is a blessed wife, mama to four beauties, writer, podcaster, and joy-seeker on a mission to help women embrace purposeful simplicity in everyday living. She is the Founder of Simply, Life on Purpose, Co-Host of The Purposeful Home Podcast, and a lover of good books, good wine, and salty sea breeze. You can connect with Kelsey more on Facebook, Instagram or in her online community, The Simply Life on Purpose Sisterhood.

          How Simplifying Saved Me from Drowning in My Own Life

          A guest post from Kelsey Van Kirk of Simply, Life On Purpose

          The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
          — Hans Hofmann

          Gripping the edges of the farmhouse dining table my husband had built me a few years back, my eyes were scrunched tightly shut and my mind raced a mile a minute.

          “So this is what it feels like to go crazy,” I thought, as I desperately tried to grab hold of anything that would keep me tethered to the here and now.

          Gasping sobs ripped right through me, and all I could do was be there, in that moment, surrendered to the unbidden and intrusive emotional tidal wave that I’d been suppressing for a very long time.

          “Why now? I can’t fall apart like this right now.”

          As I was experiencing this untimely unraveling of all the stress, overwhelm and exhaustion that had been building up inside of me for months, my precious daughters sat quietly in the other room watching their 3rd episode of the Magic School Bus for the day.

          “How did I let this happen? How did things get so bad? Where had I gone wrong?”

          I’d always been the girl who had it together. I could be counted on to get things done when others couldn’t, picking up the slack when others dropped the ball.

          For years I’d been successfully juggling laundry and dishes, bath time and tummy time, grocery shopping and nursing sessions, birthday parties and date nights.

          I knew how to get the most out of my time and energy, planning, preparing and running our life and home as effectively and efficiently as possible.

          After I had my fourth baby, I vividly remember laughing and responding to people who questioned how I kept up with it all by saying, “Well I don’t have much choice, do I?!”

          Somewhere, at some point in my life I’d come to believe that my worth as a daughter, a friend, a wife, a mother, and a business owner was directly tied to my performance….and that anything less than keeping up with it all was unacceptable.

          “Well, I don’t have much choice, do I?!”

          After a lifetime of martyring myself on behalf of everyone else’s needs, desires and expectations of me, I finally broke.

          Rocking back and forth, a blubbering mess of tears, chaos and disillusionment, I knew things couldn’t go on like they had for another minute.

          I was overloaded, overwhelmed, exhausted and depleted after trying to live on the fumes of constant demands and endless responsibilities.

          This wasn’t the life I wanted. This wasn’t the person I wanted to be. I was running myself into the ground, as everything and everyone around me suffered because of it.

          And I’d had enough.

          Something inside me changed that day, despite having pushed through so many others like it before.

          There’d been days that made me feel like a worthless failure as a wife and mother, and days that made me feel so hopeless that I thought about what it would be like to drive my car into a tree.

          But on this day, I realized that there was no way this was the kind of life God intended for me to be living...and the only reason it was the life I was living was because I’d been choosing to live that way.

          All along, I did have a choice….and I’d been choosing poorly.

          After years of trying to tread water all on my own, I knew I would need some help figuring out how to simplify my very full, very complicated, very stressful life.


          Need help figuring out how to start simplifying your own life?

          Grab my FREE Simplicity Starter Kit, a workbook and resource guide designed to help you simplify your life today so you can experience more peace, purpose and joy every day.

          The day after what I chalk up to having been a bona fide nervous breakdown, I called my chiropractors (who also happen to be functional medicine doctors). I told them I needed help getting my body and mind healthy...that I needed them to tell me exactly what to do, breaking it down as simply as possible, and then I would do it.

          I also made some phone calls to clients letting them know I needed to step back a bit, and make some changes to the way I’d been working up until that point.

          My husband and I had some tough conversations about how I’d been feeling and the parts of daily life that felt overwhelming. Then, we came up with a game plan to simplify our life and create space for me to heal so we could move forward as a family.

          For too long I’d lived without proper boundaries in nearly every area of my life....and the first step in choosing to walk down a different path, was learning how to honestly communicate with both myself and others.

          When I look back at the way I was living life before….making decisions and saying yes haphazardly, never questioning why I was making the decisions I was or giving a second thought to the cost of my decisions, it’s easy to see how I wound up where I did.

          What I’ve learned through this whole crazy journey is that the way we choose to live our lives is entirely up to us….we always have a choice.

          And I believe that choosing to embrace purposeful simplicity, letting go of anything that is holding us back or keeping us stuck, is the best choice we could possibly make.

          As I systematically rearranged my priorities and eliminated the non-essentials from my life, I found that I finally had the space I’d been craving for so long.

          I had breathing room, margin, and exactly what I needed to truly flourish in every area of life. By choosing less, I’ve been able to make room for more of what matters the most.

          Things like getting enough sleep at night, nourishing my body with real food, drinking plenty of water, moving my body daily, breathing in fresh air, soaking up vitamin D, basking and worshipping in the presence of my Heavenly Father, laughing and playing with my kids, dreaming with my husband, going on adventures to see the world, and making an impact in other people’s lives through the work I do each day.

          These are the things that fuel my life now. I feel lighter, healthier, and free.

          Life feels exactly the way I want it to, and while it’s not perfect, it’s real, and it’s full….filled only with the things that are essential, and good, and life-giving in this season.

          It was Leo Tolstoy who said, “There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth,” and I think I’d have to agree with him.

          So here is my challenge to you if you ever find yourself overwhelmed, stressed out or stuck in a life that no longer feels like your own:

          Have the courage to let go of anything that is taking away from what matters most in your life.

          Give yourself the gift of time and space, whether that means calling someone to stay with the kids while you go sit on a park bench and watch the clouds pass by, or taking a few days off from work and having a staycation to refresh your mind, body and soul, reconnecting with the people and things that matter most to you.

          Ask yourself the important questions and give yourself space to breathe, think and respond.

          What do you want? What matters most to you? Why does it matter? What is essential and necessary in your life right now, and what could you let go of?

          Life is too precious and too short to go one more day stuck in broken patterns of sacrificing the things that matter most.

          When you make the brave choice to simplify, saying no and letting go of the non-essentials, peace and joy will overflow your heart and quench your thirsty soul unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

          I’m not promising it will be easy. In fact, it will likely be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done in your life.

          But it will be worth it. Because you are worth it. All you have to do is decide to start, and there will never be a better day to start than today.

          To help you get started on your journey with purposeful simplicity, click here to download my FREE Simplicity Starter Kit, a workbook and resource guide designed to help you simplify your life today so you can experience more peace, purpose and joy every day.


          Kelsey Van Kirk is a blessed wife, mama to four beauties, writer, podcaster, and joy-seeker on a mission to help women embrace purposeful simplicity in everyday living. She is the Founder of Simply, Life on Purpose, Co-Host of The Purposeful Home Podcast, and a lover of good books, good wine, and salty sea breeze. You can connect with Kelsey more on Facebook, Instagram or in her online community, The Simply Life on Purpose Sisterhood.

          How Minimizing My Kids' Baby Stuff Made Me A Better Mom

          A guest post by Lisa Avellan from Simple and Soul.

          I stood in the garage, hands on my hips and my weight shifting from one leg to the other. What if, I asked myself, I just never come in here again? That might work. I’ll just forget we have a garage at all.

          Eighteen months ago, at the start of this minimalism journey, I said this was the place I’d never touch. This was the forbidden area – the corner with my kids’ baby stuff. It wasn’t bothering anyone, neatly stacked with Tetris precision over there… no need to worry about it. Minimalism doesn’t need to go that far.

          Yet, there I stood in the center of our garage, all other garage clutter removed, and I realized I’d reached a chasm in my compartmentalized philosophy: is partial freedom enough?

          It was time to get serious. Not because minimalism is about getting rid of all the things, but because my “never-get- rid-of- stuff” was holding me hostage in my own motherhood.

          If I’ve learned anything from minimalism it’s that minimalism questions everything. It’s not shy to call out the stuff I’ve refused to surrender. I had to choose: go further, deeper, and wider with my minimalism than I thought possible, or cut this trip short, pick up my chains, and go back inside.

          The impossibly small onesies, the party dresses hardly worn, the first family photo outfits, and bins of all the things my babies used for every ‘first’ up to this point of their lives. Along with the cradle, the sensory toys, the high chair, swing and bouncer, and swaddling bags and blankets. Wraps and carriers, footie pajamas, and handmade summer dresses from Great Grandma.

          Were these the things that my freedom teetered on?

          I stood on the precipice I didn't know if I'd ever be ready for, and yet as I neared the ledge I felt a confidence, an acquired sense of surety that came with the months of minimalism prior, that this call to go over the ledge wasn't going to break me.

          I felt safe, even, as if this was the point of the journey – travel the slow and steady road, growing confident and strong, until it arrives at the cliff of complete transformation. I was ready to go over, but how? And to what end?

          I remembered a quote I heard a couple years ago.

          If you’re falling...dive.
          — Joseph Campbell

          My feet neared the edge, and I had to make a choice. Will I fall over the edge, or will I dive?

          Will I fall into this next leg of the journey and miss the entire adventure in the chaos of flailing limbs and closed eyes? Or, will I dive with purpose, heart first and head strong, noticing the wild and free nature-songs and the artful sediment layered beneath the surface?

          Minimalism, the removal of distraction and clutter in order to fully love all that remains, is always a dive.

          It’s a lump-in- your-throat surrender to be present and vulnerable and fully here, in the moment.

          If you’d like to go deeper in your minimalism, I created a great resource to guide you. Click here to download your Home & Soul Declutter Kit!!

          That day I dove into my kid’s baby stuff, and these are the lessons I learned about letting go:

          Gratitude is the heart’s salve

          My pursuit of minimalism has pivoted on gratitude. It's my centering point and as I approached my kids' baby stuff, my impossible to minimize stuff, I drew near to gratitude.

          I knew that if I faced this impossible task unprepared I'd lose heart. My emotional attachment to the tiny hats and itty bitty skinny jeans and Mary Janes that never stayed on their chubby feet would outpace my resolve to let it go. Gratitude was my healing salve.

          Gratitude eased the pain of letting go with joy - a joy for having had it and joy for the babies that once were so small. Gratitude replaced the ache of change with the comfort of provision. It reminded me that memories are not kept in things, but in the heart.

          Blessing others with it keeps the love alive

          After packing up the boxes of clothes and toys for donation, I bent over to rest my head against them and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. Overwhelmed with what I was about to do, I could only pray gratitude for the opportunity to give these clothes a second life.

          I still hadn't decided where I would donate these precious things, but I knew that giving it away would keep the love alive. My hope was that my gratitude for my ‘impossible to let go of’ stuff would bless some baby girl the way it had blessed both of mine.

          Eucharisteo - thanksgiving - precedes the miracle.
          — Ann Voskamp

          The miracle came a few hours and an Instagram post later – a church friend expecting her first daughter wanted it all. Just like that, the love would transfer from my mama heart to hers, from my babies to her baby girl. A blessing for this sweet family, and for me, a mother releasing the past while watching a new baby girl grow up in it all.

          This is how we keep the love alive.

          Holding on to our kids' pasts distracts us from who they are becoming

          Every time I thought about my kids’ stuff in the garage my heart would ache a bit. Where has time gone? Where did my babies go? I'd lament the growing up of my kids. Then I'd lament that I was lamenting because it felt ungrateful.

          I don't want my motherhood to be focused on what was; I want to be a mother who is un-doing to witness my children’s becoming.

          Involving kids in minimizing their own stuff is healing and (sort of) helpful

          I admit that, for sanity's sake, far too many times I prefer to do things myself rather than involve my kids. But when it comes to minimizing their stuff, I've found involving them in the process heals my heart and helps me process it all.

          My girls loved looking through their baby clothes, asking who wore what and if they really were that small once. Their playful laughter and running off to get a doll to put the baby booties on filled the room with a healing joy for my weary heart.

          What they lacked in actual helpfulness, they helped me understand the practice of simplicity isn't heartbreaking; it’s heart-freeing. It's a process fueled by love.

          Now I see minimalism for what it really is. It is nothing... nothing but love, my friend.
          — Courtney Carver

          Letting go creates space for hope

          Kids need space and kid stuff steals space.

          A flagship principal of minimalism is creating physical space in our homes. This white space becomes a refuge of restoration and hope; two things clutter manages to steal from us. Letting go makes our home a place to dream and discover our true self with freedom.

          But it's not just physical space; it's mental and emotional space that our kids need. I believe that my kids will benefit more from my mental and emotional clarity of being a present and purposeful mom, than by the bins of baby stuff stacked in the garage. I believe their security and self-image will flourish in a home with less distraction and self-discovery.

          My kids won't remember the day we gave away all but a few of their baby items, but I have more hope than ever that the space we created that day will impact their childhood (and my motherhood) in infinite ways.


          Everyone has their own cliff that minimalism will bring them to; it’s part of the journey to freedom. It’s a safe journey, of love and gratitude and hope. My hope is that if you are nearing yours, you will dive. It's where the best of minimalism is found.

          Click here for an awesome resource to help you dig deeper into your stuff and your soul. The Home & Soul Declutter Kit is almost 30 pages of purposeful decluttering and soul discovery tools. Minimalism isn’t about stuff, it’s about soul.

          Lisa Avellan believes minimalism isn’t about stuff, it’s about the soul. She writes at Simple & Soul, a blog to help you simplify life and discover your best self. She is a stay at home wife and mom of two in California.

          You can find Lisa on Facebook and Instagram.

          How Budgeting Set Me Free

          A guest post by Sami Womack from A Sunny Side Up Life  

          We were drowning. I thought we must be the only family who was struggling to keep up. The overwhelming stress had become normal. Paydays came and went, but there was never anything to show for it. Our seemingly perfect life was crumbling all around us. Our lives were flying by so fast that it felt like we were stuck on a never ending treadmill. There was never enough money to get ahead.

          When I thought about the first 7 years of our adult lives and how we had spent our money, all I saw was debt. Credit cards, medical bills, delinquent taxes, 3 pieces of real estate, a $900 a month truck payment, bad credit scores, and no savings...that’s what we had to show for 7 years of hard work. That’s it.

          I thought family life would be easier than this. I thought my husband having a great job with an above-average income would guarantee us a great life. We spent our dating years dreaming about our future. We’d live in a gorgeous house, we’d have a few kids, he’d work, I’d stay home, and we’d live the American dream. And here we were living it, but it felt more like a nightmare than a dream. What were we doing wrong? Why couldn’t we get our act together?  

          I wasn’t asking for much. I didn’t want a mansion or a yacht. I didn’t expect designer clothes or a fancy sports car. I just wanted the “normal” stuff. I wanted a house I could be proud of, dinners out whenever I felt like it, cute clothes for my kids, and to pay the bills on time. I didn’t feel like we were living an out-of-control lifestyle. In fact, I was certain everything we were doing was normal because everyone around us was living the exact same way. We felt like we must be doing something wrong, because we were trying so hard, and still failing.

          We started to question the norm. We started to pay attention. All around us were people who had accepted struggle as a necessary part of life. All around us was “Thank God it’s Friday!” “Well, I mean...everyone has a car payment.” “Oh well, I’ll just charge it.” and my favorite of all… “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” What!?!

          Life’s a bitch….and then you die?

          How could this be our life? This couldn’t be it? I wanted to do more than just struggle...and then one day die! I had dreams! I wanted to travel, I wanted to send my babies to college with no worries, I wanted my husband to retire while he could still walk, I wanted more out of my life than to just get through it! But how? This treadmill that had become our life was moving so fast. If I stopped running for even a split second I knew I’d fall flat on my face, but I was tired. I was done. I couldn’t run anymore. I felt lost and broken.

          God had promised me abundant life. Well, where was it, because this sure wasn’t it!
          It wasn’t like we just had a rough month, or happened to over-spend every once in awhile. It was never ending. There was no light at the end of our tunnel. There was no tough-it-out for a few more years. This was our life. Save for retirement? Ha! We just wanted to keep food on the table!

          We hit rock bottom, and we hit it hard. It was dark and it was cold. My husband and I held tight to each other because that’s all we really could do. We were lost with no map to show us which road to take or where to turn.

          One day I had finally had enough of survival mode. What I did next became a catalyst moment in my family’s life. That day changed our entire future.

          We hit pause. We decided to stop running. We stopped letting life just happen to us, and we took control.

          I grabbed my computer and logged on to our online banking. Overdraft fees, $5 here, $10 there, charges for things I didn’t even remember buying. Everything was so disorganized. Guessing how much we had left for groceries, never knowing what was still pending, or what would be taken out next. I had avoided digging in deeper for long enough.

          I needed to know where our money had really been going. I went back through the last 3 months of our spending. I cried when I saw all our financial mistakes written on that notebook paper. I grouped up the purchases into categories – gas, groceries, restaurants, etc. This brought our areas of overspending out into the light and helped me know where I needed to cut back.

          We almost completely stopped going out to eat, we started packing our snacks while we ran errands, we opted for family game nights instead of nights out, we stayed home more, and basically just learned how to slow down our life. We found a light of hope.

          After the first month, I realized that there was power in knowing. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is worse than the reality of the truth. Once I shed some light on how out of control our money really was…I actually felt better. I still wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but I had at least decided to stop playing the victim. I stepped up and took responsibility for our situation. We got ourselves into this mess...and we’d get ourselves out! I had struck motivation!  

          We were shocked at how easy setting up and following a budget really was, and over the next few months we got better and better at telling our money where to go. We set up a plan for paying off our $490,000 worth of debt. We got serious about our new lifestyle. We kept our heads low and minded our own business for awhile. We ditched our living-for-the-weekend mentality and started working with some real goals in mind.

          We sat down as a couple and wrote down our dreams on a goals sheet. We boldly wrote down our debt-free goal date. Then several items we’d love to buy one day in cash. This felt silly at first, like two big kids writing a letter to Santa Claus, but it ended up being one our biggest sources of motivation and a great way for us to stay connected as a couple.

          We kept pushing through our mountain of debt. We had a third baby and found a whole new level of motivation. Our family was complete, and we were now going on the motivation of giving our family a bright future.

          We felt free. We felt in control. We were off the treadmill. Our life was quiet, calm, and full of hope.

          (Note: I’ve put together a bonus resource at the end of this article that will help your family get started on this journey to financial freedom.)

          Today, almost 3 years later, we’ve paid off $225,000 in debt, and the only thing left is our home! Our budget is simple and painless now. It only takes about 15 minutes every payday to plan out how we’ll spend our money, and then we spend the rest of our life just living! We don’t worry about money, and we don’t pray for payday.

          We spend less than we make, and actually live more comfortably now on 60% of our income, than we ever dreamed of living before. We have 5 months worth of living expenses saved. And that goals list I mentioned early...we’re crushing it! All while keeping 3 kids fed, and 2 of them in diapers!

          A budget is telling your money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.
          — Dave Ramsey

          Budgeting is the reason we’ve been so successful with our money. We stopped leaving something as important as our future to chance. We got intentional with our spending, our goals, and our entire life.

          At first, I hated the word “budget” because I thought it meant never having fun again, and constantly living with a worksheet in my hand. The truth is, budgeting isn’t just about worksheets and paying off debt. Budgeting is simply being intentional with your money, and not letting life just happen to you.

          It’s about getting out of survival mode and regaining your freedom. It’s more planning, and less worrying. It’s more joy, and less stress. It’s more being prepared, and less being panicked.

          When we’re raising our family we can’t just fly through life anymore. We have babies to raise, dreams to chase, and a life to enjoy. We only get one shot at this life, we shouldn’t spend it scraping by in survival mode.

          I believe young families need a budget more than anyone.    

          If you’re ready to make some changes that will lead your family to financial freedom, and make survival mode a distant memory, I’ve put together a simple 5-day free email course to help you get started on your journey.

          I want this life of freedom for you! I want you to know that you don’t have to struggle and live in never ending survival mode. I want you to see the light at the end of your tunnel. I want you to have hope. I want you to get off the treadmill, chase your dreams, and discover the abundant life that is waiting for you!




          Sami Womack is a budgeting coach, and the blogger behind
          A Sunny Side Up Life. Her passion is inspiring women to live abundant lives through budgeting, intentional living, and positive thinking. She offers a jump start into budgeting with her free 5-day email course.

          Sami is the wife of her high school sweetheart, Daniel. They homeschool their three daughters, and call East Texas home.

          How to Let Go of Perfection in Motherhood

          This is a guest post. Please scroll to the bottom for info about and ways to connect with the author. 

          Thanks to the internet we see many different pictures of motherhood. We see the Pinterest mamas that throw elaborate parties and make fruit pictures on plates at snack time. We see the mamas who craft and plan unit studies for their kids, either over summer break or as they homeschool. We see the mamas that limit screen time and live outside with their kids- rain or shine. We see the mamas with organized closets and capsule wardrobes and homemade green cleaners for their bathtubs.  

          Those are all good things. Do those things, mamas. Take the pictures, write the words, and pin it to Pinterest. Celebrate what you do well and what you love. Doing what you love isn’t the problem.  The problem is that somewhere we got the idea that every good mama does all of those things. We heap on guilt when we don't have enough hours in the day to prep veggies and make homemade pennants and cook from scratch and ramble through the wild for six hours. Motherhood becomes an exhausting list of things we can't do instead of a celebration of what we can do. 

          A few years into motherhood when I had our second baby I realized that who I am as a mama is a reflection of who I am as a woman. That means I have the same limits and gifts, the same hours in the day, the same emotional makeup as I had before having kids. Having children didn’t give me unlimited resources. 

          To be the best mama you can be you have to simplify your expectations. You have to be realistic about what you can and can't do, what you want to do and don't want to do, and what your family priorities are. You don't have to do it all, have it all, or be it all- as a woman or a mama. 

          But in a world of blog posts about magical summers and classes teaching you how to entertain your one-year-old, where do you start? How do you find who you are as a mama? 

          1. Know what you love. There are things about motherhood that I adore; there are also parts that I endure because they have to be done. Know the difference. Purposefully plan to do the things that you love in motherhood. Read the stories or build the forts. Make homemade ice cream or go on walks. Play cars for hours or sew your own dress-up costumes. Be yourself in motherhood. You can't cut back on the diapers or the potty accidents or the discipline problems but you can build activities that you love into your daily routine. 

          2. Drop your Pinterest expectations. You don't have to have a perfectly decorated playroom (unless that's your thing, of course!). You don't have to buy Etsy supplies for birthday parties or have your children in coordinating outfits every day this summer. You can eat a regular popsicle instead of a homemade one from a watermelon mold. Life can be simple and life can be sweet. It can also be totally worth living even without winning any awards. 

          3. Look to the past. I never remember my mom hanging up a summer bucket list. There's nothing wrong with it if you like that but if it's pressure to perform?  Take it down. We spent our summers riding bikes outside, rollerskating in the basement, and working in our garden. There was food and love and tired kids at night. Isn't that really the goal? I'd rather my children learn how to live well than that life be well-designed for Instagram photos. (Although I will totally take both if that's an option!)

          Visit your library. Watch some favorite movies. Teach your kids to pick up their toys. Let's break from performing as mamas and return to embracing being mamas. We are not entertainers. We are facilitators. We are educators. We are showing them how to live.

          Leave perfection. Mother on purpose. 


          Lisa Hensley is a writer and podcaster who dabbles in other creative pursuits. She and her husband have three boys and live in a college town in rural Kentucky. Her online spaces encourage women to thrive as mamas and grow as creatives.





          Connect with Lisa!