About Me,  budgeting,  decluttering,  design + style,  thrifting

Blooming in rented soil

Hi, I’m Jenny and I’m a closet real estate junkie. I devour episodes of House Hunters and read shelter magazines like 4 walls and a front door are going out of style. And I regularly nickel and dime our carefully-crafted monthly budget to death with “just one missing piece” or “a quick $11 tweak” to rooms in our house that I desperately want to love but feel hamstrung in so doing, because they are not actually mine.


(The irony of the very title of this post is not lost on me, because no matter whether our housing checks go to first mortgage of wherever or rental company, inc, aint none of us taking it with us. But bear with me.)

I love decorating. I love finding something and giving it new life with a fresh coat of paint or by introducing it to an unlikely partner and achieving  style cohesion.

When the Nesting Place dropped a couple years back, I was all over that pretty little tome, even though until this morning, I’d actually only read it in black and white on ye trusty old Kindle. (Kinda ups the game to see her genius laid out in brilliant color. My bad, Myquillin.)

family 2

I eagerly incorporated her battle cry of “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful!” into every square inch of our cute, if beige, rental house.

This may not be my house, my internal monologue mused, but it’s going to look like it, gosh darn it. Even if I can’t change the wall colors or tear out every inch of (perfectly nice, but still horrifying with small children) carpet, or Joanna Gaines me some decent sight lines between the kitchen and dining room.

dining room

So I mixed and I matched. I scoured Saver’s and Goodwill and the clearance racks at Home Goods. I’ve even curb-picked a few gems from our neighbor’s ample front walkway. And over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve turned this place into our home.

family room

Bringing a couple more babies home into the mix hasn’t hurt to make it feel more official, either.

And yet, every month when I write that rental check, I have to tamp down a little surge of shame, or maybe it’s more like wounded pride.

This isn’t where a thirty-something family of 6 should be. We should be homeowners by now. When will we be grown ups?

Even just writing that out, it looks so ridiculous to me. Because it is ridiculous. We have clean water and secure jobs and healthy babies and 300 days of sunshine per year. And we live in a safe and walkable neighborhood that I have come to love. I can walk to the grocery store, our gym, and, quite recently, a craft brewery which welcomes children and goldfish crackers. Because Denver!


Of course, when I’m throwing my monthly mental pity party as I sign the check, I’m not usually thinking about the choices we’ve willingly made that have gotten us here, choices we would never dream of altering, even if we could. Living in Italy. Traveling abroad. Being open to 4 little souls who are even now mingling Legos and mac and cheese into a builder-grade paste which will cement itself to the side of my (free! hand-stained and refinished by us!) kitchen table.

I wouldn’t trade what we’ve done with our first 6 1/2 years of marriage for anything. And yet there’s still frustration as we crunch the numbers.


God has been so faithful. He continues to be so faithful, even as I question His path for us, frantically searching Redfin and Zillow for new listings as I nurse a sweet baby to sleep. I could be doing spiritual reading, or even staring blankly at a wall, and it would probably be better for my heart and soul than clicking on “just one more” listing, devouring data about square footage and interest rates and HOA fees like an addict.

I’ve some work to do in the contentment department, and I know there needs to be a day of reckoning for my heart which seems to vacillate wildly between “let’s eat rice 11 times a week while we save for a fantastic down payment” and “I just need to spend $75 on some patio furniture for our front porch so this feels more like home.”

Can’t have it both ways, Jenny.

Can’t have that Pinterest-perfect curated space of your dreams, updated as the styles and seasons change, and be hitting those financial goals you set with your patient and probably saintly husband.


So here’s my new missive: waiting. Waiting in joyful hope. Waiting in expectant peace, and believing that one more load of crap from the thrift store or the Target Dollar Spot is not going to make this place more home to us. And waiting on God’s timing and His clear directive that our next step is His next step.

I’m better at doing. But I can’t “do” my way into the kind of patience that grows gratitude. Which is a pity, really, because I’m rather handy with a hammer and spray paint.


  • Suzi Whitford

    Hi Jenny! Whenever I have a minute free I always love reading your posts. I just had my second baby, well, not just, she is 8 weeks old tomorrow. And how you talk about your kids are so loving! Thank you for being an example to all of us mommies.

    My hubby and I rented for the first years of our marriage and ‘own’ a home now. I say ‘own’ because the bank really owns the home with our mortgage ;). There are so many pros and cons to renting and buying.

    Neither one is perfect. They are good at different stages in life.

    Just tonight we were reading Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscovering Jesus – and he made a good point – Our Lord and Savior owned nothing but the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet. Why are we so consumed by stuff? But… I can’t help as a mommy that I want to make a pretty nest for my little ones.. I see you’re doing the same!

    Time to feed my baby. xoxo

  • Laura

    Well I’ve just got to say your house is beautiful! You’ve done a great job, and I love the thriftiness. Waiting will make the day you have your own space that much sweeter! And I definitely enjoy some Joanna Gaines too 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hey Jenny! I love your blog! So many posts speak right to where I am…including this one! I am also a “renter” and cringe when our hard earned dollars go to someone else’s mortgage each month.

    Also-I know you! We were at FUS together as Grad students! I now live in CO too(but up north in Windsor) and I would love to connect! What is your email(for some reason I can never get it from the website).

  • Suz

    Hi Jenny,
    We have been renters for 12 years with five little ones and know the disappointment you feel. However it will happen in His time. Facing the prospect of another rental hunt with 5 kids I asked St Jospeh for a house of our own and in a few weeks that will be a reality. So don’t give up hope.

  • Emily

    I am a total real estate junkie too! It’s like an addiction or a hobby. Still the time will come and there are perks of renting which I remind myself of everyday. I don’t have to fix anything when it’s broken etc. Anyways I really loved this post as always! Thanks for keeping it real.

  • Ellen Johnson

    I love Fixer Upper and basically everything else HGTV has to offer, but my one beef is that I feel like too much of that can breed discontent with our own homes, whether we’re owners or renters. The reality for the vast majority of us is when we can finally afford to buy a place, you won’t be ripping everything out to create clean lines and open concept living. You’re going to live in it and slowly and reasonably chip away at things. Anyway, your place looks lovely, Jenny. You really have an eye for design!

  • Olivia Swyden

    Hi, Jenny! I’ve been following and loving all your posts, but this one in particular made me realize how much I have in common with you! My husband and I have been married nearly 4 years with 2 girls, the first being a honeymoon babe. We are lucky enough to own a home, though it was a foreclosure, which means we’ve been doing projects ever since we got the keys. I spend every day looking around figuring out how I can switch up the decor to make it more JoJo, and had a spell of addiction to Zillow myself. I decided to delete the app during Lent because God told me I needed to be happy with where we are at and trust in His timing! I love reading what you have to say because it can feel really lonely being a stay at home mother. Good stuff and I’m thankful you write your honest thoughts for the rest of us to relate to you! God bless ya!

  • Emily

    Nearly every one of your posts I feel could have come from my own brain. I’ve decided you’re my spirit mom-blogger, lol 🙂 #itsarealthing

  • Denise

    My husband and I just talked last night about how we’re in our mid-30’s, with kids, also married six years and isn’t a house supposed to just appear during that time? Turns out it doesn’t! And now We’re committed to buying nothing new for this space, because even if those bookshelves work now, they might not in our (hopeful) future house. It’s tough realizing that while friends were buying homes I was taking trips to Dubai. So…. there’s that. No regrets, but it’s also really darn annoying too.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      yep yep yep, I so feel you! And I’m inspired by your commitment to stop buying stuff for your temporary space, such a good call on for me.

  • Kathleen

    I was 37 & my husband 43 when we bought our home together (after 5 years of marriage). After we got married, I moved into his dilapidated bachelor pad – it was awful! I so know how you feel & our rented space was 1,000 times worse than your rental. In a moment of desperation one day, I bought this book & exactly 9 days after starting a novena to St Joseph we put an offer (that was accepted) on a beautiful home in our town. I had cashed in on a 401(k) from a previous job for the down payment. We put down 10%. I’ll be praying for you! You’ll get there, do not fret! Favorite Prayers to St. Joseph https://www.amazon.com/dp/0895554461/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awd_0HP.wb4HJ0944

  • Maria

    I also cashed in on my 401k to help with the purchase of our new home. Yes I took a loss on it (wasn’t much anyway, but it helped) but on the other hand, we had our first house to move into with our new baby and another one on the way. Also,being a veteran really helps in getting the loan.

  • Valerie

    All that I can say is…solidarity! We are a family of eight and we have rented the entire 12 years of our marriage. We had a voluntary career change a few years ago, so we started back over at the bottom of the pay scale. The area where we live is kind of spendy ( not as bad a s Denver though.) Trying to save up a down payment while also feeding, educating, and clothing six littles has pretty much been impossible. I’m thinking at this point that by the time we do have a down payment saved up, our oldest two will be really near college age, and we may just help them out with college instead of buying a home at all. That is kind of a hard reality to swallow for someone like myself that has been wanting a home of our own for a long time. I frequently have to remind myself that my soul is probably really craving an eternal home in Heaven and that yearning just spills over into my physical life by wanting a home here on Earth. Praying for contentment for both of us! You have done a great job creating a beautiful home for your family!

    • Jenny Uebbing

      whew, that’s hard! And I love your reflection on the craving for permanence being soul deep…I think there’s something to that. Solidarity, sister.

  • Ari

    I like your house. We “own,” aka send all our money to the bank. It’s costly, and even though it’s “ours,” we have to save up to do all the little projects we want to do, and it doesn’t look like I’d love it to yet. I have a little bit of envy for my renting friends because when something breaks, it’s not 100% their responsibility. They don’t have to worry about yardwork or homeowner’s association dues, or the neighborhood going to pot, they can just pick up and move without as much attachment. I think it’s our American “dream” that tells us we must do X, Y, Z within certain amounts of time, when in reality the economy kinda sucks and it may not be the wisest. While we have a house and many of our peers don’t, we don’t have children and want them. While we live in the suburbs, many of our friends live in trendier more modern areas in the city. There are truly pro’s and con’s to everything. It’s hard not to compare.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      I’ve definitely thought about that when the plumber comes to call, or when the bathroom starts leaking into the basement. It’s nice to have it happening on someone else’s watch, while it’s hard to be sending money towards someone else’s mortgage. You’re so right about the comparison game.

  • jeanette

    Jenny: My husband went to 12 schools before his freshman year in high school. Moving was a way of life. So, when we got married, we bought a home and closed escrow about 2 weeks before our wedding date. It was a total dump (but the nicest of the 5 dumps the realtor showed to us). We stripped that house down to the frame and remodeled, room by room, while occupying it the whole time. We both had full time careers,too, so we were spending all of our free time at it. I learned how to hang drywall, lay tile, and put on a roof. I painted most of the house myself, inside and out. I learned how to build a deck and fences. My husband did all the hard and yukky stuff, like tear-out and plumbing. When we finished, we adopted our kids. It wasn’t long before we felt we needed a bigger place. We found one, but then decided to remodel again instead of moving (not kidding). I did the design myself, my husband did the drawings to submit to the city (he had studied architecture at one point in college). We added on 1,000 square feet, only this time our kids got to live through it with us (and I was homeschooling them at the time). We lived there for a total of 10 years before moving on to a new location. It was the longest my husband ever lived in one place. He got to feel the permanence of it (even though it changed a few times in structure). So, no matter where you are living, whether a rental or your own home, I think making your family feel like it is the place they call HOME is most important.

  • Colleen Duggan

    After five years of renting, my husband and I bought and moved into our very own house this past month. It’s been one of the most significant accomplishments of my 30’s (which is saying something because I’m gonna be 40 in 10 months). You can do it; I feel your pain. The wait is sweet and worth it, even if it is momentarily painful. Good luck! I’ll offer a prayer for a small windfall and a dent in your down payment.

  • Angela

    I would encourage you to talk to a realtor and a loan officer! Zillow and trulia and realtor.com are fine to start but until you get the real numbers down on paper you might not know what you are capable of. These sites also don’t have the most current or always accurate information like an agent does. With down payment assistance and first time home buyer loan programs and FHA options, there’s something to help almost anybody. I think a lot of people rule it out to quickly. It only takes a meeting to figure out what it would cost you. And depending on the market, biting could be cheaper per month than renting. Add in the tax break and the equity you gain from your investment and it looks even better. I know it’s daunting but you might be able to do it easier than you think. As an agent, I can refer you to someone to talk to if you’d like!

  • Ellen

    I love your ideas and dedication to making a home for your family. It looks like just from the responses to this post that renting is much more common than is often thought. I lived in rented homes all my growing up and didn’t realize there was any stigma attached to that until after college. I leaned allot from my mom about how to make a place feel like home, much like you are doing so beautifully for your family.

  • Liz

    Jenny, you ought to be commended. You’re being too hard on yourself, with all this “I should be a grown up” thinking. It can be great to own a home, but not if one truly isn’t financially ready.

    My hubs is a CFP and if I’ve heard one story, I’ve heard a million, all about some of the people he’s met who reside in elegant, richly-appointed mansions and the dirty secret most of them are harboring: a mountain of DEBT. You see, many of those people who have residences which look like they could be featured in Better Homes and Gardens are actually over-extended, living well beyond their means, and losing sleep over whether or not they’ll be able to pay their medical bills or replace their car that died, now that they’ve blown so much on those marble countertops and mosaic back-splashes that they just HAD to have in their fancy dream kitchen.

    You know what? It’s not worth it. You might have to wait a bit longer than others to get into a home of your own, but when you do, you’ll feel grateful that you didn’t destroy your and your children’s financial stability in the future, just for the sake of procuring a really fleeting sense of satisfaction/pride that you’ve “moved up” in the world and surpassed the Joneses.

    So, good on you, and hang in there. It will come in due time.

  • Rachael

    I ordered the book as soon as I read this post. We’re a military family and we’ve always been renters. There’s always been a tension in me between wanting to be content wherever home happens to be, and longing for a “forever home” that we can make our own. It’s taken — still is taking — me a long time to figure out ways that I can make whatever place we’re in OURS instead of waiting for a perfect house or a perfect time. I have learned to appreciate how little changes can have a big impact. I love the way you’ve decorated your place.

  • Cami

    We are almost 40. We have 3 children so far and JUST bought a house. We had 4 moves in 3 years due to following affordability, steadily moving further south in Colorado after fleeing southern California’s insane cost of living. In our case, we bought this house paying just $40 more a month than if we kept renting. Except while renting, we had to wait several weeks for them to fix anything. We had a broken garbage disposal and unusable side of a sink upon moving out. They never came to replace anything. So a family of 5 was using a half of a kitchen sink, no disposal. Not impossible but we thought we were paying for an operational domicile. Instead it was a leaky sprinkler box here, ant invasions, evidence of mice, carpet beetles there, mites in the carpet, funky patches of paint… And a total loser property management with 1 star reviews online. If you’re in a rental with pleasant owners who take care of the property, that’s a win! We broke the lease early and now just pray someone rents it quick because we are financially responsible until that happens. Scary. But we also had to buy as we were getting squeezed out of the market with prices rising. I feel grateful we found something. The kids love it. Lots of Joanna Gaines projects swirling in my head but it will take time… As all things do. For what it’s worth… I’ve been to your house, Jenny and found it to be very charming. You do a great job and it’s the best rental house layout I’ve seen. And I’m with you. Carpet is just ridiculous between the bodily fluids that emerge from small people and the bugs that love to call it home. Gag.

  • Diana

    I really enjoyed this! We own our home but I still struggle with my interest in home decor (and HGTV) when it all doesn’t really matter, you can’t take it with you and all. Thank you!

  • Natalie

    Hi, Jenny. I love reading your posts,and I’ve been out of touch for a while. I’m late to the conversation here, but I also live in Denver and…my husband and I tried to buy a home for over a year with no luck. (Because DENVER.) It has been hard for me to realign my personal aspirations to have, as you put it, a perfectly curated space that we “own” — reconciling that with the reality that we cannot really afford to buy in this city or the metro area anymore. Praying on the subject and assessing my material wants vs. needs helped me realize what is most important. A recent death in the family also made me realize that all the houses, money, and Pinterest perfection cannot cure cancer or guarantee a long or happy life. Sure, it’s nice to have those things but they in and of themselves are not, and should not, be my primary focus.

    Thank you for the thoughts. Thinking of you and your beautiful family.

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