The Tidy Life: 7 Daily Habits from the Author of Simple Matters

Over the years Erin Boyle has been chronicling her life in a tiny apartment and sharing her insights with us on Gardenista (she’s the site’s former associate editor, now a contributor) and Remodelista. We’re happy to spread the word that she’s just come out with a book, Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More (Abrams).

While this year’s New Year’s resolutions are still viable, we asked Erin to share some ideas from her book by offering us a glimpse of her daily routine.

Photography by Erin Boyle, unless noted.


Above: Erin blogs about living in tight quarters with her husband and their toddler at Reading My Tea Leaves. Portrait by Nicole Franzen.  Simple Matters is available from Amazon for $13.66.

1. Washing Up

I like to start the day with rituals that set the tone for the hours to come. For me, that’s drinking a leisurely cup of coffee followed by morning ablutions. I’ve noticed that one of the biggest clutter magnets in a home is the bathroom, and have found that if you’re looking to reduce your belongings, it’s a satisfying place to start. Once you’ve gotten rid of half-used bottles, unloved makeup samples, and unpleasant-smelling soaps, you’ll be left with only what you need and enjoy using. Right now my shower soap is balsam-and-orange-scented, a souvenir from our summer trip to the coast of Maine. It makes bathing feel luxurious.

Bedroom basics: At home in Brooklyn with Erin Boyle, author of Simple Matters, just out from Abrams | Remodelista

Above: Other than a simple lamp, Erin’s bedside table—a wooden crate—is kept clear for her morning cup. And instead of a humidifier, there’s an old-fashioned pot of water on the radiator.

2. Getting Dressed

This time of year, my uniform is a sweater and jeans. I keep a pared-down wardrobe for lots of reasons, but chief among those is ease of choosing an outfit. Owning only what I love helps me to feel confident in most everything in my drawers, and maintaining a simple color palette means nearly everything matches everything else. My goal is always to get dressed in less than five minutes.


Above: Two wardrobe staples; intentionally having few options not only frees up closet space but, Erin says, keeps her from feeling overwhelmed by choice.

3. Leaving for Work

Before heading out of the house in the morning, I collect any bits of recycling that might have accumulated and put them in the market basket that I keep next to the front door. After delivering its contents to the bins outside our building, I carry the basket with me to work. At the end of the day, it gets filled with last-minute grocery or wine purchases. Also always with me? My refillable water bottle.

Erin Boyle's market tote | Remodelista

Above: Erin’s catchall is a made-in-Morocco Market Basket, $58, from Brookfarm General Store (also see it below).

4. Grocery Shopping and Window Shopping

I buy most of our food in the bulk section of the grocery store and decant it into glass jars. This saves money and also keeps big cereal boxes and other packages out of the apartment. I do a weekly shop, but I tend to duck into our local grocer most days for a bunch of cilantro or kale or other fresh vegetables.

Beyond groceries needed to supplement dinner, I try to never return home with much of anything superfluous. It’s easy, especially in a city like New York, to be distracted on your way home. There are sale racks and inviting boutiques at nearly every corner, not to mention proliferating big-box stores. I enjoy shopping as much as anyone, but I like to mull things over before making a decision, and I set up limiting factors for myself when it comes to the things I’ll bring into my home: If it’s vintage or handmade and serving a particular purpose, I might justify making a space for it. Otherwise, I mostly stick to window shopping.

5. Coming Home

Re-entry is perhaps the likeliest time for the day to get chaotic—bags get tossed on the floor, scarves and hats and gloves can fly in 10 directions. We keep a crate by the front door for wrangling shoes (and usually spin it backward to stall a shoe-loving toddler), we hang our coats on hangers in our only closet as soon as we take them off, and we stash winter accessories in a canvas tote hanging from a hook in the closet.


Above: The family shoes are contained in a wooden crate in the entry.

6. Tidying Up

In our house, we’ve established a habit of frequent cleanup that, I’m happy to report, is beginning to be embraced by the tiny human in our midst. We consciously don’t own a lot of stuff, and always put things away before moving on to the next task. (For me that even means stowing my laptop charger when it’s not in use.) We keep things like craft supplies and table linens in wine crates. And even if a new set of our daughter Faye’s toys come out during dinner prep, it’s nice to start the evening with a blank slate.

And before turning in the for the night, I make sure the apartment is more or less tidy. This is because in our space if there’s a mess, we’ll be able to see it from our bed, and also because I never want to deal with clean up in the morning. A good dictum for a healthy marriage is to never go to bed angry; I’ve found that never going to bed with dirty dishes in the sink is almost as useful.


Above: Erin’s daughter’s toys all live in crates under the living room furniture.

7. Staying Sane

Over the course of any day, there’s a high likelihood that these routines might get shifted or need to change or otherwise get cast aside. As they say, life happens. To that end, here’s a grain of salt to swallow along with what I’ve written: Do your best. If a dish goes unwashed or a pile of blocks remains on the floor, chalk it up to a busy day and move right along.

There’s more. Here are but a few of our favorite posts by Erin:

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