By strange coincidence, divine orchestration, or more likely something in the middle, we each moved and downsized this year. Maddie moved in March after a three month apartment renovation, and Cord moved in May after 6 weeks of literal tri-state living between Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. On Valentine's Day, in the midst of renovation, Maddie happened upon Simple Matters at Barnes & Noble completely by mistake. Two weeks later, we'd both read it cover-to-cover. This content literally couldn't have been more timely or more in-sync with our values. We took different things away, so now, we'd like to each share a little in this conversation about simplicity. We'll each be reflecting below on how we're practicing this value in our new, smaller spaces. (p.s. this post is unsponsored...like Erin has no idea we wrote it. We don't actually know her but totally admire her practices.)
In Chapter 2: Simplifying, Erin talks about how fickle we can be in our pursuit of simplicity. She writes:
"I don't find this inconsistency troubling, nor hypocritical. I find it encouraging. We can, each of us, seek out a simpler mode of doing things. We can do so without abandoning our life as we know it. We can...quite happily contradict ourselves. We can choose to brew coffee in a French press (no electricity! no doo dads!) and then work all day on computers that allow us to transmit our words across oceans. Just because some elements of our lives are complicated doesn't mean that every element of our days needs to be complicated. We get to choose."
As a recovering extremist, these words opened the doors I'd shut on minimalism and essentialism. These simplicity movements had seemed too exclusive for me before, as I perceived them to require a certain personal and interior style I didn't trust, and an intense devotion to a lifestyle I felt I couldn't sustain.
As a designer, I'm skeptical of trends, and the whole white walls, sparseness, monochromatic and raw-wood-everything left me feeling the surface-y cold illusion of control and discipline. I knew there was depth beyond the aesthetic illusion that really resonated—a philosophy of intentional reduction, abstraction, and elimination, all coming from a place of self-awareness and contentment. If I wanted to go there though, we'd be talking about less complicated consumption of food and clothes, less waste, fewer chemicals, less dependence on the grid and technology, a lighter schedule, fewer commitments, and on and on. This holistic approach always felt so overwhelming and impossible.
Then I read Erin's words, and realized I could just start. And really, I needed to. We were moving to a smaller apartment, and found out simultaneously that we were adding a little person to our family. Taking everything with us, and continuing our life habits without change wasn't an option.
So, we just started, and ended up downsizing our kitchen possessions by half. We went through closets, office supplies, medicine cabinets, everything. Following Erin's tips about eliminating duplicates, parting with gifts when their sentimental value far outweighed their practical or aesthetic value, and considering what we actually use versus what we kept just because we had space, made simplifying our possessions honestly effortless.
Now that we're in our new space, I'm so grateful to feel lighter, and hardly notice the square footage we left behind. The early chapters of Simple Matters helped us let go. This is the part of simplifying that I love, that comes naturally. The later chapters talk about Cooking & Entertaining, Cleaning, and Thriving. That's the content about simplifying our lifestyle, and it's the ongoing challenge for us. Here's where giving myself permission to contradict myself is powerful, because it really can be overwhelming. I'm nowhere near a Ziploc-free life, and composting for a garden I keep seems like a far-off dream. Farmers markets and locally sourced animal products were shifts we were able to make quickly, and we're learning to be more conscientious consumers in general. Basically, we've started, and if we want to, we'll get there.
I'm also giving myself permission for it to look however it will. For me, a green wall feels every bit as tranquil as a white one, and the patterns on the tea china I inherited from my grandma make me feel grounded. I'm focusing on the value of feeling light and peaceful, learning to consume responsibly, loving and using what I have, and remembering a space feels good because of WHO fills it, not WHAT fills it. I think that's really Erin's point. The true intention behind simplifying is to give space and time to what really matters. And that's worth it, no matter how long it takes and how overwhelming the task may seem at first. I'm so grateful she opened the door for me.
When Maddie handed me Simple Matters and said "READ" I knew something serious was going to happen (she knows I'm not much of a reader). As I sifted through the pages, what I found was more than an idea of minimalism, it was a way of being. Erin's words were a reminder of a life that felt very comfortable for me. Growing up, my home was filled with fresh flowers and clutter-free surfaces. My mom artfully made the most of our 1930's home and English garden. We scrubbed the floors by hand with hot water and vinegar. The dish washers were the people who ate, not a fancy May-Tag. We made pancakes from scratch and our meals were full of color. One year my dad decided we were only using one trash bag a week, everything else must be either recycled or composted. We thrift-ed for rugs and pillows. We found old farm chairs and painted them year after year to freshen up a space. My parents were very focused; they thought of the environment, our health, our home as one and the same. My childhood felt simple.
I gained these ideas, from outside influences like big box stores, that all of that simple stuff was wrong. That I needed gadgets for my kitchen, cleaners for every different surface, pillows for every season, jewelry for every style. I began to feel bogged down by the insane amount of STUFF floating around.
When I picked up Simple Matters what I found life changing wasn't the step-by-step guide of how to purge a closet (though I totally partook). It wasn't the ideas for organizing messy drawers (again, couldn't resist). It was the solid reminder of the choice, the action of SIMPLIFYING.
Simplifying, for me, isn't having nothing in my space, it isn't even really about the space. It is the reminder to be conscious in all areas of my life. It's knowing what I am buying and why. What I am doing and why. Where I am going and why. What I am posting and why. What I am thinking and why. What I am saying and why.
Erin's book inspired me to really look at my WHY. It was a reminder to me to know what I value. I value a space that is cared for, products that are simple, fresh air and open windows, deep conversation over dinner, from-scratch apple muffins in the oven on Saturday morning, a growing awareness of more sustainable living, products made from real materials like wood and glass and the knowledge that not everything is how I want it, yet I can choose to make the most of it. Simple Matters gave me permission to find my own way through the process that is living with less and inspired me to commit to make conscious decisions in every area of my life.
Simple Matters is the perfect book for you if you are planning a wedding, starting a family, moving to a new space, ready to get rid of stuff or simply looking for inspiration. We love the idea of putting to practice the parts of people's philosophies that inspire us. You may want to adopt all of Erin's ideas or some of them. We both find ourselves saying "what would Erin say about this?" Sometimes we decide to adopt her techniques, and other times we simply admire them.