life in a tiny apartment.

September 17, 2014

Tip #109: Channel the nuns.

Or Fraulein Maria.

My point is: have less, don’t worry about the bathroom tile.

Remember that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria skips down the poplar-lined lane, swinging her one measly carpetbag in one hand and her guitar case in the other, belting her little heart out? You know it. Maybe you’ve even reenacted it. No? Only me?

Eleven years ago, when my sister Cait had just graduated from college and I was 19 and still smack in the middle of it, we took off for a two-week trip to Italy. I had managed to get myself a paying internship for the summer and so she convinced me that the proper thing to do in advance of the start date was to empty my paltry bank account and book a ticket to Italy. We flew on Swiss Air. I took many blurry photographs of the Alps with my film camera and relished sips of ginger ale mid-flight.

We ate pasta every single day of our visit. A Spanish soldier fell in love with Cait on the train ride to Siena. I dirtied my feet wearing an old pair of Birkenstocks before they were trendy and then let the salty Mediterranean scrub them clean in Corniglia. We swore that one day we’d both honeymoon in Capri. We had an explosive fight on the Spanish Steps in Rome. I remained mute while Cait stumbled through her Italian in city after city, until—finally—she forced me to ask “Which way to the leaning tower?” in Pisa. In Italian. I stammered through “Dove” before someone took pity on me. We ordered drinks at outdoor tables and wolfed down the free peanuts.

It was the first time that I’d left the comfort of my stuff to find the wider world on my own. Of course being with your big sister is nothing like being alone, but the point is that we were free, with only our backpacks to weigh us down.

We made our way from city to city, staying in grimy hostels and pristine convents. Yes, convents. There were curfews and starchy bed linens on twin mattresses. The only decoration was a cross on the wall and a bad painting of one or another saint.


I’m not suggesting that the only key to happiness is giving up all of your worldly possessions and strapping on a backpack. Though it certainly seemed to work for Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed and all those saints.

I am suggesting that when I think back to times in my life when I have felt truly happy, they’ve been moments like these. Where I had a bag full of clothes to wear, a roof over my head, food in my belly, but not so much at all in terms of stuff.

Here’s the crutch: I genuinely like stuff. I appreciate good design. I enjoy keeping a beautiful home filled with beautiful things. Not lots of things. Nice things. You understand.

But there are also actual moments when it can feel as if my windowless, yellow bathroom with the missing floor tile and the peeling tub is the thing between me and happiness. That if only my bathroom was white tiled with a claw-foot tub, and a spotless shower curtain that everything in the world would be right.

And that, my friends, is bonkers.

I needed to say that. To myself. And to all of you.

Here’s a pact to swing our metaphorical leather valises with gusto. To shirk some of the burden of the homes we live in as being tied to our happiness. We are more than the sum of our possessions; more than white-tiled walls.

Tiny apartment survival tips #1 – 108, right HERE.

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  • Reply Haley September 17, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for writing this today! It was exactly what I needed to hear. 🙂

  • Reply Liz September 17, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    The way you write is so beautiful! I love reading your blog and always being inspired to live with less and appreciate the smaller things that I take for granted every day.

  • Reply Kellie Stupart September 17, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I've just returned from a week in croatia with the same feeling albeit it extremely shorter. I have the bug, all I want to do is travel yet when I am home I care far too much about silly material possessions. Your post has put everything into perspective in a nutshell. To hell with symetrical tiles and bed throws. here's to travelling the world with a backbag and the direction of the unknown! x

  • Reply Janna Greer September 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Right on.

  • Reply Lou September 17, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Wow. Well said. I needed that! In the middle of a house build from hell and it's good to remind myself that it's all just stuff. And paint colours. And pipes. Thank you! And I love the stories from Italy. L x

  • Reply Anonymous September 17, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    I have been thinking about this a lot lady while in the midst of moving.

  • Reply Marlene Sauer September 17, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Wonderful read! It can be a slippery slope from "I like stuff" to "stuff = happiness" — thank you for this reminder! And, I have absolutely reenacted many many scenes from The Sound of Music. 🙂

  • Reply Sweet Love and Ginger September 17, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    It's so true I am fighting this feeling now in my own apartment. It's hard. I'd really like a normal sized closet in the actual bedroom, and room to fit a table for both my fiance and I to eat dinner, but these things are not what is standing between me and my happiness, and I need to remember that.

  • Reply Elizabeth September 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    So true. I needed this reminder as I sit in my messy house putting the baby to sleep while my toddler systematically pulls out every one of the toys from his shelves. Repeating "I'll miss this someday" to myself. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Reply Alexa September 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    cheers to this.

  • Reply Magdalena Viktoria September 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Really great read and message!

  • Reply Carol on Carroll September 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    in the same way that traveling and the experiences it brings produces happiness, couldn't you say that the experience of living everyday among beautiful things produces a similar measure of happiness? not to be a blatant materialist! (really, i'm not.) but travel costs money, as do tiles and tubs. i'm just saying, maybe it's not so bonkers. 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous September 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Reply Katie McCauley September 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Just lovely.

  • Reply Mrs. White September 17, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    My very favorite post of yours ever. 🙂

  • Reply Kelsie September 17, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    That was lovely. Thank you.

  • Reply Sofia H. September 17, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Your blog is always a huge inspiration to me. It's beautiful and well written and I just want to say that I love it!

  • Reply Amanda September 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm


  • Reply netanya September 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Perhaps my favorite post of yours. Partly because I completely relate to believing that it's just some subway tile or an Eames chair stand between me and happiness. But also because of the line about you and your sister having "an explosive fight on the Spanish steps." HA! Reminds me of when my big sister and I traveled to Israel…after a few skirmishes while there, it was during a layover in NY on the way home to LA that we finally had it out, and she stormed off to the boarding line, only to have to see me again in a few short minutes in the assigned seat next to hers. The absurdity was enough to make us laugh a little and diffuse at least some of the tension… 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous September 17, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    All I really need is a:
    Song in my heart,
    Food in my belly,
    And love in my family!

  • Reply Aude September 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    What a wonderful note today Erin. It's been a real pleasure to read you more often lately and to be introduced to your sister's blog too. Your posts are always interesting me but I like it the most when you draw from your life experiences for inspiration. The writing of that post was so sharp, as unburduned as the approach to life you invite us to embrace.

  • Reply Ellie September 17, 2014 at 4:49 pm


  • Reply cloudgathererholdmedown September 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    beautifully, truthfully and eloquently put.

  • Reply Allison September 17, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    When my parents moved our family to Spain for three years, most belongings went into storage. Even at 15, I remember loving our pared down living.
    The recent posts have been especially lovely. Hope to see you guys soon!

  • Reply Becca - Rebecca Atwood Designs September 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm


  • Reply Jacquelyn Clark September 17, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you for putting into words what I've been feeling lately. It's easy to get caught up in the consumption that comes with blog world, but ultimately these things are not what makes any of us happy! A great reminder. And I kind of like your yellow tiles 😉

  • Reply Kari September 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you. I really needed to hear this.

  • Reply Anonymous September 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Funnily, this post brought to mind my younger self's love of Fight Club: "The things your own end up owning you."

    Thank you for the reminder, Erin. It's too easy to get caught up in all the things.


  • Reply Anna | Gone Banannas September 17, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Erin, this post could not have been more timely. Have you read 'Everything that Remains' by The Minimalists? I am reading it right now and it has not only inspired me to shed some unnecessary "stuff" both mentally and physically but it has been great about forcing you to think about all the things you have deemed you absolutely NEED. This post really reminded me of that and it is wonderfully written – as always 🙂

  • Reply Rebecca D. Martin September 17, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Hear, hear! Wonderful reminder.

  • Reply Anonymous September 17, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    As always, so beautifully written.
    (I'm with Jacqueline…I kinda love your yellow tiles and can picture them in that little shingle house with peegee hydrangeas.)

  • Reply Roxanne September 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Erin, your blog is such a lovely retreat. Your honest words were deeply felt tonight. Thank you. xo

  • Reply Melanie McSwain September 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    such a fantastic post! I can whole heartedly agree with this, I've even had the exact same feelings about my bathroom, & kitchen for that matter. I have been reading so much in minimalism lately and though I probably won't be becoming a minimalist anytime soon it is extremely eye opening.

    Melanie | Melaniface

  • Reply Sophie Isobel September 18, 2014 at 2:39 am

    Yes Yes Yes! Oh i adore your blog Erin and this post was just what I needed to read. So good. xxx

  • Reply Angy is my name. September 18, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Fudgen 'ell…. I bloody well needed to hear that. Craziness to ever get to that spot where the sum of ones stuff in any way possible sums up ones life… Thank you. Thank you. ♥

  • Reply Anonymous September 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    This could not have come at a better time. Thank you.

  • Reply Anonymous September 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I thought I had pared down so much stuff when I moved last year. Now that I face another move, I look at the boxes that have remained unpacked for different reasons and think that maybe I should just sell them on ebay as "surprise boxes" like the surprise packs we used to buy as kids.

  • Reply Joanna NL September 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    For me interior really matters. When I open the door to my apartment, it feels like the place puts arms around me. You can travel the world but you need a place to come back to…HOME!

    • Reply Erin September 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Totally! I couldn't agree more that my home is a sanctuary, a place I love to return to, a place to fill with things I love. But it's just not *everything*, you know?

  • Reply laurab September 18, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I think this is one of the loveliest posts you've written! So honest and brave and bare! Like the simple convent rooms! Love.

  • Reply Julia (Color Me Green) September 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    my bathroom is white tiled and the tub is clawfooted, but still…the tub is peeling and the corners of the bathroom left unmaintained by previous tenants are disgusting… and so on. it's nyc, and we have learn to look away and try to not let it bother us, as much as it does.

    • Reply Erin September 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Ah, yes. Peeling tubs as metaphor for life!

  • Reply Jill September 18, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Love this post! I am so attached to my stuff, and to comfort, but my bf and I have recently been talking about moving…but we don't know where. So I came up with this idea that we'd sell everything, rent an RV and travel across the country until we find somewhere that just speaks to us. Crazy?

  • Reply stonebloom September 18, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    I need to thank you for writing this, because it is so beautiful and absolutely true. I think every complete joy I've ever had or yearned for has been tied to this exact type of simplicity, though I've never been able to pin it down. Less is truly more. Thanks for making it so clear 🙂

  • Reply Sharyn September 18, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you – I needed a reminder and you've put into words exactly what I needed to hear and how I feel.

  • Reply laurendoeslife September 19, 2014 at 2:20 am

    This is awesome. So true. So lovely. Thank you for the reminder that we seem to need every single day in this world.

  • Reply Mahallia Ward September 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    "…strength doesn't lie in wealth, strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers…" I just love this. I definitely spent many hours reenacting the Sound of Music as a kid, and sometimes I still do…Thank you for sharing your sweet sister trip to Italy and for reminding us that whatever the most important ingredient to happiness is, it is definitely not stuff. I think one can certainly find happiness in making a home, and creating beauty, but getting hung up on the one or two or ten things we don't have is exactly bonkers. Thank you for your clarity 🙂

    • Reply Alison September 19, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      So true!! Thank you for saying it out loud and sharing. What I needed to hear this week!

  • Reply Sally September 20, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Keep the yellow tile! It's good for you 🙂

    When I was traveling in Central America, I realized the beauty of functionality. Does the toilet flush? Does water come down from the showerhead? Is there a place to wash your hands? All the rest is superfluous, which of course you know but the yellow tile is just a nice reminder.

  • Reply Anonymous September 21, 2014 at 1:06 am

    These types of posts are why I love your blog. I feel the same way about my bathroom and home furnishing sometimes, but I also have a lovely garden, functioning appliances, a loving husband, and a baby on the way. Could life be any better?

  • Reply Txell September 22, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Oh Erin ! I feel the same sometimes… not with the tiles of the bathroom but with the floors or other silly things… We have to go back to the essentials.
    By the way, I like the yellow tiles, at least they are originals from the building !

  • Reply theoldmilkcan September 22, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    I just loved this post – I have a screaming pink and mint green 1950's bathroom to contend with and often gaze with horror at the pink flecked concrete floor thinking perhaps the reason for my every unhappiness lies in the peeling faux silver lamps. Do you I have actually discovered the absolute best way of combating this is to get on Pinterest and look it up – I have discovered that there are people out there who are so passionate about original 1950's screaming bathrooms that they pay big money to fish out the fixtures from those who do have the luxury of redecorating. It doesn't make it okay but it sure takes out the sting!

  • Reply Anonymous September 23, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you for this!

  • Reply abby September 24, 2014 at 5:14 am

    I love your sometimes stories so much. This one, in particular, stuck a chord or few with me. Thanks for sharing Erin – always! Also, I traveled to a third world country alone once, just me and my backpack; and as crazy as it may have seemed to my friends and family, it really was so easy and comfortable and simple in so many ways. Such a lesson.

  • Reply Anonymous September 26, 2014 at 1:43 am


  • Reply Moniblu September 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Thank you for this, I think you are right that we all know it deep down, that these things aren't what make us happy or not happy, but sometimes it's easy to convince ourselves that we could be even more happy if everything was 'perfect'. I'm perfectly happy without perfection, but sometimes it is good to say it out loud.

  • Reply John Donovan September 30, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    When you downsize you have to really evaluate your life. What matters the most to you and what is just clutter that has accumulated over the years? It's hard to let things go but when you realize that most of your stuff is just stuff you value what you keep all the more.

  • Reply MontgomeryFest October 1, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    beautiful! when we moved from our spacious 2 bed/2 bath in dallas to a closet-less 1 bed/mini bath in Brussels, life outside of our home took over. we traveled so much that our home was for washing clothes til the next trip. it was perfect.

  • Reply Jennifer Greco October 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    It is bonkers! I feel exactly the same way (much to the chagrin of my family).
    Sometimes my love of simplicity, small places, minimalism and lack of owning too much stuff makes me feel like there's something wrong with me. Reading the words of people like you is music to my ears! 🙂

  • Reply Inge October 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I so agree! And since moving into a big enough, but never updated 70s house with brown tile and dark lathed ceilings everywhere (with no plans to change it because the home is not ours (we rent it while it's for sale)), I know this to be true all the more!

  • Reply Renae October 17, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Thank you, thank you!! Perfectly said! I had to read it twice… You inspired me to pull out my sound of music record today and think of some of my favorite things. Staving off the winter blues pretty well!

  • Reply Johnson Williams November 6, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Really awesome!!! Your blog is very nice. It is very helpful to all. So much truth in this! Recently I purchased one apartment from and I was feeling so discouraged about my space not being decorated enough after living in it for 5 months. Thank you for this post. I needed the reminder. I love the way you always write with love and calmness in your voice, and this post is a perfect example of that.

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