polishing and other odd jobs.

September 14, 2021

On my first day of work in this apartment without accompaniment from child or spouse or anyone at all, I oiled our wooden cutting boards and wooden spoons. It’s a job I usually leave to my children—a small Montessorian task of care and stewardship and attention that’s quiet and purposeful and can occupy multiple minutes on end. Sometimes I need tasks like this for myself, too. There’s something to be gained from the ritual and the process, and the rich smell and satisfaction of board butter sinking into wood that’s thirsty for it.

Next I dumped laundry detergent from one tin to another. For six months I’ve wrestled with the too tight lid of an old jar that I thought would be nice to stash detergent into. Some things do not work out as planned and it takes half a year to recognize it and half a minute to rectify it.

I went through Calder’s onesies-turned-shirts and refolded them to better fit in the wine crate where we keep her clothes. In a bout of harried DIY enthusiasm at my parents house in August I dyed a pot of stained onesies with the pale greenish yellow pigment squeezed from the last of summer’s Queen Anne’s lace. The color itself is lovely, a kind of soft chartreuse, but I’m an impatient dyer. I didn’t carefully strain my plant matter and my scouring wasn’t enough to rid the cotton of its spilled milk splatters and the resulting color does more to highlight stains than cover them. Sometimes this is just the way things go. At least now the spotted onesies are lined up in a row.

I’ve spent today answering emails I’ve neglected and putting plans into place for the season ahead. With any luck I’ll be emptying the dishwasher before the lunchboxes come home. Mostly I’ve been relishing the still and quiet and the opportunity to begin to repair the frazzled nerves that have been relentlessly splintered and patched together for the past 18 months.

Wishing repair and struggle-free laundry detergent and wood butter for all of you, too, if you need it. While I have you, if there are topics or musings or things you’d like to see more of in this space as we head into a new season, let me know. Tis the time for drumming up gift ideas and hunkering down and finding the light. Here for you and here for me.

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  • Reply Megan September 14, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    So so happy for your moment of meditation and the reminder that my board butter is very low. I’ve found myself going through your archives on soups and warm meals, kids snacks, winter bundling, and general festive autumn and winter “decorations”. Would love to see/hear your thoughts on any of these topics.

  • Reply Danielle September 14, 2021 at 4:58 pm

    Hi! Dedicated reader and fellow new york city parent! Here are some topics that I would love for you to touch on if any of them speak to you at this point in your life:
    -any and all Rose Pearlman/home craft/home arts.
    -supplementing schoolwork at home (how you encourage your kids educationally at home to keep up with the nyc public school pace)
    -continuing to move forward during this part of the pandemic, as a self-employed woman
    -why you choose to run a small business, particularly as a woman and a mother. Whether you’re happy working for yourself and would recommend this to women in the future. Was it worth it? Would you ever consider something else?
    -how you encourage your kids of different ages to play together in a small home (I have multiple kids in 600 sq ft)
    -Do you ever think about leaving nyc? What keeps you here when so many families are choosing to leave.
    -how you deal with family members who don’t understand a more scaled back approach to consumerism, particularly when it comes to kids (assuming you have family members who feel threatened by a less-is-more/making/do attitude in the home).
    -do you have any financial goals you’re working towards- owning property, emergency fund, vacation fund, student loan repayment etc. How have you learned to handle all that/balance that in a city as expensive as ours?

    • Reply Emma September 15, 2021 at 5:05 am

      how you deal with family members who don’t understand a more scaled back approach to consumerism
      I second this. I’ve spent a lot of time with my parents over the last couple of weeks. It’s been mostly lovely, but more time together has also made it clear that ‘stuff’ is an area where we have vastly different views. I find it so difficult to talk to them about my choices in a way that’s respectful of their approach while also asserting my own boundaries.

    • Reply Sara September 16, 2021 at 8:39 am

      So many great ideas here. I second all of them!

      I’d like to add: how you manage toys, toy storage, choosing new toys.

      How you organize toys in their room now that they’re older. How often you purge and acquire age appropriate things.

      Also, kids art supplies — what you use, how you store, how you encourage creativity without getting paint/crayons all over. Our 1.5 year old wants to do everything our 6 and 4 year old do and it turns into art ALL over – couch coffee table etc. . Maybe you have a more manageable way instead of feeling like the art warden like I do??

      And though this sounds extreme, maybe you could do your Christmas gift ideas super early? I’d like to start making and acquiring goods and have no faith the supplies will be accessible/available come nov/dec.

      Thank you, Erin! This little home is my favorite place on the Internet. Brava.

  • Reply Rebekah September 14, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    I came across something the other day about this new season and how to prepare and one phrase stick with me: if you’re making Christmas gifts, now is the time to get started. Light bulb moment. I feel like a lot of us who are intentionally shifting our habits of being and consuming don’t always realize the time it takes to prepare for something. Now IS the time for me to start knitting stuffies for my nieces. Now is the time for me to start the long process of hunting for just the right secondhand gift.

    But I also know that too much prep can cause us to miss the moment. I think there’s a special space to talk about how to mindfully, slowly prepare for what’s to come while also being intentionally present. That’s what I’d like to talk about.

    • Reply Connie September 14, 2021 at 5:46 pm

      My Great Aunt Cassie was known for making hand-stitched patchwork pillows—with one-inch squares—as gifts. Family lore says she started cutting out the squares on December 26. There’s something to be said for having lots of time to make gifts instead of feeling rushed during the fall.

    • Reply anna September 15, 2021 at 9:59 am

      As someone who works in the global supply chain (for books), if there’s a specific Christmas present you want to buy for someone this year, now is the time for that too. Many many things will be out of stock by Christmas.

  • Reply Vania September 14, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    1. Navigating life and managing work and family demands;
    2. Small steps on learning to be present and feel content so as to start to mentally recuperate from all this;
    3. Growing a minimalist/ethical wardrobe, particularly for plus size women. More references from Europe would be helpful.

    • Reply steph September 17, 2021 at 12:05 pm

      vania, being present always eluded me until i broke it down into these 2 simple steps/ideas: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/06/0042-retirement-rules.html
      still working hard on it daily 🙂
      erin, as most commenters have said, i enjoy all your posts even if they don’t relate to me. would love to see more meal ideas. cant wait for your seasonal craft and gift guides and i don’t know if this was mentioned yet, but i really love your simple matters series – highlighting creatives of color doing similar work and that share your values. thanks for all you share!

      • Reply Kirsten September 17, 2021 at 10:00 pm

        Oh! Meal ideas, especially for kid-friendly vegetarian fare. Im desperate to get my kids to enjoy beans! Their lack of desire to consume beans or cheese is what keeps us eating meat, honestly.

  • Reply mackenzie September 14, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    You’ve reminded me that I need to attend to my cutting boards! 🙂

    Not sure if you have mentioned this in a previous post or not, my apologies if you have, but how does one stay informed without being overwhelmed? I understand and agree with the need to be an informed citizen but the never ending news cycle plus the continuing pandemic, makes me want to throw my phone across the room and never pick it up again. Are there any tips you can share about boundaries concerning media (social, news outlets or otherwise) and still keeping abreast of a constantly fluctuating situation? Some days feel harder than others. Thanks Erin!

    • Reply Lindy September 14, 2021 at 11:15 pm

      My two cents.. I’m trying to switch off my phone when I can or PUT it away. I find it is addictive and is not helping me to stay grounded. It’s a constant source of external reach and that is not helpful in allowing us to stay calm and butter the boards!

  • Reply Brigid September 14, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    Yes please, more meaningful household activities for kids like board butter. Risk taking for kids. Fostering good sibling relationships. How you don’t bite their heads off when the pandemic has lasted this long. Managing fear, anger, anxiety, lack of control. Reading recommendations.

  • Reply Rose September 14, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    Wishing you a restorative autumn. A few things I’d love to hear your take on are healthful cooking and self care, and budgeting and saving.

  • Reply Gerry September 14, 2021 at 8:54 pm

    I would like to see more home improvements and simple ideas for celebrating the holidays.

    • Reply Elizabeth September 16, 2021 at 7:29 am

      I second simple ideas for celebrating the holidays. I’d love to hear more about simple, yet special gifts for kids and easy yet memorable decorations to make days special.

  • Reply Mila September 14, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    I am a regular reader and try MANY of your projects / recipes / crafts. Although my life is different from yours in many ways, one key part being that I don’t have children, I feel great synergy with your content. What I appreciate most is the variety and balance. Keep it up!!

  • Reply Maya September 14, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    I can’t believe my kids are back in school. How long will it last!?
    I second the interest in thoughts on what the heck keeps us in NYC! I love Brooklyn but this past week, it broke me a bit: back-to-school frenzies, multiple last-minute childcare hiccups and the cost of it as well as no running water bc of a water main issue… It’s always been a love/hate sorta thing but I guess I have gotten LESS resilient over the past 18 months, ha!
    I would also love practical thoughts on (mundane) things like weeknight cooking/recipes, routines, kids lunches – anything that can make the frenzies smoother yet intentional.
    Lastly, social media is suddenly bombarding me w anti-aging ads because I turned 40, as if it knew that I suddenly feel… different and certainly not 35. It’s been oddly such a surprise to me and I seem a bit helpless in finding interesting and substantial content online for a mid-life (!?) crowd.

    Thank you for creating this thoughtful space!

    • Reply Sophie September 16, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      Same! Big pores and wrinkles adds all over!

  • Reply Rachel September 15, 2021 at 3:38 am

    Bike adventures! More on ethical banking! I’d love to see more sewing projects, especially clothes.

  • Reply Manuela September 15, 2021 at 4:21 am

    I would love more posts about cooking, kids and adults snacks and lunchboxes, and out and about (I know that we don’t travel much these days but I would love to know your favourite Brooklyn special places!).
    I´m also a big fan of your “Habit Shift” series and reading recommendations.
    It’s probably not your style, but I would love something like a “what’s in my bag” or “how’s my day”.
    But more important, you’re a beautiful writer and I love reading you, whatever the subject:)

  • Reply Shila M September 15, 2021 at 5:12 am

    Would love to know if you have any nice ideas of how to display old photos & not just have it stashed away. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel September 15, 2021 at 8:49 am

    I’ve been rereading Simple Matters and getting excited about cutting back on the materialism and clutter in my life, but I also live with someone who is far more clutter-prone than me. My husband and I both value a tidy home but we have different visions and definitions of that, and obviously, it will take both of us to really commit to a more minimalist lifestyle. I wonder whether you and James always were on the same page about this, or whether he gradually got on board with your minimalist goals? I’d love to hear you write more about that journey.

  • Reply Anna Lee September 15, 2021 at 10:09 am

    More musing in the vein of Mildred and the shades!

  • Reply Jen September 15, 2021 at 11:18 am

    Simple healthy recipes. Book recs. And I love the things you already do as well.

  • Reply Rachel September 15, 2021 at 11:39 am

    My favorite posts are your meditative ones (though I realize so many of your posts contain little moments of poetry) where you reflect and paint pictures with your words. Moments of quiet reflection are surely hard to come by for a busy person, but you seem to be good at catching them. I hope those posts are as calming to write as they are to read. I also loved the “How to know it’s ___” monthly posts you did in 2019.

    Whatever you write, I’ll read it anyway. 🙂 Thanks for being here, Erin.

    • Reply Sally September 15, 2021 at 2:46 pm

      I remember those “How to know when it’s ___” posts. I always thought they would make wonderful children’s books with illustrations. Maybe your next project / book deal? 🙂 🙂

      • Reply Sophie September 16, 2021 at 1:31 pm

        Or a calendar

  • Reply Sarah September 15, 2021 at 12:24 pm

    I don’t know what I’d suggest for the future – like another commenter mentioned, the trappings of my life are very different from yours, and I still find so much value in the way you share about your approach to the small things.

    I’ve recently revisited your post about recovering your love seat (when you DIYed it), as I have a cheap bench that’s in dire need. I also return really regularly to some of your round-ups of brand research you’ve done. I hate the research part of finding sustainable brands, so I’m immensely grateful when I can rely on your work. I’ve also made use of the finger-weaving tutorials for a couple small fixes around our house. Probably my biggest challenge, as ever, is trying to get rid of things in a responsible fashion. Figuring out where to donate/how to recycle/posting it on FB is all so time-consuming. Certainly we aim to bring less and less into the house, but there’s always something to figure out where to send it.

  • Reply M September 15, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    Love your blog as it is, and this suggestion is maybe too labor intensive with little ones at home, but I wonder about mini-book reviews on new (or old!) books with themes that overlap with your work. And I love when you do interviews too.

  • Reply riye September 15, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    Just one request: please keep blogging. 🙂 A lot of good blogs have shut down and I’m hoping you’ll keep yours going. I’d much rather read a blog post than get bombarded by videos, noise, etc. on social media.

    • Reply marion September 17, 2021 at 3:03 am

      I totally agree with Riye. I really really love to read your blog. Lately I enjoyed very much all the projects that you have been doing in the appartment. Also any that requires repairing something (that beautiful bike!). Personal initiatives to get more into a sustainable life are also an always very welcomed.

    • Reply Christie September 21, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      Going to add my +1 here. I have been happily off Social Media since 2016. Instagram won’t even let me SEE your instagram posts anymore. MORE BLOGGING PLEASE! It’s the way of the future.
      I have no comments for what content because I love it all. I especially loved the food posts and clothing posts. Also the child posts are totally aspirational. We are 5 in 900 square foot, but my god, my kids mess everything up. I show my husband pictures of your home and say: why can’t our house look like that?

    • Reply MK September 24, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      Yes this! I’ve been bummed out by the turning away from blogs and embracing video for so many bloggers I used to love. I like reading things, I don’t need to watch lots of video clips all day. Even instagram is getting away from the little photo squares I love, and I kind of hate it. Please keep blogging, Erin. I love the way you write.

  • Reply Shei September 15, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you for your wonderful words, Erin. This place is so calming and grounding. I appreciate your thoughtfulness that feels intentional, not rushed.

    There are so many great suggestions here. I will add that mindful wardrobe and wall art recommendations come to mind. Additionally, ways to thoughtfully create/make/build with children and ways to display/show-off such works in an intentional, not overcrowded manner. Sending positive light.

  • Reply Shannon September 15, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    Can we see your dyed onesies turned tee shirts? My second and final little one is just out of onesies and this sounds like such a good way to reuse and repurpose outgrown clothes!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 17, 2021 at 2:47 pm

      Hacked off the bottom of onesies with a pair of scissors! Hemmed some, didn’t hem some! Will try to snap a picture of the dyed ones one of these days!

  • Reply Claire September 15, 2021 at 3:54 pm

    Many thanks for all of the work you put into this corner of the internet, Erin! I’ve tended to a few blogs in the past and recognize what effort it takes to keep things running. A few posts I’d love to see:
    – where are some of your favorite places to spend time in NYC?
    – craft projects (especially your paper or fabric crafts with recycled materials)
    – ethical wardrobe (especially warmer winter items)
    – spending/saving methods (building good credit while avoiding big bad banks)
    – how you and james met!
    – relationship advice (how to offer time/space/support to your partner; remaining supportive when solving conflict — you and James seem to have such a loving, strong relationship)
    – favorite representative, inclusive kids books
    – DIY ideas!

  • Reply Rachel September 15, 2021 at 8:04 pm

    I really enjoy reading your blog. I usually seem to feel a bit lighter after reading one of your posts. I’d second the suggestion to have more about weeknight dinners and kids lunches if that’s something that speaks to you too. I’d also love more about ethical brands that also don’t break the bank. Thanks!

  • Reply Xi September 16, 2021 at 2:14 am

    Maybe another topic about toys? How to choose them and how to organize them with multi kids? What do you think of Montessori parenting style and how do you practice them in small space living? I’d love to see you have another book about kids and parenting 🙂 Thanks, Erin!

  • Reply Judy September 16, 2021 at 4:03 am

    Love your blog! I live in Germany in a small space with two kids (7 & 14) who share a room. It went quite well so far but now, that our older daughter is a teen and she needs more space and time to be alone, it’s getting more and more complicated. I find it really hard to find blog posts about people living in small spaces with older kids. Somehow it seems everybody out there blogging about living in small spaces has younger kids. Sometimes I think living in a small space simply doesn’t work anymore once your kids get older… So here’s my request: Could you do an interview with someone you know who is living with teens in a tiny & minimalist place? I would also love to hear your thoughts on this topic and what you imagine life will be like for you once your kids are teens. Could you still picture yourself living in a small flat? And how would you deal with their needs of being alone and having more privacy?

  • Reply Sarah September 16, 2021 at 10:01 am

    I have been reading your blog for about five years now and also own Simple Matters (great book!) and I am always interested in whatever you choose to write about, over the years you’ve definitely given me food for thought over many areas. I also enjoyed the How to Know it’s… and while I am not crafty I like reading about the different projects and imagining one day that I might do one myself! As another person commented, I hope you will keep writing, yours is one of two blogs I read.

  • Reply Michaela September 16, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    Love your blog. I don’t know if you realise how much you mean to your readers?

    One thing I never tire of reading is how to fix things or recommendations on what product is good (not advertising). Also, I’d love to read more on how to put others before ourselves every day. About love. Thanks, Erin! Enjoy the rest of the summer and autumn.

  • Reply Bridget September 16, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Gosh, really everything you post. I find myself always going back to recipe/food posts. I find that coming into fall I have a renewed interest in wardrobe (fashion)? Perhaps crafts.

  • Reply maggie September 17, 2021 at 8:47 am

    I love so much of it, but especially the seasonal craft projects and handmade gifts. Habit shifts, poetic/existential/environmental/political musings, interviews with other powerful ladies, sewing projects, citizen-action suggestions, favorite small business shops to support, and a continuation of the small apartment/home improvement projects.

  • Reply Mickey September 17, 2021 at 10:57 am

    There’s something meditative about taking care of objects, isn’t there? It’s when I lose myself in the task that I find myself in my own head. Last weekend, I oiled our wood countertops. As I was doing it, I found myself being annoyed at the former owners of our house. Why would they choose wood countertops? But then I reframed that as “I wouldn’t be doing this, having this moment to clear my mind, had they not made this choice.”

    I’m currently reading Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh which is part mending manual part philosophy manual.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 17, 2021 at 2:47 pm

      Yes! I love Katrina’s work!

  • Reply Emma September 17, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Your blog is my favourite and I especially love they DIY projects around your home.
    Something I would love to see more of is simple, practical family recipes that you enjoy, I often find we end up making the same things all the time and as we would like to reduce our meat it would be nice to see some ideas your kids enjoy that are just as good for the grown ups.
    I also like Judys comment about about living in a small place with teens.

  • Reply Katey September 18, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for your writing and this space. I will echo a couple things already mentioned: finances/budgeting/investing/saving and recipes/meal planning/week night dinners. Thank you!

  • Reply Lauren September 19, 2021 at 3:05 am

    You could write a grocery list and we’d read it!

    Other things I would love to read about: craft, food, home organisation, routines, growing things on a window sill, second-hand finds etc.

    As always, thanks for your incredible blog

  • Reply erin September 19, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    I loved the Waste Not series! The soups are still staples in my house. Would love to see it revived 🙂

  • Reply K September 23, 2021 at 9:50 pm

    I am working on my own house projects, and the post about caulk led me to buy a tube at fix the gaps around the old, cheap, poorly installed window frames and baseboards. Blogs and other content seem to focus entirely on big reveals and renovations — unaffordable, unrealistic, bad for the planet! I love seeing your ideas for something practical. I’d also like advice on clothing–so many apparently ethical retailers online, but hard to know if the quality is actually worth the price, how it would fit on different bodies, and often with hefty return policies. I’m in need of some new clothes and don’t quite know where to turn. (Everlane doesn’t seem to fit me, is there anyone else out there with this problem!?). But most of all, thank you for blogging in such a sincere, money-where-your-mouth-is way, about the big and little things. I really it.

  • Reply Chelsea September 24, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    I agree with pretty much everything everyone has said, particularly home projects/organization, fashion and parenting. I notice (and believe you’ve written) that you lean toward Montessori/Waldorf-inspired methods but you don’t have the “Montessori shelf” situation and other things of that ilk. I’d love to know what you draw on from these different philosophies and how you put them all together. I also have loved/missed clothing posts — maybe an updated closet tour? How do you keep things lean? How do you keep kids’ wardrobes lean?

    Honestly, I too would read a grocery list and feel fulfilled. Please write another book! I return to “Simple Matters” often. You’re one of my very favorite writers and people on the internet.

  • Reply Beverly August 17, 2022 at 9:13 pm

    I appreciate your blog and thoughtfulness, I am another outlier here – no kids and 54. But I am an artist and designer, so I love hearing about museum visits, objects, clothing, flowers and candles. I am also interested in family budgets, philosophy of money, if possible.
    Always like reading the link pack at the end of the week. Thanks for taking the time to write and share it with us.

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