Erin Boyle, the writer and photographer behind Reading My Tea Leaves, a blog dedicated to helping others live simply and purposefully, knows a thing or two about living in close quarters. After all, her 500-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn Heights is home to her husband and one-year-old daughter, Faye, too. Erin’s new book Simple Matters is just as practical as the savvy tips she serves up on her blog, with chapters on topics like Decluttering, Decorating, and even Getting Dressed. If you’ve ever wondered how to wrangle life’s so-called essentials, read on for Erin’s space-spacing tips.
A small photo box houses a collection of original photographs, Erin’s wedding invitation and some special letters. Erin suggests also keeping a small file box for essential documents and tossing out and/or digitizing other paperwork you no longer need.
Social security card
Digitize or toss pile:
Instruction manuals for things you no longer own (or for things you already know how to use)
Pay stubs (from over a year ago)
“There is a nearly limitless list of things that people will tell you that you need when you have a baby,” says Erin. When her daughter Faye was born, Erin opted for a lambskin-lined Moses blanket rather than a large bassinet and chose to convert a dresser her parents bought in the ’80s into a changing table. Here are some other everyday items you can use for baby:
Use a throw pillow instead of one designed to help with breastfeeding
Wear your child in a carrier or sling inside the house instead of buying a large baby bouncer
Practice tummy time on a soft blanket instead of a mat specifically designed for the purpose
If you’re renting, custom sized-to-fit storage solutions aren’t worth the investment. “So instead of looking for a storage ‘solution’, I’ve opted for reducing my storage needs altogether,” she says. Here a cot acts as a bench, but can easily be collapsed if need be, and tall legs leave room for simple wooden crates tucked underneath.
Rather than committing to expensive frames, Erin hangs what’s inspiring her with inexpensive metal clips. She believes decorating slowly allows for serendipity. “When you leaf through a catalog and cherry-pick the entirety of an apartment’s furnishings in one sitting, some of the magic gets lost. More importantly, some of you gets lost,” she says.
One simple way to cut down on the visual clutter in your bathroom is to decant. Suddenly the clutter of labels is gone and things feel purposeful, not to mention pretty. “The tiny pink glass was found in my parents’ backyard and the jam jar where I keep cotton rounds is a flea market find,” she says.
A three-drawer dresser and small shared closet hold Erin’s pared-down wardrobe. Here are her tips for curating your closet:
Create ‘Stay’, ‘Go’ and ‘Ponder’ piles
Decide on a color palette for your clothes and stick to it. This results in easier mixing and matching
Take care of your clothes and gravitate towards well-made pieces
Factor in fabrics. Cotton and linen are gentler on the Earth and comfortable so you’ll reach for those pieces time and time again.
Avoid fads and accept hand-me-downs
Picking up fresh herbs like parsley as you need them means you don’t have to store countless containers of dried varieties. If you do want to store a few dried spices, instead of purchasing larger containers that take take months or even years to get through, purchase a small amount from a bulk food store and store them in 4-ounce mason jars.
Savory tarts are Erin’s go-to for weekend gatherings. “The process is simple, the result is filling and warming, and there are nearly endless variations, all equally delicious,” says Erin. If you’re really tight on storage, serving wine in juice glasses has a bistro feel and means you won’t have to store additional wine glasses. And if you know a friend who has the perfect oversized bowl, just ask to borrow it on occasion when you’re entertaining for a larger crowd, instead of having to store your own.
Limiting all your cleaning supplies to what fits in one small wire basket helps cut back on unnecessary products. Erin puts her dish soap in an old whiskey bottle topped with a pour spout, which looks nice by the kitchen sink and is handier than reaching underneath to grab an unsightly bottle.
Author: Emily Evans
Headshot courtesy of
Reading My Tea Leaves; All other images reprinted with permission from Erin Boyle/Abrams Image
Simple Matters: Living With Less and Ending Up With More