Steps Toward Simplicity

“If you find yourself bored or discontented, try this: Give your house a thorough cleaning. Get rid of everything you have no need for. Make your American house as uncluttered as a Japanese house. There is no better cure for the doldrums.”


It has been a rough couple of weeks. 

I’ve been dealing with a neighbor dispute (the woman cut down fifteen of my 15 ft. green giant arbor vitae.) My friend’s daughter has leukemia, and that is really hard to watch. (I can’t imagine living it directly.) My mother is in poor health and won’t get better.

While living in the shadow of these things, my capacity for patience and coping with the day-to-day complications and adventures of family life are diminished. Hectic schedules, coordinating family for get-togethers, watching the blocks on the calendar march at warp speed toward the holidays has  been making me frantic.

Then there’s my work, writing, which I LOVE and gives me the escape I crave, but which gets pushed aside and even neglected for day-to-day living. Blogs I want to read, workshops I want to attend, research I need to do get bumped from the to-do list, while I try to engage in conversations on social media, while cooking dinner, answering phone calls, and getting kids dressed for sports.

No, this, is not a first-world pity party; I’m getting to the point.

The quote above from Maragaret Dilloway’s HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE has been nudging me from my subconscious since I read it. It’s interesting that the manual from the book of advice that seems somewhat dated and even primitive actually encompasses deep wisdom, and that wisdom is placing value on simplicity and mindfulness.

I should know better than to ever answer phone calls, check email, and help my kids with homework at the same time. I should know better than to let junk pile up in closets that I have to kick out of the way to find a simple pair of shoes. I should know better than to sign up for every social media venue because I think I should be building my platform as widely as possible. That’s rubbish. Nothing is getting done well–or even at all–in these scenarios. All I’m doing is trying to stretch myself like a miniature rubber band across a vacation-full of mail.

So, since I have no control over the big, terrible things in my life, I started with this little book shelf.

I know it still might look messy to you, but you should have seen the “before” shot. My “To Be Read” pile is now horizontal, the rest of the books are vertical. The research books are all together, organized by subject. I removed the books I did not want and gave them to a local charity. Now, when I walk past the shelves in my office, the book case disappears and rests in the comforting space of the room instead of screaming at me to organize it.

Next, I went up to my closet where I trip over summer flip flops and shoes I’ll never wear again, to search through hangers of clothes I’ll never wear again, in a mess of summer and winter frocks. I pulled everything out. Two hours later I had three bags of clothing for a local charity. I felt the knots loosen in my shoulders.

Then I went to Google + and deleted my account. I’ve hated that site since I signed up for it, but felt like I should. If Facebook implodes I can always start over with Google +, but honestly, I don’t think that will happen. 90% of the circle notifications I received each day in my inbox were from creepy men looking for women, and I don’t want those people to know what I’m up to.

I can’t believe how profoundly the simplification of my environment has affected my well being, the quality of my interactions with my family, and the quality of my work. Nothing of substance in my life has changed, but by taking control of the parts of my life I can control, I can breathe again.

What about you? Have you ever had this experience? What did you do to de-clutter your life and breathe easier? 


20 thoughts on “Steps Toward Simplicity

  1. This really hits home today. I went to my blog, Twitter, to google+, to Facebook, to blogland, to Stumbleupon, to shewrites….then I left the house to do my regular errands. I just have too much going on and need to simplify too. Almost a year ago we got rid of cable TV — now we watch TV/movies through Netflix a few evenings a week — amazing how much it helped the quality of the interactions in my life. I am thinking I may need to do the same with some of the social networking. Because as you say, it helped me breathe again.

    • erikarobuck says:

      Julia–It’s crazy all the places we “visit” online, isn’t it? I decided I’d only interact in the places I really enjoy and where I have real connections. Then it will be authentic and meaningful. I, too, gave up TV, but I’m trying to figure out how to get more exercise. We just need one more hour a day. 😉

  2. Good timely post, Erika. I’ve had to cut back on my time spent on Twitter, and I narrowly avoided joining Google+. I wasn’t getting any rewrites done spending so much time on Twitter.
    I love to organize a small piece of my house/life when things feel out of control. Sometimes life feels like grappling an octopus. It’s nice to know I am not alone. Thanks!

  3. erikamarks says:

    Erika, thinking of you as you grapple with all of this. Especially the news of your mother’s health–I didn’t know this was on your already teetering stack of worries. I am so sorry.

    You are certainly not alone in this evaluation of our personal–emotional–resources and deciding how best to use them. I feel such strong ties with friends I have met through blogs that when life steps in and doesn’t allow me a day to check in with them, I feel as if I am letting friends down–and that is not meant to be ego-centric–more to suggest that we all are very tied to these networks we have built and nurtured and it goes deeper than just “platform building” as we all know, so much deeper.

    But life does have to step in–and you are so wise to make these adjustments. That is what it takes. Eventually the calm will return–but until then, do what you need to do to feel as if your energies are where they need to be. We are all here in support. (And why do I think a cuba libre at that new bar in DC would go a long way towards helping us all find our much needed perspectives?:))

    • erikarobuck says:

      Erika, you are so kind. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

      I feel so much better sticking to what I love, and as silly as it sounds, I love Twitter. I enjoy Facebook. I love the blogs I read. If I can’t interact with other writes like you on those sites I get frazzled. We all understand each other in a way that others can’t, I think.

      Some day we will clink glasses. For now, virtual *cheers*.

  4. Number one. How did you deal with the neighbor thing?! I can’t even begin to tell you how outraged I would be since mature trees here are rare. We have the same trees as yours next to our patio and it has taken six years for them to grow to six feet tall. Sorry you are dealing with that.

    Number two. I am also in the “get my stuff together” mode. My office, my closet, the kids’ closets, the kids’ activities. You name it, I need to organize it.

    Number three. I’m with you on the Google+ thing. I don’t have a Facebook page for my writing yet but it does seem less “stalky”. I feel the pressure of blogging, commenting on friends’ blogs, Facebook, keeping up on current events, and every thing else in between.

    Living our lives by trying to keep all the balls in the air isn’t really living. Living simply can give us the time and energy to do the things we truly love and less time worrying about stuff that really doesn’t matter.

    Good for you for recognizing what you needed and did it. I look forward to feeling the same way…soon!

    • erikarobuck says:

      Oh, Hallie, the neighbor thing. We’ll have to Skype that one out one of these days. Lordy!

      I find that I have to continuously remind myself to simplify…simplify… I need to spray paint that word across the wall in my office.


  5. Erika, I’m so impressed with this post. My heart goes out to you and the challenges you’re facing right now, especially the news of your mother’s health. That you would open yourself up, write through your struggles and offer help to others by writing this post says so much about your strength and spirit. Thank you for sharing this. You’re an inspiration. And we’re kindred spirits when it comes to decluttering. Clearing out and organizing has always been something that helps bring me peace. I’m happy to know it helped you, too.

  6. cynthia says:

    Sorry to hear about your mother and your trees. As far as your house, it’s just never ending. My study was getting so that I could hardly move. Little sprouts of book stacks were popping up all over. So a couple of months ago, when I ordered a new desk, I began the great clean-out. What a good feeling it is to be able to breathe and see the floor. If I could just get myself to stop buying things…

    • erikarobuck says:

      Thanks, Cynthia.

      “Stuff” drives me crazy, too. I’m trying to see if I can persuade the in-laws to buy a little weekend trip for my boys for Christmas instead of buying them things. We are drowning in things.

  7. Erika,

    You are so very spot-on, with all of what you wrote. Life is simply overwhelming. We have to fight to keep it simple.

    When we moved to Prague, we moved into a much smaller house than the very modest sized house we sold in Ohio. We have only 2 closets here, which is wild for a family of 5. You can imagine the creative ways we’ve learned to live here. The best part has been purging the stuff, and learning to be happy with 3 pairs of jeans each, etc. And, lucky for me, after 2.5 years living in a place where we can’t buy many things, the noose that Target gets around our necks in the US with cute, cheap stuff available all the time — well, that’s evaporated for me. Nowhere to put it anyway. :o) I think it’s the European attitude on having much less stuff, but the things Europeans do have are of much higher quality, and meant to last a decade or more. That, I am embracing. Less is more. Freeing, in fact.

    But, I am so sorry about the other tough-tough-tough things weighing you down. Sending prayers up for your mom and your friend’s daughter. And for the lady next door. :o) Hoping you find a satisfying balance in the busyness of being a mom of busy boys, and that the writing space inside your schedule and your mind finds a happy place, like the beautiful balance of books you organized on the shelves. (Great job!)

    Thanks for sharing, Erika. xo JK

    • erikarobuck says:

      Thank you, Jennifer.

      I can’t imagine living with two closets for a family of five but I love the idea that you only keep what you value, and that you simplify. What an inspiration!

  8. Nina Badzin says:

    Yes!! Yes and more yes! Now that I’m feeding the baby around the clock, I have so much less time. I can read lots of tweets, which I enjoy doing while I’m nursing, but I can’t really write many tweets or do much else. I’m feeling burnt out on the blog, to be honest, and I sometimes envy my friends who lead what I sometimes consider “normal” non-virtual lives.

    One good thing about the crazy nesting instincts during my pregnancy–I did some MAJOR organizing of toys, pictures, clothes, etc. At least that stuff is under control.

    You’ve inspired me to delete the Google+. Going to do that right now.

    • erikarobuck says:

      Nina–I’m so glad I inspired you! You and Nichole B. inspire me with all those kiddies. 🙂

      Who was it that called the first three newborn months “the fourth trimester?” S/he was so right. That time is such a foggy blur.

      I wish you all the best with your family and your writing! Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Hey there! I love this post. I found that when we made our recent move, we threw away SO MUCH STUFF. I was like, what the heck have I been keeping all this crap around for? I didn’t want to take ONE THING with me that I didn’t need. Realized, I don’t need much! So glad you found some peace, and hope things mellow out for you on all fronts. xoxo

  10. Leslie says:

    You have a wonderful Blog site, Erika and I look forward to seeing more of it!

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